Micha?l Tronchon, alias Phineas

I’m not sure how much the international press is covering the recent racist violence in Lyon. A Google News search shows only the New York Times offering coverage in English.

The salient facts: Late Saturday night, a 24 year old man surrendered to police in Paris, claiming responsability for the cemetery desacration in Lyon and the murder of an north African Arab man a few days earlier. His name is Micha?l Tronchon. Police consider his confession legitimate and believe that the perpetrator is now in custody.

In traditional French press fashion, the left-wing Le Monde’s coverage focuses on life history and material conditions. The young man had recently become unemployed, laid off by a print shop in Lyon. He lived in a 25 sq. metre apartment in one of the bad ends of Lyon. His neighbours thought he was a polite, discrete sort.

Le Figaro goes a little further in depth into the life and mindset of the suspect.

Avant d’agir, il dit ?tre entr? en contact avec des mouvements radicaux o? certains auraient encourag? ses projets violents. Les enqu?teurs cherchent ? identifier ces ?ventuels soutiens, mais les liens restent flous, tout comme ses accointances avec le milieu n?onazi. Ce jeune tr?s isol?, ayant en partie grandi dans des foyers pour adolescents en difficult?, est certes fascin? par Hitler, mais semble m?conna?tre son id?ologie, affirmant aux enqu?teurs ne rien avoir contre les juifs.

Sa cible, ce sont les musulmans. Le 11 septembre le d?cide ? ?r?agir?. Il puise alors dans les m?dias son mode op?ratoire. L’assassinat de Romain tu? le mois dernier par un clandestin nord-africain avec une hache l’impressionne. Puis il d?couvre dans un documentaire t?l?vis?, ?Les Pr?tres de Phineas?, des extr?mistes am?ricains qui commettent des actes violents contre de pr?tendus ennemis. Il ach?te alors deux hachettes dans une grande surface que les enqu?teurs avaient retrouv?e. Le 5 ao?t, une semaine apr?s avoir quitt? son emploi de graphiste dans une imprimerie lyonnaise, il se l?ve ? l’aube, ?pr?t? ? passer ? l’attaque.

Before taking action, he [Tronchon] claims to have contacted radical groups, some of whose members encouraged his violent plans. Detectives are trying to identify the source of this support, but the links remain just as tenuous as his acquaintances in the Neonazi milleu. This very isolated young man, having grown up largely in homes for problem adolescents, is clearly fascinated by Hitler, but seems to have a weak grasp of his own ideology, having told investigators that he has nothing against the Jews.

His target is Muslims. 9/11 brought him to a decision to act. So, he started searching the media for his modus operandi. He was affected by the axe murder of Romain [A young man murdered in Avignon] by an illegal immigrant from Morocco this past July. Then, he discovered in a televised documentary – “The Preachers of Phineas” – American extremists who commit violent acts against their supposed enemies. He then went out and bought at a department store the two axes that the police found. 5 August, a week after quitting his job as a graphic artist in a Lyon print shop, he got up at dawn, “ready” to go on the attack.

The picture this paints is slightly different from the Le Monde version, but in all likelihood this reflects one newspaper having closer links to the investigation than the other, rather than any effort to distort events. Le Figaro is clearly better informed.

To the extent that this represents a failure in French society, it seems not so much to be linked directly to economic problems so much as to a poor juvenal detention system. Tronchon quit his job. Unlike many young men in his situation, he was not laid off. Le Figaro’s coverage is suggestive of a very disturbed young man who has learned that he can make himself visible by committing anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant acts with a Nazi theme. As disturbing as this is, precisely the problem with rousing condemnations of this type of act is that it makes it even clearer that this sort of thing is exactly what you want to do if you intend to make a loud, anti-social statement.

I might propose that a more effective way to go about it is to make anti-Semitism an ideology for losers. August Bebel said that anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools. Perhaps one should put more emphasis on the notion that it is also the radicalism of retards. That Tronchon claims to have nothing against the Jews speaks volumes of the degree to which neo-fascist and racist movements have abstracted their enemies into symbols instead of people.

This does, however, indicate that American racist ideologies aren’t, in fact, making any real inroads in France. In search of a symbol to attach to his acts, Tronchon found one in a French documentary about American racists. I find that, stragely enough, somewhat reassuring. So long as racists are rehashing old themes, it’s hard for them to move out of their traditional milleux. TV as a carrier of bad ideas is not a new story. It’s novel bad ideas – bad ideas whose time has come – that are truly scary.

1 thought on “Micha?l Tronchon, alias Phineas

  1. Hello,

    I am a blogger from Lyon wwww.socdem.net and it happened in my distrcit (the 7th).

    This guy seems to be isolate in the Lyon’s extrem right scene.
    He made what i called ” une star academy sordide” (in english a sordid fame academy)

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