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The French Contraction

Julien Coupat is all that remains, one of twenty individuals arrested in connection with co-ordinated incidents of sabotage against France’s TGV high-speed railways last November. Iron bars were used to short out the electrical systems of several lines which stranded approximately 20,000 passengers on trains and in stations, affecting departures to as far away as London. There were no injuries, no explosions, no manifestos left behind at the points of vandalism, but initial suspicion fell on striking railway workers.

Three days afterwards police held simultaneous raids in Paris, Rouen and Tarnac, netting twenty suspects, eleven of whom were soon freed. The remaining nine, now referred to as the Tarnac 9 because most were from there, remained in detention and questions for several days. Four more suspects were released while the remaining were charged with “association of wrong-doers in relation to a terrorist undertaking”. Nearly a month after the acts of sabotage three more people are released by the courts, leaving archeology student, Yidune Levy, and her “companion” Coupat. On January 16th Levy was freed after a judge’s intervention, although she may be re-incarcerated pending judicial review. Coupat was originally ordered released in December by a judge but an emergency order has kept him in jail.

Logistically it would have been impossible for a single person to have brought France’s trains to a screeching halt and the question remains whether actual charges will be brought directly relating to the sabotage. The vague legalese of terrorism charges immediately makes one suspicious that the government is stumbling blind, realizing that they arrested the wrong people; background investigations on Coupat and company also suggest that the government was really excited at the prospect of being able to nail them for something.

Agents working for the Ministry of the Interior were contacted by the FBI after Coupat and Levy crossed the Canadian border into New York. It’s unclear whether they were detained at all but it has been suggested the crossing was somehow illegal and that the pair somehow abandoned a backpack along the way. Inside the backpack, amongst various anarchist pamphlets, was a picture of a military recruitment office which would later be the victim of a small device explosion along with the Mexican and British consulates. No one was injured in those attacks which seemed to have been timed to take place in the dead of night. Coupat and Levy are not, so far as I know, suspects in these acts as they were probably back home in Tarnac; they are, however, renowned travelers to various tea-parties along the worldwide anarchist protest parade.

Presumably in the course of these investigations French agents of the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur (like our FBI) connected Coupat with the writing of “L’insurrection qui Vient” (The Coming Insurrection), a book which was distributed to heads of police by Alain Bauer, an internationally renowned criminologist. I’ll admit I haven’t done more than skim through the screed but it appears no different than any other smug fantasy rant/ideological call to arms. Investigators have tried to support their case by citing passages which relate to acts of sabotage against railways. The publisher of “L’insurrection qui Vient” and others all deny Coupat is the author, or at least solely responsible; the authorship has been attributed to a nameless committee.

Further evidence that Coupat was a predetermined target is the scale of the Tarmac operation. The rural town of under four-hundred residents was subjected to helicopters, over a hundred body-armor suited State police and co-ordinated media coverage. The communal farm where Coupat and others resided held such damning evidence as a train schedule and ladders. The townspeople have rallied behind those arrested in November, citing their collectively run grocery, restaurant, library and theatre as beneficial to the village and indications that the anti-capitalists who had moved there to escape urban life were hardly shadowy terrorists. Critics of the entire investigation question whether the acts of sabotage against a railway system can even qualify as terrorist acts, something still being argued over between judges in court.

I assume that Coupat will eventually be released and remain under tight surveillance. The French government screwed the pooch, unable to to pass on the opportunity to arrest these anarchic youth and now left holding nothing. After widespread rioting in Greece and several years of strikes and youth protests/riots in France, in addition to a worsening economic climate and increased immigration, tensions seem high. What will be interesting to see is whether this ends as a black eye on the face of the French government or the first in a series of questionable actions against a growing confederation of anti-state collectives. If it turns out to be the latter, I wonder if that’s evidence of the growing effectiveness of “leftist” political action and activism or the panicked and blind lashing out of crumbling governments uncertain how to preserve the way things are in a changing world.

Image is from the Manchester Guardian article cited about Tarnac, credited to Thierry Zoccolan/AFP/Getty Images. The analysis provided by Alberto Toscano, The War Against Preterrorism, was invaluable in collecting disparate information, particularly as I am not so much with the French. He also goes into the controversial L’insurrection qui Vient, if you’re interested.

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