June 22, 2023 - 10:00am

A disturbing video that emerged this week — of a young black man dragging a white child and her grandmother out of their family home — has become an immediate propaganda opportunity for France’s far-Right. Within a few minutes of the 30-second clip appearing on social media, politicians who have spent their careers talking about immigrants defiling the indigenous population were recycling their warnings. 

Various Right-wing figures pointed out that the attempted kidnapping took place in the refined southwest city of Bordeaux, in a quartier once dominated by traditional French families. There was even a beloved pet Labrador looking on as the attacker stuck his foot in the door to stop grandmother and child, aged 73 and seven, from hiding. He then pulled both to the pavement, attempting to run away with the little girl before she managed to escape. 

Marine Le Pen, runner-up in France’s last two presidential elections, led the chorus of politically charged outrage, tweeting: “This aggression in Bordeaux is symbolic of the delinquency that our fellow citizens suffer today — a gratuitous and increasingly violent delinquency. No city, no village, no neighbourhood is preserved from the development of this insecurity.”

Le Pen remains doyenne of the Rassemblement National (RN), a party with deeply racist antecedents, and one that is still obsessed with linking social breakdown to newcomers — especially those who look like the attacker in the video.

Other reflections about the Bordeaux video tweeted by Le Pen to her near three million followers included “The worsening of delinquency is notably linked to the explosion of anarchic immigration,” and “We must drastically resolve the problem of massive immigration, which is partly responsible for the explosion of insecurity.”

Éric Zemmour, another former presidential candidate with a massive following thanks to his work as a TV pundit and newspaper polemicist, was just as forthright, saying: “How horrific. Bordeaux today. This is what they have done to our country. French, wake up”.

What none of these commentators mentioned was that the unnamed attacker was a 29-year-old Frenchman who has lived in Bordeaux all his life. Beyond having nothing to do with migrant influxes from Africa or the Middle East, he was a known drug user with severe mental health problems. 

Police were unable to question him about the attack because of “major behavioural problems linked to a schizophrenic and psychotic pathology”, said a spokesman for Bordeaux prosecutors. The 29-year-old still faces charges including attempted kidnap, but not until he is deemed fit for trial by a psychiatrist. 

The family involved were reportedly not happy with the way the horrifying assault was manipulated, nor with the way the video was distributed without their permission. Like all those aware of the facts, they knew the outrage had everything to do with severe psychiatric problems, and easily available hard drugs.

Major French cities including Paris are now full of deeply disturbed individuals of all backgrounds who are left to menace fellow citizens, often because they need money for their next fix. The Bordeaux attacker has a long string of convictions behind him but, as so often, France’s criminal justice system failed to keep him away from the most vulnerable. Even now, his mental health is likely to play a big part in his mitigation for the crimes of which he is accused, and he could be roaming again within months. 

As Le Pen prepares for yet another attempt to become France’s head of state in 2027, and support for the radical Right swells, she will continue to rely on the power of such shock videos — ones that are often devoid of context, let alone honest links to her political messaging.

Peter Allen is a journalist and author based in Paris.