The French government on September 29 announced the dissolution of a group called the Black African Defense League (LDNA) after the group invaded a town hall and attacked elected officials in Val-de-Reuil in Normandy about two weeks earlier.
The LDNA was founded in 2017 by Egountchi Behanzin — whose real name is Sylvain Afoua — who describes himself online as a “political activist,” a “freedom fighter,” and a “revolutionary” in support of pan-Africanism and anti-racism. Behanzin was convicted in 2014 of the rape of a vulnerable person and sentenced to seven years in prison, according to French officials, and was imprisoned for six months in 2019 after being convicted for intimidation following an altercation with the mayor of Levallois-Perret. His alias pays tribute to Behanzin, a former King of Dahomey who, in the late 19th century, resisted French colonialism in what is now the country of Benin.
The group, which said it was demonstrating in Val-de-Reuil in defense of local residents of African origin and accused Mayor Marc-Antoine Jamet of racism, invaded the town hall on September 11 as weddings were ongoing, pushing past Deputy Mayor Fadilla Benamara as she attempted to block them from entering. Later, as a newlywed couple exited the building with officials, members of the group hurled flour over Mayor Jamet.
On Twitter, Mayor Jamet posted video clips of the incidents that had been published on the LDNA’s Facebook account and wrote, “Thirty racist and violent individuals led by an ex-rapper convicted of rape invade the town hall … tear off the door of the council chamber and jostle a courageous elected official wearing the tricolor scarf.” The demonstrators then entered rooms where weddings were taking place, frightening parents and children, Jamet said.
The LDNA’s actions came a few days after violence involving members of Kurdish and African communities broke out in the town. Town officials said the tension had been sparked by a “banal” dispute between two children “aged around 10” on Sunday, September 5, in which parents intervened. The father of the child of African origin, supported by a group of relatives, retaliated by attacking and injuring several people in the Kurdish community, including one who required hospital care, officials said.
Another brawl took place on Monday, September 6, “involving a hundred people,” officials said. Police responded but were forced to retreat and use tear gas to try to disperse the crowds. The father of the African child was arrested, officials added.
An unauthorized protest organized by members of the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party) then took place on Tuesday, September 7, during which multiple weapons were seized, Mayor Jamet said. That day, news of the local conflict reached a larger audience when Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party, tweeted a video of the violence in Val-de-Reuil and referred to it as an “inter-community confrontation.” Mayor Jamet replied to Le Pen, refuting her characterization of events, and telling her: “Don’t add fuel to the fire.”
Jamet released an extended statement on Wednesday, September 8, in which he branded Le Pen’s interpretation as “an imbecilic rumor,” and said the clashes involved more than 100 people “of all origins” who were friends or relatives of the children’s fathers. He condemned what he described as Le Pen’s “irresponsible and infantile press release,” saying it contained multiple “inaccuracies and lies” and was using the incident as a “launching pad for a presidential campaign that she struggles to animate.”
On September 10, ahead of the planned LDNA march, Mayor Jamet tweeted that “opportunists” and “manipulators” including the LDNA, PKK, and Le Pen were seeking to “undermine” and “sabotage” the town’s image and reputation.
The next day, Behanzin led the rally and the invasion of the town hall, demonstrating against what he said was anti-black racism on the part of the mayor.
On September 13, Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin announced that he had launched the procedure to dissolve the LDNA, calling it a “racist structure” that promotes “hatred and discrimination” and “disturbances to public order.”
Behanzin responded on Facebook, writing: “Why does the terrorist French slave state tremble so much when blacks organize themselves?”
On September 29, Darmanin confirmed the group’s dissolution and posted the decree online. In it, the ministry cited several incidents since 2018 that it said showed the LDNA repeatedly “committing or calling for violent acts to be committed against people or property.”
Behanzin condemned the decision and argued that the French state and “negrophobic institutions” were failing to protect black people. “If blacks need to defend themselves against negrophobic attacks and racism on a daily basis, it is only because neither the French state nor the police do their job which is to protect all its fellow citizens without distinction of race or color,” Behanzin wrote. Credit: Black African Defense League (LDNA) via Storyful