Medieval martial arts teacher jailed for slapping French leader

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Paris — The 28-year-old man who gained instant infamy by slapping French President Emmanuel Macron has been handed an 18-month jail sentence, but will only serve four months behind bars as the rest of the sentence was suspended. He told investigators that he'd acted "without thinking" when he struck the president.

The medieval history and martial arts enthusiast, identified only as Damien T., said he wanted to "express his unhappiness" with Macron's policies.

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 se fait gifler en direct de #Tain pic.twitter.com/tsXdByo22U

— ⚜️ (@AlexpLille) June 8, 2021

Macron's bodyguards immediately moved the president away and pulled the man to the ground. He and another man were arrested. Damien T. appeared in court Thursday, charged with assaulting a person in authority.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of three years prison and a hefty fine, but the prosecutor asked the judge for the 18-month sentence.

"I think that Macron represents very neatly the decay of our country," the convicted slapper told the court on Thursday, according to France's BFM TV. "If I had challenged Macron to a duel at sunrise, I doubt he would have responded."

Damien T. isn't alone in his distaste for France's leader. 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 president of using his official visit to the region to bolster support for his beleaguered party in regional elections later this month. But the slap united even his political foes, drawing criticism from across the political spectrum, including from his main rival, far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

French President Emmanuel Macron gets slapped by a member of the public during a visit in Tain-L'Hermitage, France, in this still image taken from video on June 8, 2021.  / Credit: BFMTV/ReutersTV
French President Emmanuel Macron gets slapped by a member of the public during a visit in Tain-L'Hermitage, France, in this still image taken from video on June 8, 2021. / Credit: BFMTV/ReutersTV

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 particularly extreme 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.

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