Donald Trump is so vain that he really thinks the protests in Paris are about him. As about 8,000 anti-government protesters wearing yellow safety vests dodged tear gas in the French capital on Saturday, the president of the United States fell for a social media hoax, claiming that the demonstrators were chanting his name.
Writing on Twitter, the president claimed, falsely, that the protests had been inspired by his opposition to the Paris climate accord and the phrase “We want Trump” rang out on the streets.
In fact, the president was misled by a viral hoax, in which video of British white supremacists chanting his name last year was posted on Twitter this week with a false caption, incorrectly describing the scene as one unfolding in France.
As reporters like Samuel Laurent of Le Monde and Ryan Broderick of Buzzfeed News have explained, there is a Trumpian aspect to the unrest in France though, since “les fake news” has helped fuel the wave of protests over the past month. That’s because the yellow-vest movement has galvanized support for protests via social networks, particularly Facebook, with a potent mix of genuine stories of suffering caused by real failings of the French government and a raft of conspiracy theories and hoaxes — including the viral rumor that a non-binding United Nations pact on migration would soon put France under UN administration, so that millions of migrants could be resettled to replace the native-born population.
While the yellow-vest protests were initially triggered by complaints that an eco-tax on fuel placed an unfair burden on the working poor for tackling climate change, the demonstrations have continued since that tax increase was paused because they are driven by broader concerns about income inequality, austerity and underfunded public services.
Today is the first time Patricia, 23 and her sister Laurence, 33 from the Paris suburbs have demonstrated. They talk about similar themes: Rich getting richer, the need for a president who understands the country, and want a change to help lower middle classes. pic.twitter.com/JD3Se6V0La— The Local France (@TheLocalFrance) December 8, 2018
Laeticia, 32, a supermarket cashier from Picardie, said: "I've got 3 children & I can't see a future for them. We live in misery, with low salaries, constantly overdrawn at the bank. We can't back down now. There has to be a better way to run this country." pic.twitter.com/8ttx9NI1Vc— Angelique Chrisafis (@achrisafis) December 8, 2018
As reporters on the ground in Paris noted on Saturday, beyond widespread calls for President Emmanuel Macron’s resignation, just 18 months after his election, protesters voiced a range of demands from one end of the political spectrum to the other. Some protesters called for support for a borderless European Union, while others demanded Frexit, or a French exit from the bloc.
Amid skirmishes between the riot police and violent protesters known as “casseurs,” or “breakers,” which led to more than 700 arrests, there were also calls for non-violence, demands for taxes to be halved and social spending to be doubled, anti-vaccine activists, snatched selfies and eloquently simple slogans scrawled on vests, like one woman who just wrote, “I’m under pressure.”
There were also widespread displays of solidarity from protesters with a group of high-school students who were arrested this week in Mantes-la-Jolie, west of Paris, and forced by the police to kneel in the mud with their hands on their heads.
Trump’s false claim that the protesters were inspired by his hatred of the Paris climate agreement was also undermined by the presence of many yellow vests at a climate march in another part of the French capital, where more than 20,000 people demanded action.
At the climate march, Stéphane Mandard of Le Monde noted that one of the yellow vests was emblazoned with a slogan that seemed to offer one answer to the two struggles: “Make the rich pay for the environmental transition.”
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the radical-left France Unbowed party, attended a climate rally in Bordeaux with members of the yellow vest movement.
Loïc Prud’homme, one of the party’s representatives in parliament, told Le Monde that the two problems had to be tackled together. “We can not have climate justice without social justice,” he said.