Tuesday 9th August 2022

At Paris’s Milipol Convention, Smiling Far-Right Politicians Play With Sniper Rifles

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“Ladies and gentlemen,” the MC announces, grabbing onlookers’ attention, “we’re going to begin the third demonstration: a descent-by-rope operation. As you can see, we have two activists, suspended from a rope after hanging up a banner. Our intervention has been requested to remove this banner and take the two activists into our care.”

Two special-ops officers attach themselves to the tightrope and carefully lower themselves from the convention center’s rafters. Two hooded mock activists dangle a few meters below them. At the center of the scene: a tarpaulin emblazoned with a black-gray eagle in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle — the insignia of the Paris police’s crack Brigade d’Intervention.

“We’re going to come to the activists from above in such a way as to allow us to detach the two people,” the narrator continues. “Once an intervention’s begun . . . they’re under our legal responsibility, so we’re obliged to conduct the operation safely, both for the operators and for the activists we’re removing.”

The whole vignette is over in three minutes. After rolling up the nefarious banner and cradling their respective activists, the two police officers gracefully descend to the ground amid polite applause.

Pacification is an art and a science, as well as a business, for the conference-goers at Milipol, the global security industry trade fair held at the Villepinte convention center, just outside Paris. Between October 19 and 22, the conference brought together police commissioners, European government officials, rank-and-file officers, and hundreds of contractors and equipment suppliers for four days of camaraderie, networking, and business deals.

“For European security businesses and public buyers, it’s the equivalent of the Las Vegas Security Expo,” one saleswoman told me, a rep for Steiner Optics, owned by Beretta — combining the best of German optical engineering with the iconic Italian gunmaker. A display case along the aisle offers a sampling of plastic dummy rifles, each affixed with a Steiner brand scope.

The exchanging of handshakes, business cards, and LinkedIn profiles may take primacy over the actual signing of contracts — but if there’s a one-stop shop for all your security needs, Milipol would be it. Flame-resistant textiles of any application, color, and shape. Glock handguns. Hazmat suits. Police-issue BMW motorcycles. Swiss Army knives. Tear gas grenades, rubber bullets, and the whole gamut of “nonlethal” weaponry. Crowd-control shields and barriers. Anti-industrial-espionage, data-protection suitcases and phone holders. Bomb-removal robots. Isolation chambers. Garret metal detectors. Bulletproof glass. Surveillance cameras. Radioactivity-detection screeners. Police body cameras and tasers. Saab motor solutions for the CBRN — chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials — threat. Guardrails. Mobile vehicle barriers. Whole wardrobes of body armor and riot gear for human and canine alike.

The Seoul-based JINO Motors presents itself as the “global No. 1 riot control vehicle.” Their twin-turreted mobile water cannon truck, the Dreadnought-class battleship of protest management, boasts a seventy-meter range from the main guns, with both straight-firing and spray mode. Side ducts and rear nozzles offer full 360-degree protection from protestors. For total strategic operability, however, there’s the JINO barricade truck, with a single “blind-spot-free” water cannon. Folding out from the sides are two separately deployable walls, allowing the truck to extend its front facade to up to eight meters.

Milipol may be a showcase event for the global security industry, but French politics were not far from sight, especially with presidential elections due next April. The twenty-second rendition of the world’s “leading event for homeland security and safety” enjoyed its usual parade of public figures looking for a photo op and the chance to display their solidarity with a key constituency. Gérald Darmanin, Emmanuel Macron’s interior minister, inaugurated the conference with a tour on Tuesday. On Thursday afternoon, a rather glum looking Jordan Bardella, the newly appointed president of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party, made the rounds. When I saw him discussing with a handful of gendarmes, admiring a line of national police service vehicles, it was not difficult to notice his discomfort and anxiety: Where were the swarms of reporters and admirers leaning in for a snapshot and a handshake?

No doubt to Bardella’s dismay, the belle of the ball at this year’s Minipol was Éric Zemmour, the far-right polemicist on the cusp of officializing his candidacy for France’s 2022 presidential election. Zemmour will surely need a militarized and muscular police force: his plans centrally include pledges for mass deportations of immigrants, including the stripping of nationality of “unassimilated” dual citizens. On home turf at Milipol, Zemmour depicts France being trapped in a life-and-death struggle with both Islamic civilization and the relativists and bien-pensants emasculating a once virile nation. In the viral video of his visit to the event that surfaced last Wednesday on Twitter, Zemmour — himself a pure creation of the French media’s appetite for shock — stares down the scope of a military-grade sniper rifle, pointing the gun at the journalists on scene.

When I first caught up to Zemmour, he was thronged by fans, audio booms, and cameras. BFMTV, CNews, LCI — three national news networks — as well as the scrappy crew from Livre Noir, a young YouTube channel for the French far right’s online netherworld, were there to capture the spectacle of their colleague gone rogue. Zemmour was chatting business with executives for Chiron, a security consulting firm in the Paris area that offers a wide range of services, from training sessions and target practice for police officers and other public servants to advice on site-specific securitization and even simulation workshops for actors and stunt doubles.

Naturally, Zemmour’s trip through the convention hugged tightly to the big-ticket items of the French security industry. After slaps on the back and a round of handshakes, he weaved down the lower aisle toward Arquus, a Gallic subsidiary of the Volvo Group, climbing aboard and manning the steering wheel of their hulking Humvee-like vehicle. After he moved on to admire Airbus’s new line of drones, I spoke with a saleswoman about the contraption, a tactical vehicle designed and manufactured in France featuring an enormous deployable gangplank ladder on its roof.

The Sherpa Light — one struggles to imagine what it’s “light” in relation to — is the modern-day equivalent of the siege tower. The video simulation of a test run shows the truck arriving aside, and lowering its ladder over, a “terrorist-occupied” double-decker bus, the sales rep said. But it’s not difficult to imagine it being useful in any occupation scenario, terrorist and civilian alike, the continuum of disturbances that keep the attendees of Milipol up at night. Jacobin was told that sales contracts have recently been concluded with the Indian and Moroccan governments.

Abelliom is a defense tech start-up based in Tarbes in southwest France. Its flagship invention is called the RiCA, a new “nonlethal, remote-controlled launcher system for large disturbances control.” In more concrete terms, this means a twin-barreled, tear-gas-launching howitzer, affixable to vehicles or stationary locations such as embassies, ministries, or any government building needing “sensitive site protection.” The two barrels can carry up to seven kilograms of payload, are automatically reloadable, and can fire up to 250 meters. The posters behind…

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