The killing of a teenage anti-fascist militant after an altercation with far-right skinheads in early June prompted fears of a resurgence of far-right violence. But the evidence suggests the leftists may have been the aggressors.
The death of a leftist militant at the hands of a skinhead gang in Paris on June 5 may not have been a clear-cut case of far-right aggression, following a report on CCTV footage of the event in which the leftist militant is seen throwing the first punch.
Subsequent details from the police investigation suggest that victim Clément Méric, 18, and his fellow “Antifas” [anti-fascists] may even have been targeting the skinhead who is now being investigated for involuntary manslaughter.
Méric (pictured) sustained fatal injuries following a verbal altercation with the skinheads at a private sale of British-branded clothes – particularly Fred Perry, Barbour and Ben Sherman – favoured by French far-right and leftist militants alike.
As originally reported, the skinheads left the sale, “fetched reinforcements” and waited outside for Méric and his friends to reappear. Méric died after he was hit at least once in the head.
Early reports suggested that the man who hit Méric, Esteban Morillo, had been wearing brass knuckles.
Méric ‘the most provocative’
But according to French broadcaster RTL, which has seen the footage taken by a nearby camera belonging to Paris’s RATP public transport network, Méric and his group may well have been the ones to have struck first, confirming claims by far right groups that Morillo had been attacked, and not vice-versa.
According to RTL, it was Méric and his group who waited outside the sale, and it was he who threw the first punch.
RTL also quoted witnesses saying that Méric had been the most provocative during the verbal altercation.
Immediately after Méric’s death, the Paris prosecutor asked that charges of premeditated murder be levelled at security guard Morillo, 20.
But the investigating judge dismissed the suggestion that Morillo and his gang had purposefully targeted Méric, ruling that he should be investigated instead for manslaughter.
And according to weekly news magazine Le Point, investigators who confiscated computers from “Antifa” militants associated with Méric found photos of Morillo and his girlfriend Katia, annotated with the comment: “We need to identify these people.”
‘Anti-fascist’ ‘skinhead hunters’?
Le Point goes on to suggest that the police are investigating the possibility that Méric and his associates in the “Antifa” movement – which the far right calls “skinhead hunters” – had managed to identify Morillo and were actively seeking to provoke a confrontation.
Three other men, aged 19, 23 and 25 have been charged with aggravated assault. A 32-year old woman has been charged with aiding and abetting the assault.
In the aftermath of Méric’s death, there was an outpouring of public sympathy for Méric amid fears of a resurgence of far-right militancy in France.
French Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for the far-right organisations linked with the alleged aggressors, notably “Troisième Voie” [Third Way] and Jeunesses Nationalistes Révolutionnaires (JNR) [Nationalist Revolutionary Youth], to be officially dissolved.
Late on Tuesday Serge Ayoub, founder of the JNR, said he had dissolved the organisation in the last few days “for the honour of it not being dissolved by other people.”