Monday, August 16, 2004

"Phineas" in Custody — Police

Jewish tombstones were scrawled with Nazi symbols and anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim slurs recently in Lyon, as part of
a rash of neo-Nazi acts. — Jean-Paul Bajard/Editing Server

A man claiming to be the anti-Semitic vandal behind last week's desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Lyon reportedly turned himself in to the Police Saturday night, the AFP reports. He has been placed under observation.

Police also suspect him in the assault of a Maghreban man shortly before the attack on the cemetery in which he allegedly used an axe later found bearing traces of blood in the cemetery. The suspect is a French national born in 1980 who turned himself in at the 18th arrondissement police station in Lyon, identifying himself as "Phineas," a name left as a tag among the swastikas and celtic crosses daubed on the headstones of the cemetery.

In disgust, W recently pointed to a press account that indicated that the presence of the name might have been inspired by far right ideology from the US. The ADL has a "backgrounder" on the "Phineas Priesthood" here. The biblical character "Phineas" is described in Numbers 25:7-8 as an Israelite who catches another Israelite making love with a Midiantish woman and who kills them both with a javelin in order to stave off a plague (uh... you do the math...). Neo-Nazi followers of the Christian "Identity" movement interpret this as a summons to do violence to people who aren't white and view the act as an initiation into the ranks of the so-called "priesthood." In 1999, a 37 year-old named Buford O’Neal Furrow opened fire on a Jewish daycare center in Los Angeles, wounding three children, a teenager and an adult woman and killing a Filipino postal worker. At the time, a representative from the Southern Poverty Law Center suggested that Furrow might have been seeking initiation into the order and CNN reported that Furrow had once been married to Debbie Matthews (a great beauty!), widow of Robert J. Matthews, whose own group was implicated in the 1984 murder of Denver talkradio host Alan Berg (since dramatized by Oliver Stone).

Police believe the culprit in the Lyon hate crimes was acting on similar motives and say that the suspect in custody has told them he found French far right groups, in the AFP's words, "too tepid." The did not mention US hate groups but knew precisely who the biblical character Phineas was. Police claim they had never seen the name before it appeared in two crimes that occurred only eight days apart.

"The statements by the man in custody and by witnesses as well as the evidence gathered seem to indicated that we have the lone perpetrator of an assault in Villeurbanne and of the vandalism discovered in the Jewish cemetery of Lyon," Interior minister de Villepin said in a statement (not currently available on the Interior ministry's Web site).

With equal disdain, W also recently pointed to an excellent report by the Times' Craig S. Smith (whose work in France has earned him plaudits on this blog in the past for his keen eye for certain stories that might otherwise have gone unnoticed in the English-language media).

Smith reports on a neo-Nazi rally that recently took place in Hipsheim and his characterization of the overall situation in France is comprehensive but perhaps most importantly he includes a rare insight into the nature of Alsace:
"There was never a de-Nazification in Alsace because the region was treated as a victim," said Georges Yoram Federmann, an Alsatian psychiatrist and founder of a group that has tried to identify Jews whose bodies, preserved in formaldehyde and intended for a Nazi medical museum, were found in Strasbourg after the war.

Because France was concerned with reintegrating the region after the war, more attention was paid to Nazi conscripts than to Nazi members and their sympathizers. Fourteen Alsatians convicted of taking part in a massacre at Oradour in 1944, the war's worst atrocity on French soil, were given amnesty by the state to placate Alsatian anger. The region's former Nazis melted back into Alsatian society without the scrutiny reserved for German collaborators elsewhere in France.

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