Maxime Brunerie, the man accused of trying to shoot at President Jacques Chirac on Bastille Day, was charged with attempted murder yesterday.
As the 25-year-old awaited transfer from psychiatric care to a prison, details began to emerge of his life within the most extremist factions of French neo-Nazism, a world where image, fashion, music and pagan rituals are at least as influential as the ideology.
French police said investigators in the suburbs of Paris drew up a file on Mr Brunerie in the summer of 2000, after he was noticed in summer solstice celebrations in rural France. Druid-style rituals including the summer and winter solstices are reportedly magnets for the extreme right. As with some raves, the ritual celebrations are held in secret. Participants meet at motorway service stations where they are given directions.
The adherents have a clear image-code. They use nicknames, wear medallions, stovepipe jeans with turn-ups, Doc Marten boots, Fred Perry shirts, black leather belts and urban-tribal tattoos, and have shaven heads. Makina (Spanish techno) is their music and it is mixed with military marches and hard core. Le Monde says the right-wing activists dance with their right arms raised, in a Heil Hitler salute, but a DJ denied this. ''There is a definite look, though,'' said DJ Sam, in a club in Barcelona where the south-western French extremists occasionally meet.
Police say Mr Brunerie also distributed French nationalist and racist rock CDs as well as "Rock Again Communism" and English neo-Nazi "Blood And Honour'' tracks.
Mr Brunerie had links with GUD (Groupe Union Défense), sometimes used by Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front to provide security at demonstrations, and with the Parti Nationaliste Français (PNF).
But he was most closely associated with Unité Radicale (UR) which denies being a neo-Nazi group and has an official spokesman, Guillaume Luyt.
The French government has taken steps to ban UR under 1936 legislation outlawing private militias. But UR is not formally registered so it is difficult to ban, and the Interior Ministry says it is aware that banning could simply push extremists further underground. For the same reason, police want to keep Mr Brunerie alive and prevent him gaining martyr status.
They say the most effective approach is to infiltrate their lifestyle. "We think there are 1,500 active extremists in France," a source said. "Banning them is not the solution.'
That is why Virginie Hannequart has had police visits at her clothes shop, Tendance Fashion in Le Soler, in southwestern France, since Bastille Day. She sells what the extremists wear, makes called Pitbull and Kill Off.
"People have sprayed 'Fascist shop' on my window," she said. "That is too simplistic. Brands like Fred Perry and Lonsdale have been around a long time. I'm not interested in whether they have been hijacked by one or other ideological faction. I'm running a clothes shop.''
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