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The Truth About the COP21 Crackdown

In times of “social peace,” the mainstream media may pretend to leave room for a plurality of opinions on current events; however, in times of social or political crisis and class struggle, despite the press’ appeals to “responsibility” for the sake of “national interest,” the communication agencies reveal their true nature: to serve the government and the ruling classes in general. This Sunday, November 29, the disingenuous coverage of the crackdown against both environmental activists during the COP21 as well as those protesting the state of emergency says a lot about what government and media are willing to do.

Philippe Alcoy

December 1, 2015
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This article is a translation and adaptation of an article originally published in French in Révolution Permanente.

The Good and the Bad Protesters

The first maneuver by the media regarding the repression in Place de la République was a separation of the “good” protesters, harmless to the government, from the “bad” protesters, radicalized and willing to confront.

The former, working within organizations fully embedded in the institutional framework of COP21 would aim to prove that “a well-organized mobilization could very well happen,” in the words of one of the organizers of the human chain that formed during one of the actions. These “citizen-protesters” are considered “legitimate” and acceptable. In contrast, the media claims that the “bad” protesters showed up simply to “contest government policy,” as Libération stated. They dare to challenge the state of emergency? What a scandal!

This demonization is combined with an attempt to ridicule the most conscious sectors of the protesters, reducing them to caricatures–violent idealists. Here, Le Figaro is way off the mark:

Difficult to understand the demands of the militants, who shouted various slogans before the riot police: “The state of emergency, we don’t give a shit. We don’t want any state at all!,” “Tear gas, not very ecologic!,” and “Freedom, freedom, freedom!” The police was the clear target of the most radical protesters, who wore hoods or masks and tried to take on the police as they shouted the anti-capitalist cry, “ACAB!” which stands for “All Cops Are Bastards” (in English in the original, Ed.).

Protesters, “Desecrators” of the Paris Attacks’ Victims’ Memorial

The media has widely amplified a portrayal of protesters as disrespectful vandalizers of a memorial for victims of the Paris attacks. Supposed proof of this “true desecration”–as some have called it–is that “violent activists” took candles or flower pots from the memorial and flung them at the police.

But an article in Le Figaro goes even further, drawing a perfect portrait of the “extremist enemy within.” It states, “Another [protester] attempted to set fire to a French flag taken from the memorial. To turn it on, he uses drawings of children placed there in honor of the dead.” The repressed demonstrators at the Place de la République were responsible for the disrespectful degradation of the memorial, thus guilty of undermining the symbol that represented the place, and, in truth, none other than…terrorists who deserved to be hunted with “complete tenacity,” as Minister of Interior Bernard Cazeneuve stated last night.

In the major press outlets, there are hardly any photos of demonstrators “making use of” the memorial candles. However, circulating images surprisingly include a police officer, ruthlessly stomping on the memorial and virtually destroying everything. But these images were only spread through social media. Nothing like it was seen on TV or on the pages of major newspapers.

Posted by Nexus Sept on Sunday, November 29, 2015

Premeditated Crackdown

According to Libération, the police presence was “mostly discrete.” Funny way of perceiving the discretion! Instead, images and testimonies clearly illustrate the pervasive police presence.

Several testimonies have denounced police attacks on protesters at the scene who showed no intention of confronting them. Here and there, there were arrests and crackdowns on protesters holding sit-ins while demanding the release of demonstrators encircled by the riot police.

But there’s more. The incident that was used to “justify” the repression is dubious at the very least. A group of twenty to thirty hooded people separated from the event and began scuffling with a large detachment of police. The police response was immediate: tear gas and pepper spray, clubbing, nearly three hundred arrests, and 174 people held in custody. And what of these mysterious hooded men? The Reporterre writes, “The men in black who started [the clashes] quickly disappeared…apparently without any interrogation taking place.”

Knowing full well the police’s methods of infiltration, this cascade of events is more than dubious. Furthermore, statements by government officials, starting with President François Hollande, suggest that the objective from the start of the COP21 was to “hit hard,” to stop the protests from spreading–despite the ban on demonstrations–or rather, to find a pretext to extend the ban.

Indeed, after the repression at the Place de la République, François Hollande said from Brussels, “This is why these events are not permitted. We knew there were some disrupting elements that have nothing to do with environmentalists or those who want the [COP21] Conference to succeed, who are only there to create incidents. That’s why there had been home arrests.”

We see, then, the media and government colluding to demonize the activists who are challenging Hollande’s repressive policy, the state of emergency, and restrictions on fundamental democratic rights. This operation serves to formally justify the expansion of the “fight on terrorism” to a fight against “extremists of all kinds.” That is, in this case, combative labor militants, political activists, etc. It is not by chance that the column formed by members of the NPA (Noveau Partie Anti-Capitaliste), Alternative Libertaire and Ensemble, was hunted and arrested en masse by the riot police at the Place de la République.

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Philippe Alcoy

Philippe is an editor of Révolution Permanente, our sister site in France.

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