How France’s new wave of extreme-Right influencers led to Macron’s humiliating slap round the chops

Before Damien Tarel struck the left cheek of French president Emmanuel Macron to a resounding thwack on Tuesday, he shouted "Montjoie Saint Denis!", a battle-cry of France’s 12th century royal armies

After his arrest, the 28-year-old unemployed martial arts and medieval swordsmanship enthusiast told police he held "ultra-Right" political beliefs, but claimed he was not affiliated to any party or militant group.

Online, however, the self-described "patriot" followed scores of extreme-Right accounts, which form part of a new wave of social media influencers that are gaining in popularity with young people across France.

Just days before regional elections and ahead of a 2022 presidential election that is expected to pit Mr Macron against far-Right leader Marine Le Pen, there is a fear the online stars, who publish brazenly racist, sexist, sometimes violent videos and push fake news, could help swing the vote.

Macron getting a slap

They are suspected of fuelling the beliefs of the man who was jailed for four months over his attack on the president.

"There are about ten people who have a lot of audience, but they have a panoply of rather broad and varied ideologies. They do agree on many subjects like the decadence of France, and contempt against the elite," said Romain Fargier, a researcher on the role of YouTube in French politics at the University of Montpellier.

"There is a whole new French Right whose goal is to spread their ideas through content and culture. They mainly target young people, those under 34 years old," he told French radio.

One of the men Mr Tarel followed is Ugo Gil Jimenez. Days before the incident, the 35-year-old YouTube star who calls himself "Papacito" had posted a violent video tutorial in which he showed viewers how to shoot Left-wing voters and explained how to legally buy weapons in France.

The vlogger, clad with a black beret, military slacks and sunglasses, repeatedly shot and stabbed a mannequin wearing a T-shirt that read "communist" until its head dropped, in a video seen over 100,000 before the platform took it down. It reemerged later on other accounts.

Damien Tarel, the man who slapped French PResident Emmanuel Macron, is a 28-year-old medieval history fanĀ 

Mr Tarel also followed Henry de Lesquen, who has been sentenced for denying the Holocaust and hate speech, and Julien Rochedy, a former senior figure of Le Pen’s National Rally.

On Thursday, Mr Tarel, now in prison, told the court during his fast-tracked trial he himself questioned the existence of the Holocaust. "I visit illegal websites on the Second World War which question the existence of the gas chambers," he said.

Papacito and others, such as TikToker Estelle Redpill and Henry de Lesquen, who was convicted for negationism and incitement to hatred, boast tens of thousands of followers, and have established audiences on platforms that mainstream politicians are trying to leverage ahead of next year’s poll.

Ms Le Pen leads Mr Macron in some polls, but faces an uphill battle to beat the president in a likely second round runoff.

Last month, 43-year-old President Macron faced off against two of the country’s most famous vloggers, McFly and Carlito, in an anecdote contest, a PR coup aimed at charming French youth which clocked up over 14 million views.

While none of the ultra-conservative stars have called to vote for Marine Le Pen, several have come out in favour of a potential bid by divisive far-Right pundit Eric Zemmour, who has been convicted for hate speech several times and accused of sexual abuse.

"There has been a certain contempt on the part of politicians towards these YouTubers. But, although Papacito did not announce his support for Marine Le Pen, he affirmed that he would not hesitate to vote for Eric Zemmour if he ran for the presidential elections," Mr Fargier said.

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