Tarnac, General Store

Anarchist farmers vs. Inspector Clouseau

The road to Tarnac
The road to Tarnac, Tarnac, France, 2011. Courtesy of David Dufresne.

In the spring of 2007, a small left-wing press in Paris published a book called The Coming Insurrection. Its anonymous authors, who went by the name the Invisible Committee, argued that the riots that had spread through France’s immigrant banlieues a year earlier signaled an impending wave of antistate action. The new form of protest imagined by the Invisible Committee would make no demands and have no hierarchical organization. Rather, the coming movement would be built around independent, self-sustaining communes and the sabotage of centralized infrastructure. Two months after The Coming Insurrection was published, Nicolas Sarkozy won the French presidential election on a promise to “liquidate once and for all” the antiauthoritarian legacy of the 1968 student movement. The identity of the Invisible Committee soon became a subject of official concern.

The French intelligence service linked The Coming Insurrection’s literary fingerprints—a highly specific theoretical framework and elegant style—to a former graduate student named Julien Coupat, who had ended his studies in intellectual history to edit the short-lived journal Tiqqun (1999–2001). As government interest in the far left increased, Coupat’s name began to appear in surveillance reports on a group of young people who had purchased farmland in Limousin, a region of France with a long tradition of rural communism. The farm’s new owners, a loose affiliation of twenty to thirty-five students and activists, had moved to the small village of Tarnac to create an autonomous, decentralized, and ecologically sustainable community. Some worked to restore the farm; others converted the local general store (whose proprietors had retired) into a cooperative, an art space, and a political meeting point. Ignoring the Tarnac group’s horizontal power structure, the police reports singled out Coupat as their leader.

In July 2008, Sarkozy merged the two existing French domestic intelligence agencies into the French Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence, under the control of his former department, the Ministry of Interior. As one of its first cases, the new super-agency—called the “FBI à la Française” by the Sarkozy Administration—assumed control of the Tarnac investigation. On November 11, Julien Coupat, his girlfriend Yildune Lévy-Gueant, and seven Tarnac group members were arrested on charges of terrorist conspiracy. The immediate cause of the arrests was a series of acts of vandalism that the police saw as an attempt to sabotage national infrastructure: in three different parts of the country, horseshoe-shaped iron bars had been hooked over the power cables of high-speed train lines, disrupting the electrical supply and delaying Saturday morning traffic by several hours.

The arrests and subsequent revelations of illegal police wiretapping and file-tampering propelled the Tarnac case into the class of political scandal the French call an affaire. Its most dedicated chronicler to date has been the journalist, documentary filmmaker, and Hunter S. Thompson devotee David Dufresne. His book Tarnac, magasin général [Tarnac General Store], published last March, brings together government documentation and testimony with forty wide-ranging interviews that Dufresne conducted with those involved, including members of the Tarnac group, government administrators, and anonymous police sources, whom he named after his Harley-Davidsons.

—Namara Smith

Ministry of the Interior, Overseas, and the Collective Territories, Assistant Director of the Counterterrorism Division of the Judicial Police, Request to open a preliminary investigation.

I have the honor of bringing to your attention the following information communicated by our intelligence service: an illicit anarcho-autonomous group, with operations on French soil and links to militants of the same ideology embedded abroad, is planning to commit violent acts for the purpose of seriously disturbing the public order through intimidation.

This group of some twenty activists, with bases of operation in Paris as well as the provinces, has conspired with foreign extremists in order to build a subversive force.

On January 31, 2008, one of the leaders of this group and a female Parisian anarcho-autonomist militant illegally entered Canada from the United States on foot, having first left a backpack in the vehicle of a Canadian national that was found by the police as the car went through an immigration checkpoint. These two French activists are:

Julien Coupat
Born April 4, 1974 in Bordeaux (Gironde)
French nationality
Resident of Paris (11th arrondissement)

Yildune Allegra Lévy-Gueant
Born May 22, 1983 in Paris (20th arrondissement)
French nationality
Resident of Paris (20th arrondissement)

In their search of the backpack, the Canadian authorities discovered Julien Coupat’s French driver’s license, subversive English-language texts, transcriptions of meetings, and photographs of Times Square in New York.

It should be noted that on March 6, 2008, the American army recruitment center in Times Square was the object of an attempted grenade attack that caused material damages to the building. The American intelligence services have not yet identified the responsible parties.

According to the information communicated by our intelligence services, Julien Coupat and Yildune Allegra Lévy-Gueant attended a meeting of American anarchists in New York from January 10 to January 15, 2008.

This group of activists regularly meets at Julien Coupat’s place of residence in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, and has access to several other bases of operation in the country, the principal one an agricultural property, Le Goutailloux, located at Javaux in Tarnac (Creuse).

In addition to their links to North American associations, Julien Coupat’s group has maintained close relations with European activists, whom they met through international gatherings of the anarcho-autonomist movement held in Poland, Spain, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

—Translated from the French by Namara Smith

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