Anarchy in France

The rioting never seems to stop.

AP (“France has a 5th night of rioting over teen’s killing by police amid signs of subsiding violence“):

Young rioters clashed with police into early Sunday and targeted a mayor’s home with a burning car, injuring members of his family, as France saw a fifth night of unrest after the police killing of a teenager. Overall violence, however, appeared to lessen from previous nights.

Police made 719 arrests nationwide by early Sunday following a mass security deployment aimed at quelling France’s worst social upheaval in years.

The crisis posed a new challenge to President Emmanuel Macron’s leadership and exposed deep-seated discontent in low-income neighborhoods over discrimination and lack of opportunity.

A burning car hit the home of the mayor of the Paris suburb of l’Hay-les-Roses. Several schools, police stations, town halls and stores have been targeted by fires or vandalism in recent days but such a personal attack on a mayor’s home is unusual.

Mayor Vincent Jeanbrun said his wife and one of his children were injured in the 1:30 a.m. attack while they were sleeping and he was in the town hall monitoring the violence.

Jeanbrun, of the conservative opposition Republicans party, said the attack represented a new stage of “horror and ignominy” in the unrest, and urged the government to impose a state of emergency.

Regional prosecutor Stephane Hardouin opened an investigation into attempted murder in the attack, telling French television that a preliminary investigation suggests the car was meant to ram the house and set it ablaze. He said a flame accelerant was found in a bottle in the car.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne went to l’Hay-les-Roses to meet Jeanbrun along with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and other officials, and promised that “we’re going to do everything to bring order back as soon as possible.”


More than 3,000 people have been detained overall since Nahel’s death. The mass police deployment has been welcomed by some frightened residents of targeted neighborhoods and shop owners whose stores have been ransacked — but it has further frustrated those who see police behavior as the core of France’s current crisis.

Reuters (“French police, long unreformed, under scrutiny after shooting“):

The killing of a teenager by a police officer this week has revived long-standing questions about the state of the French police and the inability of consecutive governments to reform an institution bound by powerful unions.

In a country beset by regular bouts of unrest that often draw calls for a crackdown on trouble-makers, it can be hard to criticise a force that is under strain and losing staff.

But experts say the authorities can no longer turn a blind eye to accusations by right groups of rampant racism with the force, racial profiling, and questions about recruitment, training and police doctrine.

“What remains constant is a refusal by political powers to act on one of the factors of this explosive cocktail: the police,” historian Cedric Mas said on Twitter.

“Riots in the US and Britain in the 60s and 80s have led to deep reforms of the police. In France? Nothing for the past 40 years,” he said.

Many western governments, from Britain in 2011 to the United States with the Black Lives Matter movement born in 2013, have had to deal with race riots against police over the past decades. But officially colour-blind France has long refused to acknowledge any racial factor was at play.

Although France has introduced about 30 pieces of legislation on law and order in the past two decades, none have included an overhaul of police forces since a 1995 reform that gave broad co-management powers to unions, said Olivier Cahn, a law professor at Cergy University.

“From that point on, unions were involved in everything that’s co-managed, including the managing of human resources,” he told Reuters. “The concrete result in following years was unions doing deals with different interior ministers.”

These broad powers, which ensure the loyalty of police officers on the ground who owe their career advancement to the union they have joined, have given union leaders outsized influence over government ministers.

“The main fear is to lose control of the police forces,” Cahn said.

The Telegraph (“Police ‘mutiny’, MPs at odds and ‘copycat violence’ – France nears total anarchy“):

Cheers erupted as a black sports car rammed a branch of Lidl on the outskirts of Nantes, western France. The vehicle reversed and sped forward once more, smashing its way through the glass facade.

As the Lidl logo came crashing to the ground, dozens of hooded youths rushed gleefully in to loot the store of its contents.

“I don’t understand why they are attacking people who work. They’re taking it out on their own population, people who have done nothing,” said one despondent local surveying the damage on Friday morning.

The sports car, no doubt stolen, remained wedged in the entrance where it had been abandoned.

