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Who are the 'Yellow Vests' behind the Biggest Protests in France for 50 Years? Are the Far Right and Putin Co-Opting?

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Byline InvestigationsLondon
Who are the 'Yellow Vests' behind the Biggest Protests in France for 50 Years? Are the Far Right and Putin Co-Opting?
As nearly 90,000 police brace themselves for another weekend of protests and violence from the 'Gilets Jaunes' movement in France, Byline looks at evidence that the far right and Putin are involved in stirring up Europe wide protest

The 'Yellow Vest' movement, named after the high visibility vests French motorists are obliged to keep in their cars for emergencies, exploded into international news coverage last weekend after violent riots in Paris, and looks set to spread to other European countries. But who are the 'Gilet Jaunes'? What are their aims? And is anyone sponsoring or organising them?  

Most reports characterise the Yellow Vest movement as a spontaneous populist movement, organised on social media, to protest against the French government's plan to reduce carbon emissions through higher taxes on petrol.  

The movement started in November with largely peaceful roadblocks of fuel depots and warehouses across France. By last weekend 130,000 protestors were involved,  culminating in major violence in Paris with looting, burnt out cars, a hundred injured and 400 hundred arrested.

“We want this movement to spread,” said Gilles, who did not want to give his surname. “It began in France, it is here now, and we want it to continue to Germany and the Netherlands, across Europe, even to England.”  

In late November the Yellow Vest November spread to Belgium and in Brussels two police vans were torched and least 60 protestors arrested, some in possession of box-cutters, smoke bombs or tear gas canisters.  

One of the organisers, who did not want to give his full name said.: “We want this movement to spread,” said Gilles, who did not want to give his surname. “It began in France, it is here now, and we want it to continue to Germany and the Netherlands, across Europe, even to England.”

Who is Behind the Yellow Vest Movement? 

With their popular appeal to both lower taxes and a higher minimum wage, the Gilets Jaunes have attracted cross-party support with over 70 percent of the French population supporting the movement, even after the violence of last weekend. 

Most the organisation and publicity of the movement is through Facebook, which has a 63 percent usage in France, and whose algorithms boosted both the activism and media coverage. 

“They seemed excited about the protests but complained about the violent turn due to outside peeps,” the tourist from Ohio told Byline. 

The protests were peaceful until last weekend. 

According to the French government the rioters - 'casseurs' (breakers) - were co-opted by extra right and left wing protest movements.  

On social media, locals were reported to have complained 'the violence is being perpetrated by outsiders.' 

On the night of Saturday November 24, a couple of US tourists were on the Metro subway to the Christmas Market at the Tuileries in Central Paris, when the train was diverted due to the the riots. They struck up a conversation with two male Yellow Vest protesters. 

“They seemed excited about the protests but complained about the violent turn due to outside peeps,” the tourist from Ohio told Byline. 

Far Right and Neo-Nazi Infiltration  

 Self-declared 'White Nationalist' Andrew Anglin, praised the 'Yellow Vests' in the Daily Stormer webzine...  “We are about to take France.” 

While the Yellow Vests still attract popular support, there is little doubt they have been infiltrated by the far right.  Yvan Benedetti, a well known Neo Nazi, was filmed in a violent confrontation with other 'Gilet Jaunes' on 1 December.  The online magazine L'Obs also recorded inverted Nazi salutes and documented racist and homophobic attacks across France.

Meanwhile, a self-declared 'White Nationalist' from the US, Andrew Anglin,  praised the 'Yellow Vests' in the Daily Stormer webzine (formerly known as Total Fascism) and wrote, on December 1, 2018: “We are about to take France.” 

According to Business Insider, “Anglin has long espoused views sympathetic to the Kremlin, including support for pro-Russia Ukrainian separatists. The site’s chief technology officer, Andrew Auernheimer — a black-hat hacker known as “weev” — is known to be living in Ukraine and has called on its pro-western, anti-Putin president, Petro Poroshenko, to step down.”

Auernheimer reportedly communicated with a Republican operative Peter Smith who, according to Politico, attempted “to obtain 33,000 emails deleted by Hillary Clinton — who also“reached out to ‘Guccifer 2.0’ — an alias the U.S. intelligence community has linked to Russian state hackers.” Smith  committed suicide in May 2017. He is a major focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Elections and possible collusion from the Trump team.  

Is Russia Interfering in French Politics? 

While US indictments have named over 20 Russians alleged to have been involved in 'active measures' interfering in the 2016 US Presidential Elections, including organising demonstrations and protests by fake grass roots groups, there has been no clear cut evidence so far of Kremlin interference in the recent round of French protests. 

RT.com, the Russian state controlled broadcaster covered the movement 170 times in its English language service, and 1230 times in the French based edition. The sister organisation Sputnik mentioned the Yellow Vests 3010 times in its French language service. 

However,  some analysts  claim the the '"Yellow Vest Movement” is fundamentally aligned with the Kremlin’s strategic objectives'. RT.com, the Russian state controlled broadcaster covered the movement 170 times in its English language service, and 1230 times in the French based edition. The sister organisation Sputnik mentioned the Yellow Vests 3010 times in its French language service. 

Key Russian figures are also involved in the propaganda war.  Alexander Dugin, the main ideologue of the Kremlin, is writing about the Paris riots in Fort Russ, an English language publication based in Belgrade that is a mouthpiece of RT and Sputnik. Lisa Peskova, daughter of Putin's powerful Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, is reporting from Paris on the protests. 

Why the Yellow Vests Suit Putin's Political and Economic Interests

Beyond propaganda support, there is no evidence so far of the Russian government providing either material or logistic support for any of the protests, but there are key economic and political reason why the crisis for Macron's presidency suits the interests of Putin's regime, especially as indictments loom over key players in the Mueller inquiry into Russian influence on the US presidency. 

* As the Washington Post concluded, “France’s ‘yellow vests’ protests could weaken one of Europe’s few internationalist leaders."

* Throughout Europe and the US, there is solid evidence of Kremlin support for far right and left wing groups, including money transfers to Marine Le Pen's Front National. As Bloomberg concluded: "Most Yellow Vests supporters will split their votes between Le Pen’s National Rally and Jean-Luc Melenchon’s far-left France Unbowed.”

Macron's call for an EU army to complement NATO is a direct threat to Putin's strategic interests

The movement started as a protest against a carbon-emissions tax, planned by Macron as a part of the environmental policy that includes reducing the use of conventional, gasoline-fueled cars and potential partial or complete switch to electric cars.  The measures directed at cutting down the fuel consumption endanger Putin’s regime because the Russian economy is based on the export of natural resources, in particular, oil and gas. 

UPDATE: elements of the Gilets Jaunes release a set of demands, including withdrawal from NATO and the EU — Frexit. The demands closely track Kremlin talking points

UPDATE 2: There is evidence of co-ordination between the Gilets Jaunes movement and planned protests in Britain led by EDL leader, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson). 

Described as the “backbone of Britain” by former Trump campaign manager and Breitbart chief executive Steve Bannon, Yaxley-Lennon is leading a planned protest in the UK on Sunday.   His intervention suggests more co-ordination with US funded Alt Right groups, and seems to revel in the posssiblity of civil unrest and violence. 

#Gilets Jaunes, #Yellow Vests, #Emmanuel Macron, #Vladimir Putin, #Yvan Benedetti, #Andrew Anglin, #Daily Stormer

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