The public prosecutor believed him, saying it was clear there was no premeditation, and that the man had acted on the spur of the moment when the president walked directly over to him as he went to greet a waiting crowd in the village of Tain-l’Hermitage in the southeast region of the Drome. A video of the incident was posted to Twitter.
Macron’s bodyguards immediately moved the president away and pulled the man to the ground. He and another man were arrested. Damien T. was due to be tried in court Thursday on charges of assaulting a person in authority.
The charge carries a maximum sentence of three years prison and a hefty fine, but given what’s been said by the prosecutor already — and the fact that another man who grabbed then-President Nicolas Sarkozy by the collar in 2011 got a 6-month suspended sentence — Damian T. likely won’t face so stiff a penalty.
Macron had already been pilloried before the visit to the Drome to meet restaurateurs, who have finally been allowed to re-open after months of COVID-19 lockdown.
Political opponents have accused the Macron of using his presidential visit to the region to bolster support for his beleaguered party in regional elections later this month. But the slap has united even his political foes, drawing criticism from across the political spectrum, including from his main rival, far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
There was criticism, too, in Damien T.’s neighboring hometown of Saint-Vallier.
Locals told reporters they were stunned by the man’s actions. Well-liked, he’s known as a bit of a geek, fascinated by medieval knights and sword fighting. He’s run two small non-profit associations locally, one teaching medieval martial arts, and the other organizing role-play and video games.
Locals said neither he nor the other man arrested with him — a World War II enthusiast — had any particular political leanings that they were aware of. Police searched their homes, and the second man will be tried on weapons charges, which are believed to be linked to his enthusiasm for history.