Similar acts of pillaging were repeated all around France as the country teeters on the edge of total anarchy after three nights of spiralling violence and destruction, all in the wake of the police shooting of a teenager in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

In scenes resembling guerrilla warfare, balaclava-clad elite Raid police in body armour patrolled key spots in black armoured vehicles not just in Nanterre, but also Lille in the north and Marseille down south.

With a domestic intelligence note, seen by Le Monde, warning that riots could become increasingly “widespread” and go on for “the coming nights”, Emmanuel Macron was under growing pressure to impose a state of emergency.

On Friday, the French president cut short a European Council meeting in Brussels for crisis talks as he said there were “no taboos” on the measures he would take to stop the rioting.

“All options” to restore order, including imposing a state of emergency, were on the table, confirmed Elisabeth Borne, his prime minister. That would grant authorities more powers to enact localised curfews, ban demonstrations and give police more freedom in restraining suspected rioters and searching homes.

Opposition conservatives and the hard Right are calling for such a measure. Marine Le Pen said that an emergency should be declared in “certain sectors” and be rolled out nationwide if the situation deteriorates.

“France is burning,” said Eric Ciotti, the head of the Republicains party. “Our country is on the edge of the precipice… We must wage a merciless war against violence and proclaim a state of emergency in all affected areas.”

Some ministers oppose it and Francois Hollande, Mr Macron’s Socialist predecessor, said it was the wrong move as it was designed more to manage terror threats than urban unrest.

However, French security forces have been overwhelmed since the death of 17-year-old Nahel M, shot at point-blank range by a police officer after he was pulled over for traffic offences in Nanterre. The shooting was filmed and contradicted initial police claims they acted in self-defence.

After a bruising three months battling huge protests against his pension reforms, Mr Macron had promised “100 days of appeasement, unity, ambition and action in the service of France”.

The hope was that public anger would subside in time for July 14 and its famed Bastille Day parade and firework displays.

But with just two weeks before France’s revolutionary anniversary, “appeasement” is hardly the first word that springs to mind when summing up the nation’s mood.

The Telegraph (“France sends in special forces to combat rioters“):

France dispatched its elite GIGN commandos to reinforce beleaguered police as the country endured a fifth night of violence over the killing of Nahel Merzouk.

Some 45,000 police officers and Gendarmes were mobilised on Saturday evening after hundreds of people gathered to bury the 17-year-old police shooting victim in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

Arrests during a fifth night of rioting had risen to 719, the interior ministry said on Sunday morning. Hours earlier the ministry had given a provisional figure of 486 arrests, saying violence seemed to be lessening compared with the previous night when about 1300 people were taken into custody.

Rioting first broke out over the death of Merzouk on Tuesday.

“A calmer night thanks to the resolute action of the security forces,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin tweeted earlier on Sunday.

Mr Darmanin said 200 riot police had been mobilised in the port city of Marseille, where TV showed footage of police using tear gas as night fell.

France has been a democracy almost exactly as long as the United States and, indeed, is in many ways more democratic than we are. They are a considerably less violent country than we are. And yet, for reasons I don’t understand, rioting is damned near routine as part of their political culture.

The parallels with the Black Lives Matter protests are considerable. In both cases, rioting over frustrations over long-unaddressed police misconduct were met with calls for, and resorts to, massive and harsh crackdowns by the police, further exacerbating the problem. And, yet, the instinct to use the police power to restore law and order are not only understandable but really the only tool available to political leadership.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DK says:

    They are a considerably less violent country than we are. And yet, for reasons I don’t understand, rioting is damned near routine as part of their political culture.

    Heh. Robespierre understood.

    Look at how France became a democracy. Compared to us, yes, the French people are less violent with each other on a day-to-day basis. But when they get mad at the establishment, unapologetically bloody résistance is the embodiment of French political culture.

    Americans generally believe war and civil disobedience should have rules and boundaries — violations prompt scandal. Meanwhile, the French will just chop everybody’s head off and throw the mutilated bodies in pits.

