French president Emmanuel Macron and Alexandre Benalla (right).
French President Emmanuel Macron has come under fire after it emerged a senior security aide dressed in police riot gear and assaulted a protester — and was let off with only a brief suspension.
Alexandre Benalla, who is in charge of security for Macron’s engagements, was identified by French newspaper Le Monde from a video filmed during an anti-government demonstration in Paris on May 1. The video was originally posted by a socialist activist.
Benalla, who is not a police officer, is seen wearing a police visor and grabbing a young woman by the neck and forcibly moving her, before hitting a man who had already been tackled to the ground.
🔴🔴🔴🔴 ALERTA VIOLENCES POLICIÈRES DES POLICIERS TABASSENT ET GAZENT TOUT LE MONDE PLACE CONTREESCARPE !! FAITES TOURNER IL FAUT QUE TOUT LE MONDE VOIT !! #ViolencesPolicieres #1erMai https://t.co/Dabr6HHwyJ
When asked by reporters on Thursday whether France had been damaged by the affair, Macron said: “The Republic is unalterable.”
Benalla was suspended for 15 days without pay at the time, a spokesperson for the Élysée Palace — France’s version of the White House — said Thursday morning.
Bruno Roger-Petit said Benalla had “been given permission to witness the demonstrations only as an observer.”
“Clearly, he went beyond this … he was immediately summoned by the president’s chief of staff and given a 15-day suspension. This comes as a punishment for unacceptable behavior,” he said.
However, the Paris prosecutor only became aware of the incident with the publication of Le Monde’s article, and subsequently launched an investigation into Benalla over the alleged violent acts and his assumption of police duties and equipment.
Benalla pictured during the May Day rally in Paris.
Another police officer who accompanied Benalla was also suspended for “exceeding his authorisation in the same way,” Roger-Petit added.
Macron’s response to the incident has been met with outrage from some politicians.
“‘Inalterable?’ The Republic must above all be exemplary,” said Guillaume Garot, a Socialist MP. “Keeping an associate with unworthy behaviour close to you is incomprehensible.”
“The Élysée must dismiss him immediately. Or rather: should have done…” he added. “No impunity.”
« Inaltérable » ? la République doit d’abord être exemplaire. Maintenir auprès de soi un collaborateur au comportement indigne est incompréhensible. La justice doit passer. L’Élysée doit le démettre immédiatement. Ou plutôt : aurait dû… Pas d’impunité. #AlexandreBenalla https://t.co/WLIKfTnGmE
Benoît Hamon, former education minister under François Hollande’s Socialist government, said on Twitter that the incident amounted to a “cover up and disorder at the top of the state.”
“Macron cannot refuse to explain himself any longer,” he said.
Des faits d’une gravité inédite. Une dissimulation et un désordre au sommet de l’Etat peut-être encore plus graves. Emmanuel Macron ne peut refuser de s’expliquer plus longtemps #AlexandreBenalla
Further to the left, politicians of socialist party La France Insoumise (LFI) were equally outraged. Alexis Corbière, an MP and spokesperson for the party’s leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, called for an investigation as soon as the revelations came to light, and for criminal sanctions if the allegations prove to be correct.
“Only 15 days suspension for what is a criminal offence is not acceptable,” he wrote on Twitter. “The presidency of the Republic has clearly sought to stifle this case. Justice must be seized.”
C’est grave, les faits semblent exacts ! Seulement 15 jours de mise à pied pour ce qui est un délit penal n’est pas acceptable. La présidence de la République a manifestement cherché a étouffer cette affaire. La justice doit être saisie. #AlexandreBenalla https://t.co/kQHhgqEAyW
Politicians on the right also came down hard on Macron. Gilbert Collard, head of a think-tank that supports far-right Nationally Rally leader Marine Le Pen, said “we are no longer in a democracy.”
The news comes just days after Benalla was photographed on board a bus with the French football team on Monday, when France won the World Cup final.
Stéphane Ravier, a National Rally senator, was quick to point this out.
“Well, we saw him, with Brigitte Macron and les Bleus, three days ago!” he wrote on Twitter. “The government is digging itself into lies and the grotesque to cover up its rogue methods.”
Collaborateur de Macron, #AlexandreBenalla aurait été « écarté », selon le porte-parole de l’Élysée. Or on le voit, avec Brigitte Macron et les Bleus, il y a 3 jours ! Le gouvernement s’enfonce dans le mensonge et le grotesque pour couvrir des méthodes de voyou !
Adrien Quatennens, an LFI MP, tweeted a picture of Benalla on the bus, joking: “Very well sir! Can I punch the driver to make him go faster?”
« Très bien Monsieur ! Et est-ce que je peux coller un bourre-pif au chauffeur pour qu’il accélère ? » #AlexandreBenalla https://t.co/ssdevCPtsq
BuzzFeed News has reached out to the Élysée for comment.