Former rising star in French National Front on trial for car-burning
Front National activist on trial for burning cars in small town
Adrien Desport, who denied the attack was politically motivated, said the attack was a sign of rising crime in the area
Adrien Desport, a party activist for the Front National. Photograph: Twitter
A young party activist for France’s far-right Front National (FN) has gone on trial accused of setting fire to cars in secret late-night arson attacks in order to complain about rising crime and insecurity.
Adrien Desport, 25, who stood for the FN in local elections in 2011 and once headed communications at a local party branch in Seine-et-Marne outside Paris, appeared in court in Meaux with five others on charges of arson and vandalism, conspiring to commit crime, drug charges and faking an attack on himself.
The state prosecutor recommended Desport be sentenced to four years in prison with one year suspended. The judges will deliver their verdict at a later date.
During the night of 7 April, Desport and a group of friends – some of whom were also party members and had stood for election – were accused of setting fire to 13 cars in the small town of Mitry-Mory outside Paris. Desport was described in court as the leader of the group aged from 19 to 25.
A few days later, Desport issued an indignant open letter in the FN’s name on his website, denouncing the car burnings as a sign of the rise in crime in the area. In the letter, he said the car burnings justified his proposals for CCTV in “sensitive areas”, as well as his plan to arm local police in order to “end the feeling of insecurity”.
The court heard how after one arson attack, Desport visited one of the victims, commiserated with him and gave him his business card.
The deputy state prosecutor said the arson attacks had been clearly used by Desport online to denounce a rise in crime, and highlighted what he called “political manipulation”.
The court heard how the group took alcohol and prescription drugs before going out and torching cars, either at random or targeting those they had a grudge against.
Desport told the court he had set alight one car but couldn’t remember what happened with the other 12. But he said he took responsibility for it all.
“I made mistakes, I’m here to pay for what I’ve done,” he told the court. He said the arson attacks were just “childishness” of which he wasn’t proud. Asked in court about issuing press releases about the attacks, he said he was simply in the habit of commenting online every day about the events in his town.
Speaking to reporters outside the court, he denied the arson attacks were politically premeditated, but accepted that he capitalised on them.
Car burnings have long been seen in France as a mark of violence on run-down urban housing estates — denounced by the FN. In court, one lawyer for the arson attack victims quoted a tweet by Marine Le Pen, the FN leader, at the start of this year in which she said her party “gives a voice to French people who don’t ask for anything, who don’t take to the streets, who don’t commit vandalism, who don’t burn cars”.
Desport was also accused of faking an attack on himself which was the subject of another press release expressing outrage.
He denied having a separate plan to set fire to a building or to ambush police and steal their arms. His co-defendants described him as a manipulator.
Desport was arrested earlier this year after an FN official went to the police raising concerns about him – Desport was suspended from the party.
The case has proved an embarrassment to the party. At the time of the Desport arrest and scandal, it was under fire over online comments by some of its many candidates in the local elections. Scrutiny of social media accounts during the election campaign had revealed allegations of racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and antisemitism, at odds with Le Pen’s drive to “detoxify” and rebrand the party. One candidate in the south-west was struck off the party list for posting antisemitic comments on Facebook. The party said candidates would face disciplinary procedures over any wrongdoing.
Outside the trial in Meaux, reporters said a party member had approached Desport saying his behaviour had “shamed” the party. Desport replied: “I agree”.