    I mean, the United States let Confederate traitors retain their lives, lands, and positions after the war. They were repatriated to the US Congress. If we were like France, all their property would have been confiscated and their decapitated heads would have been displayed on pikes. Both longtime democracies yes, but it’s not the same lol

  2. Slugger says:

    This is an interesting topic. I would like to hear from many voices. It would be very helpful if you could identify the length of time that you have lived in France (also where in France you lived) and your level of competence in the French language. The internet is full of people who have great competence in virology, economics, and simultaneously in design of submersibles, but I want to hear from people with narrow knowledge about France, d’accord?

  3. ptfe says:

    @Slugger: I have visited France – Paris, actually, where most French people are from – so I definitely know a lot about the country. I also have an internet connection. As such, the following are to be taken as fully-realized opinions about how that country’s people and government do and should act, as delivered by a genuine expert:

    First, it’s obvious that…

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    I lived in France for three years during which time I learned to make very precise letters with a fountain pen and studied the life of Amadou, a goat who happened to be the same color as a mushroom. Because: France. So, like @ptfe: above, I am an expert on French politics.

    Why do the French riot? Is indeed a question that should be pondered and pontificated upon by experts. I hope that clears everything up.

  5. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I took two semesters of French in the 8th grade, and I recently had a baguette, so I also feel qualified.

    Why do the French riot? Is indeed a question that should be pondered and pontificated upon by experts.

    Is France the outlier, or are we?

    I think it’s us, but that’s based on a US perspective where I see various protests in random countries, and don’t really check to see if they are the same countries repeatedly.

    If I had to guess, I would say that it’s either our low union representation (our labor movement is pretty anemic compared to our peer countries), or the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and racism.

    There is a cottage industry here glorifying Martin Luther King Jr, and non-violent protest, as it it the least threatening to the status quo, and easily moved into “Free Speech Zones” far from anyone who might notice.

    But that’s been slipping a bit on the right, where brandishing weapons to underscore the threat of violence is a regular part of their protests.

    But that’s about as far as the baguette takes me.

  6. Chip Daniels says:

    As a lifelong resident of Los Angeles, I can’t help but compare this to the many riots we have had over the years- From the Watts Riots, to Rodney King riots, to George Floyd and several others.

    The tendency of the political class is to see these things as isolated events, to be either crushed or placated, all without any significant change to the established order which gave rise to them.

    After each one there were handwringing and some hastily put together and ultimately short-lived programs, but the central fact of militarized police who see themselves as an occupying army in a hostile land has remained virtually unchanged since before I was born.

  7. BugManDan1 says:

    I have never been to France, but thought “oui oui” sounded funny when I was a kid, so I am also an expert.

    France is on its fifth republic, thus fifth constitution. Rioting worked in the past, so it might now.

    It hasn’t worked to fundamentally change the US.

  8. Zachriel says:

    And yet, for reasons I don’t understand, rioting is damned near routine as part of their political culture.

    Can’t imagine why.

  9. MarkedMan says:

    Bah! Step aside amateurs! I’ve been eating French Fries my entire life….

  10. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Ever heard the words to their national anthem, La Marseillaise? When the French hit the streets, they don’t mess around.

    Arise, children of the Fatherland
    Our day of glory has arrived
    Against us the bloody flag of tyranny is raised; the bloody flag is raised.
    Do you hear, in the countryside
    The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
    They’re coming right into your arms
    To cut the throats of your sons, your comrades!

    To arms, citizens!
    Form your battalions
    Let’s march, let’s march
    That their impure blood
    Should water our fields.

  11. al Ameda says:

    A friendly reminder to all those folks out there who are feeling that, ‘those French, look at all that rioting, we Americans are so much better than that rioting and anarchy stuff ….”

    Well, we’re pretty damned good at rioting ourselves. In fact, 2+ years after the fact, our January 6th White riot is STILL being investigated.

  12. EddieInCA says:

    I lived in Paris (5th arrondisment near St. Germaine and St. Michel) twice. The longest period being 9 months. I speak some French, and once called my wife, while hiding inside a recessed doorway as a riot passed right by me. Not a protest, but an actual riot rolling down the street like a protest, but with cars being vandalized, and some windows being broken as it rolled by.

