A man who slapped French President Emmanuel Macron in the face during a meet-and-greet on Tuesday was sentenced Thursday to 18 months in prison, with 14 of them suspended.
Damien Tarel, 28, acknowledged he had caught Macron with a “rather violent” swipe but testified that the attack was impulsive and unplanned.
“When I saw his friendly, lying look, I felt disgust, and I had a violent reaction,” he told the court in the southeastern city of Valence. “It was an impulsive reaction. … I was surprised myself by the violence.”
Videos showed him slapping the French leader’s left cheek as he met with members of the public, who were kept back behind traffic barriers in the winemaking town of Tain-l’Hermitage, around 55 miles south of Lyon.
He could be heard crying out “Montjoie! Saint Denis!” a centuries-old royalist war cry, before finishing with “A bas la Macronie,” or “Down with Macron,” and catching him with an audible thwack.
Macron’s bodyguards quickly pushed Tarel away, and he was immediately arrested.
While Tarel said he and his friends had considered bringing an egg or a cream pie to throw at the president, he said they dropped the idea — and insisted that the slap wasn’t premeditated.
Without providing details of what policies he wants France to change, Tarel told the court he thought Macron represented “the decline of our country.”
He told investigators he held right- or ultra-right political convictions without being a member of a party or group, according to the prosecutor’s office.
As well as serving four months in prison, Tarel was banned from ever holding public office in France and from owning weapons for five years after he was convicted on a charge of violence against a person invested with public authority, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail and a 45,000-euro ($55,000) fine.
Macron wouldn’t comment Thursday on the trial but told French broadcaster BFM-TV that “nothing justifies violence in a democratic society, never.”
“It’s not such a big deal to get a slap when you go toward a crowd to say hello to some people who were waiting for a long time,” he said.
Another man arrested in the ruckus that followed the slap, identified by the prosecutor as Arthur C., will be judged at a later date, in 2022, for illegal possession of weapons.
The prosecutor’s office said as well as finding weapons, police who searched the home of Arthur C. also found books on the art of war, a copy of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto “Mein Kampf” and two flags, one symbolizing Communists and another of the Russian revolution.
Neither Tarel nor Arthur C., also 28, had police records, the prosecutor said.