On November 11, 2008, a small army of heavily armed police in balaclavas moved into the village of Tarnac, on the Millevaches plateau, a rural area known for resistance activity during the Second World War and its tradition of rural communism. With duly summoned TV cameras looking on, the cops invaded private dwelling-places, a collective farm and a collectively run bar-grocery store. The latter establishment was designated by TV station France 2 as “a grocery hidden in the shadows,” like an animal ready to attack: this police-media hysteria, widely echoed, including by the post-leftist press (Libération and Le Monde), was dominant at first.
The then Minister of Justice (later discredited because of his links with the corrupt Ben Ali regime in Tunisia), the Paris prosecutor, and the anti-terrorist police brandished The Coming Insurrection, a book by then for sale everywhere for a year, as one of the chief proofs of a “criminal association with the intention of committing a terrorist act.” Apart from the existence of this book, the accusation rested on the testimony of a mythomaniac who had already been prosecuted for making false accusations, and an official surveillance report whose utterly false character was soon demonstrated. Among those arrested, Julien Coupat—presented by the authorities as “the leader” and the author of The Coming Insurrection (which he has always denied)—and Yldune Lévy, his former partner, were accused of having intended to place hooks on catenaries (train electric cables), a technique making it possible to immobilize a train without causing a derailment and therefore any risk to people. Arrests were also made in Rouen and in Paris; those arrested were kept in solitary confinement for eight days, as permitted by the anti-terrorist law.
Little by little, the weaknesses of the case became apparent. It was learned that the so-called Tarnac group had been targeted following an FBI report on a meeting between Julien Coupat and some anarchists, and a report from a British secret service agent who had infiltrated European leftist circles. Alain Bauer, a criminologist with a past in the Free-Mason “left” and now a friend of all governments, had drawn the Minister’s attention to this group in the name of “early detection,” a transposition to the sphere of law-and-order of the doctrine of preventive war. In fact, the “Tarnac group” consisted of young revolutionaries (some coming from the group publishing the journal Tiqqun, which combined various influences ranging from the Kabbalah to the Italian autonomía by way of council communism) who had decided to create a form of collective life while remaining in contact with struggles around the world. The Sarkozy government’s information operation was soon the object of general ridicule. François Hollande himself criticized this “invention of a terrorist enemy.”
Despite a vigorous defense, the judiciary and the police have always refused to recognize the aspect of pure political spectacle (admitted by Bauer himself). Seven years later, after Julien Coupat had done six months of prison and the others a few weeks, charges were dropped on three of the ten accused, while the others were sent back to criminal court, with three (Julien, Yldune, and their friend Gabrielle) accused of “terrorism.” A political and judicial struggle lies ahead.
It will be even more difficult since, after the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks in Paris in January, there has been a hardening of police and judicial provisions: there is an enhanced presence of the army, in combat gear, in the streets of big cities and in public transportation, and a new anti-terrorist law imitating the American Patriot Act. In France, as elsewhere, anti-terrorism still has a brilliant future as a mode of government.