    Good times.

    I’ll be there in three weeks, so hoping it’s over by the time I arrive at DeGaulle on July 19th.

  13. dazedandconfused says:

    My grandfather once bought a used Renault which was sensitive enough to realize the futility and inappropriate nature of existence (specifically its own) on Cali’s 405 and promptly immolated itself, so I have a certain level of expertise in this matter.

    Police depts are easily succumb to or develop their own fraternal culture which supersedes management, even if the management is the last part to swear obedience to it. Those can be toxic. It seldom leaves without violence.

  14. ImProPer says:

    Visited France last year. Wound up catching Covid, and spent the time holed up in a Parisian hotel. I do know the countryside is spectacular though.
    My conversational French is limited to the chorus of “Lady Marmalade” a popular song on the radio back in the 70s. However my wife threatened me in no uncertain terms not to use it in Paris. I am by no means an expert on the French culture. TBH I’ve lived in the USA for 59 years and still feel somewhat perplexed by American culture. One characteristic though that is glaringly obvious, spreading false information and bad logic with admittedly good propaganda and historical fiction seems to be a defining modern ritual.
    To the above post:

    “The parallels with the Black Lives Matter protests are considerable.”

    TBH, I also find parallels to the 1/6 riots.
    However an apparent fetish for law inforcement was, up until then a contrast with the other two examples.

    “And, yet, the instinct to use the police power to restore law and order are not only understandable but really the only tool available to political leadership”

    A sentiment that holds true even when the rule of law is restored under populist regimes. Forward leadership that brings about widespread peace and prosperity is much too complicated for those ruled by their passions.(See USA)
    If not obvious,the above is merely a generalized pontification, rather than a specific one the French riots ;•)

  15. Kurtz says:


    Ya know, reading the op, thinking about riots, and political change…get to your link and click…

    The first thing I see is an ad for TikTok featuring a cat. Now I know even less than I did before.

  16. anjin- san says:

    @ James

    The rioting never seems to stop.

    Umm. It’s been going on for less than a week. I know this because my grandparents came from France.

  17. James Joyner says:

    @anjin- san: But this is on top of the rioting, ostensibly over pension reform, that have been ongoing since January, which were on top of whatever the Yellow Shirt riots were about. It seems that every minor political kerfuffle leads to nationwide riots.

  18. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @James Joyner:

    Well, I’m not a native, but I’ve lived here long enough now to opine I suppose …

    France is a strange place. Protesting (with the occasional deterioration into rioting) is the French national pastime, but the French on the whole are also a pretty conservative bunch who very much like an orderly society (hence the very, very well equipped police – multiple levels of them, up to and including shock troops. They do not fk around here.)

    That having been said, this is being blamed on the police by the usual suspects who have an axe to grind with police in general, but here in the real world, France has a fundamental (and fundamentally ignored) problem of which the police are just a symptom. Namely, a rather large and very poorly integrated immigrant community (mostly from its former colonies, especially Algeria), which is at best grudgingly tolerated and more typically openly despised by the native French.

    Those native French don’t make any effort to hide the fact that they do not want this community in France and would be thrilled if it just departed for whence it came. Essentially walled off from French society and the French economy beyond subsistence / public assistance terms, these folks molder in poverty in the banlieues, unemployed, with a great deal of time on their hands in which to simmer and grow resentment (not entirely unjustified). That was (and is) always going to periodically boil over into what you are seeing now (and saw before with the gilets jaunes).

    Unfortunately, the French government’s response is not going to be “these people have a legitimate beef, so let’s sit down and talk about it.” Not by a long shot. You should expect the situation to escalate from the perspective of the degree of violence employed by the government to bring an end to it.

  19. Lounsbury says:

    @James Joyner: And of course travelling to the USA one sees constant gunfights and school shootings as after all I saw them on the news in March, in April, etc

    The manifs about the pension reform were and are hardly rioting (stupid but hardly rioting).

    @HarvardLaw92: Gendarmie…. more than police.

