Diehard French Protester Says He Wants Macron’s ‘Scalp’
(Bloomberg) -- This Paris taxi driver says he wants Emmanuel Macron’s scalp. And on Saturday, he and his friends plan to go get it.
“We’re going out there to fight,” he said from behind the wheel of his brand new French taxi in an unprompted half-hour monologue. “I want Macron’s scalp, I’m not afraid of anything. I have nothing to lose. You have to risk your life or you don’t get anything from these people.”
As French authorities brace for a new day of revolt on Saturday, there’s tension in the air. The protests initiated by the grassroots Yellow Vests movement against a fuel-tax hike have morphed into something a lot more intense with other sections of the population -- students, farmers, truck drivers and any angry person -- all joining in. The discontent has found a focal point in Macron and his efforts to reform France.
“It’s a battle being fought between Macron and public opinion,” said Bernard Sananes, head of the Paris-based pollster Elabe. In a survey Thursday showing Macron’s popularity tumbling to a record low, those polled said “he doesn’t listen to the people, doesn’t know the people, doesn’t understand them,” Sananes said in an interview in Les Echos.
The self-employed cab driver in his 40s, who declined to provide his name, was one of the thousands of protesters who fought the police on Paris’s landmark Champs-Elysees avenue last weekend. Throwing cobblestones, burning cars, desecrating the Arc de Triomphe monument, breaking store windows and looting, images of the rioters shocked viewers across the globe. The protests forced Macron to suspend the fuel-tax plan, but that hasn’t appeased everyone.
‘To His Knees’
The cabbie intends to be there again on Saturday and will try to break into to the very tightly guarded Elysee presidential palace, just half a mile away from Paris’s best-known avenue. He is one of the people that Macron’s office has warned want to “riot and kill.”
French security forces are on high alert. The government plans to use “exceptional measures” in
addition to the 65,000 police deployed across the country to deal with any protests, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Thursday. “We will fight against hatred and violence.” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has asked Yellow Vests protesters to stay away from the Champs-Elysees.
The taxi driver spoke forcefully and with agitation about his plans during a ride across France’s capital city in the wee hours of Thursday. He said he was protesting and will continue to do so for as long as it takes to bring “Macron to his knees,” and make him renounce most of his policies.
Self-proclaimed fighters like him, with diffuse demands, no real organization or visible leader, pose the biggest security and political challenge for Macron: they are the genie he can’t put back in the bottle. Among the biggest cries during the weeks of unrest have been for Macron to resign.
For people like the taxi driver, there’s no limit when it comes to removing the youngest French leader since Napoleon who, as the country’s economy minister between 2014 and 2016, deregulated the taxi business and was a strong supporter of car-booking apps.
“He ruined us, he broke our business,” the taxi driver said. “He wants everything new, digital, the new world, and he did it all without thinking of the cost for us. Replace everyone, have everything young, new? Yeah, well that’s not how you do things. Now it’s payback time.”
For the police and intelligence forces, monitoring people like him is close to impossible.The cabbie says he’s not one of the Yellow Vests protesters, who he said “are so naive, they ask for something. We fight for it. With us, with our fight they would have gotten something.”
He and his friends organized through social medial platforms. First in Facebook groups, moving then to an encrypted messaging service. They used WhatsApp and when they realized it allowed “only a few hundred people in a group, we changed to Telegram. In their groups we can be thousands!” Telegram Messenger is a chat software backed by Russian millionaires and offers secure group communications. French intelligence claims to have no access to the data.
One of the groups he’s in is called “Combat Taxis” or the Taxi Fight. Another was dubbed “Saturday Fight.” They won’t register their demonstration plans with the police as legally required, nor obey the Interior Ministry’s order not to go to the Champs-Elysees avenue.
“Are they so dumb?” he asked. “Of course, we’ll go to the Champs-Elysees. It’s because we went there last Saturday, that we fought there, that they bowed. What does the police think or even the Yellow Vests ? That you get what you want by obeying ? You fight hard for that.”
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.