Paris has now seen its fifth weekend of street demonstrations by the so-called gilets jaunes, or “yellow vests,” although reports suggest that things may be finally winding down. Meanwhile, the protests — which in many instances rise to the level of riots, with innumerable examples of looting, vandalism, and arson – have spread. The last couple of weekends have seen disturbances in other major French cities, such as Toulouse, Bordeaux and Lyon, as well as in cities in the Low Countries, including Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Nijmegen and Maastricht. This weekend, in London, as the tension, confusion, and frustration surrounding Brexit have intensified and the possibility of a second referendum seemed to increase, yellow-vested protesters, most of them apparently supporters of Brexit, blocked major bridges and shut down streets in the city center.
As these displays of lawlessness have spread, ideas about the participants’ motives have evolved. At first, it was reported that the protesters in France, far from being political extremists of the left or right, were ordinary citizens angered by new hikes in gas taxes. But even when President Emmanuel Macron yanked the tax increase, the turmoil continued. Why? Writing at Gatestone, David Brown noted that “[l]ower-middle class families are not poor enough to receive welfare benefits but have seen their income flat-line whilst cost-of-living and taxes have risen….. The French people feel screwed.” Amir Taheri suggested that “the French, like most other people in rich countries, are simply bored, with a lot of time on their hands and little exciting to do.” At PJ Media, Rick Moran opined that “the ordinary people who are paying for the grandiose schemes of the social planners in Brussels have had enough. And they are finally rising up to demand an end to it.” For my part, I wondered whether this dramatic sign of popular discontent marked “the start of the Western European public’s pushback against the elites’ disastrous multicultural and globalist project.”