    The phrase Native French, while you convey indeed the discourse of course, is fundamental to the problem – when a Beur is 3rd generation, is he not “native French”? Well of course for some the answer is quite clear and ethno-racial on a borderline nazi manner however better dressed up in discourse as the langauge of Molière is quite good at. Of course these same Algerian “reflows” into France, their grandparents were educated in a system that claimed Algeria was integral part of France.


    There is regardless in France a profound layer of gross ethnic prejudice (despite the amusingly naïve comments some time back in a thread on American race about comfort in France),but in la langue de Molière one has a fine and masterful tradition of beautifying in language the most unbeautiful realities, after all one is speaking in prose…

  20. HarvardLaw92 says:


    The choice was deliberate. France looks stubbornly secular and republican on the surface, and in many ways it is, but culturally the underpinning of francité is decidedly Catholic. In its heart, if not necessarily its attendance, this remains a profoundly Catholic country. The divide is as much (if not moreso) one of cultural religiousity as it is of ethno-racial differences. At the end of the day, the “native” French expected all those Algerians, et al, to go back from whence they came once they’d completed the task – rebuilding post-war France – for which they were encouraged to temporarily immigrate and found, to their continuing horror, that the immigrants instead intended to stay. We’ve had various policy blocks of containment / exclusion and ghettoization ever since. It was never going to end well.

    Gendarmerie and national police. GIGN, meet RAID and BRI. Gendarmerie Mobile, meet CRS. On and on, ad infinitum. Let’s not forget that DGSI arose from and remains culturally locked with the NP / Surete. Hell, they both have armored and paratroop divisions now. The fundamental problem with hypothetically separate but equal national police forces is that they both want to run the show and whatever toys one gets, the other wants. That said, when it comes down to stubborn republicanism versus cultural preference for order, you know which one will prevail here. Both orgs have no qualms about deploying violence on a level that even the most law and order Americans (and I’d wager most Brits who don’t live in Belfast) would recoil from when the French power structure decides that enough is enough and turns them loose.

  21. Lounsbury says:

    @HarvardLaw92: As I said I recognise the discourse it lifts from, however the commentators here and generally the anglos may naïvely read immigrant to be an actual immigrant and not in fact a 3rd or 4th generation French born person, who just happens not to have a Franco-catholic name and to have a suspect face. From my particular melange of family history am quite familiar.

    In French there is quite the habit to dress up de facto discrimination in grand and flowing prose of equality and secularity –

    However, while the narrative about the post-war you are repeating is a wide one, the rather neglected part is the dual reflows after 1962, harkis included, and simple refuge seekers. The backflow of empire and a prior failure of ‘integration’ as more Potemkin façade

  22. HarvardLaw92 says:


    Fair enough. It boils down to a profoundly consistent cultural identity shared among the French (francité) rooted in the symbology and practices of Catholicism within which all of these “outsider” people – regardless of when they showed up or why – are regarded as being, and are often quite bluntly reminded of being – indelibly and irredeemably “other” / “not French”. The “native” French do not want them here and they don’t go to any great lengths to disguise or downplay that sentiment.

    And yes, I get the paradox of my own situation, but I don’t have either a stereotypically Jewish last name or appearance. I look like and carry the name branding of what you’d expect with someone with hundreds and hundreds of years of German family history. As far as the French are concerned, I’m typically assumed to be German, so this doesn’t affect me like you’d assume it would.

  23. Lounsbury says:

    @HarvardLaw92: While one should not say too broadly the soi-disant native French it is of course a broad current as rather evident in the LePeniste electoral strength.

    But this is indeed why I found so amusing a few weeks ago in one of the American racism discours here on this blog a certain American commentator singing the eloges of France… visited as a tourist of course.

    Grass is always greener.

    As a family of rootless cosmopolitan imperial confettis managing to not be quite right on any register our own experience rather renders sceptique of all fine declarations.

  24. anjin-san says:

    @James Joyner:

    Yes, France is having its share of problems with violent riots. But as America more and more resembles Dodge City writ large, with near-daily shootouts, with multiple mass shootings sometimes on the same day, and the horrific frequency with which children are murdered at school, perhaps we should really look in the mirror, not elsewhere…