French army officers face punishment for ‘coup’ threat
Retired generals and several hundred officers face formal punishment after telling President Macron that France was risking a military coup for failing to crack down on Islamists who are causing the country to “disintegrate”.
Florence Parly, the defence minister, has ordered an investigation into the signatories to an inflammatory letter written by a former gendarmerie officer with a far-right background. It was first published on a pro-military website and in Valeurs Actuelles, a right-wing magazine, last week. Many of those who signed it, including non-commissioned officers, appeared to be serving members of the forces.
The letter, written by Jean-Pierre Fabre-Bernadac, a retired captain, said France was being destroyed by immigrant Muslim “hordes” from the suburban housing estates that ring its cities. To avert civil war, it said, required “intervention by our comrades on active service in the dangerous mission of protecting our civilised values and the safety of our compatriots”.
It was condemned by all mainstream parties but supported by Marine Le Pen, leader of the nationalist National Rally and candidate for the presidential election next spring.
Parly warned that those behind the letter would not escape repercussions. “These are unacceptable actions,” she told France Info radio. “There will be consequences, naturally.” Serving members of the French armed forces were forbidden to voice religious or political opinions in public, she noted. “The military are not there to campaign, but to defend France and protect the French,” she said.
While Parly dismissed the signatories as old retired men “in their slippers”, most of the 24 generals who signed the letter appear to be on the 2S list, which means they retain their ranks and receive pay as reservists, officials said. This binds them to the obligation of silence. They could lose their privileges in disciplinary proceedings, according to Elodie Maumont, a specialist military lawyer.
Christian Piquemal, 80, a former commander of the Foreign Legion and the most senior general who signed the letter, was struck off the reserve list in 2016 for attending an anti-Islam rally.
The letter carried the names of 80 colonels or naval captains. There were 125 lieutenant-colonels or naval commanders and hundreds of lower-ranking officers. If serving officers are identified they could face court martial charges of incitement contrary to the military legal code, Maumont said, punishable by two years in jail or five for senior officers.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the radical left party France Unbowed, and a presidential candidate, called for the dismissal of all serving officers who put their names to the letter.
Fabre-Bernadac, 70, said he had not sought to identify active servicemen who had signed his letter. “I hope there aren’t any,” he said. He said he wrote it after hearing military colleagues tell of their unhappiness at the disordered state of France. “What we are feeling, everyone is feeling,” he said.
A further 1,000 people had since added their names to the original 1,200 who signed the letter, he claimed.