The existence of a masked gang of young men tying up rioters in one town is discussed in French language publications, but the mayor insists no such thing exists and tells locals to call the police if they witness unrest.
Witness accounts of a so-called “brigade anticasseur” (anti-thug brigade) in the port town of Lorlent, Brittany are reported by local newspaper Le Télégramme. In addition to what is reported by members of the public to the paper, a journalist for the publication claims to have seen a group of between 20 and 30 “young, hooded men” wearing balaclavas and gloves performing unofficial arrests.
Using zip-ties to restrain alleged rioters, the men are said to have then handed their captures onto the regular police on Friday night as well as having been seen putting out fires. Described as strongly physically built, fast-moving, and proceeding in a tightly-packed group, a report in Ouest France says one member of the group told a journalist that he couldn’t reveal their identities but that “we are on the good side” and that the group was a spontaneous meeting of friends to protect the city-centre.
The paper claims to have witnessed the group arresting a rioter thought to have vandalised a local business, restraining the individual with “visibly well-honed technique”, as well as punching a rioter in the face. While police officers on the scene talking to the paper say they don’t know who the group are, they are welcoming of the help.
One officer is reported to have said to Le Télégramme: “We let it happen at the start of the evening, because it relieved us”.
Local station J’aime Radio claims to have spoken to members of the group on patrol again two nights later, interviewing them anonymously. One who spoke to the station said at first a group of friends decided they wished to stand side-by-side with police but not get involved, but eventually having seen how overwhelmed the small number of officers were becoming compared to the weight of rioters, they felt obliged to get involved.
When asked by the interviewer if the group had any “far-right” connections, a woman replied that: “no, we are just people who want to save France, because France is going to ruin”. She further added that it was their belief the killing of an Algerian-heritage teen by a police officer last week is just being used as an excuse for rioting and looting by youths.
A man added “we are patriots who love France” and that if rioters only had trouble with the police, they could understand that, but the attacks on private businesses for looting underlined the true cause of the violence. He said it was unacceptable to see a small business owner, who may have invested his whole life of savings, and all his energy, see his hard work “go up in smoke” because of looters.
Several outlets including Ouest France, Telegram and Le Figaro all point out that the town of Lorlent is home to a military base but do not go so far as to definitely assert the brigade’s members are off-duty Marines. A spokesman for the Maritime Commandos force stationed at the base is reported to have denied any knowledge of their people being involved.
Despite journalists from several newspapers reporting directly on the activities of the brigade anticasseurs, the mayor of Lorlent moved quickly to dismiss speculation, insisting the vigilantes didn’t, in fact, exist at all. Centre-right UDI party mayor Fabrice Loher said: “In response to a rumour: no, there is no “militia” working alongside the police! Our citizens are called to call… to report any public order issues.”
Generally, rioters using the death of a teenager in a Paris suburb last Tuesday as a pretext for violence and looting have been able to carry on without interruption from the rest of French society, and even the French government was relatively slow in deploying the police in force. While there were 7,000 officers on patrol the first evening of rioting, it took days to reverse the trend of soaring violence with an eventual deployment of 45,000 officers a night, which is still ongoing.
While there were more clashes, fires, and arrests on Monday night, numbers are considerably down on the peak of violence on Thursday and Friday. According to French Interior Ministry figures, there have been 5,821 car fires and well over 1,000 buildings damaged including 254 police stations and 243 schools, including 60 which took significant damage.
In the now seven nights of violence there have been 2,426 arrests.