France’s far-right paid tribute to a writer and activist who shot himself dead in front of the altar of Paris’s famed Notre Dame Cathedral on Tuesday after denouncing gay marriage and immigration.
Police confirmed the man’s identity as Dominique Venner, 78, an essayist and activist linked with France’s far-right and nationalist group.
He shot himself with a pistol shortly after 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) and the cathedral, which at the time contained about 1,500 people, was then evacuated without incident, they said.
Venner left a message, which was read out by a friend after his death on the conservative station Radio Courtoisie, and a final essay on his website.
They denounced both the recently passed law legalising gay marriage and immigration from Africa.
“I believe it is necessary to sacrifice myself to break with the lethargy that is overwhelming us,” he said in the message read out on the radio.
“I am killing myself to awaken slumbering consciences.”
Venner’s publisher, Pierre-Guillaume de Roux, said the writer’s death had “an extremely strong symbolic power that approximates (Yukio) Mishima”.
Mishima, considered one of modern Japan’s most important authors, killed himself in a dramatic, samurai-style disembowelment at a Self Defense Force camp in Tokyo in 1970 at age 45 in a political protest.
Venner’s next book, due out in June, was titled “A Western Samurai”, his publisher added.
Venner’s suicide was hailed by Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National (FN), as a political gesture.
“All respect to Dominique Venner whose final, eminently political act was to try to wake up the people of France,” Le Pen said on Twitter, though she added later that “it is in life and hope that France will renew and save itself”.
About a hundred far-right sympathisers gathered in the square in front of the cathedral to pay tribute to Venner Tuesday night.
Cathedral rector Monsignor Patrick Jacquin told AFP that Venner had laid a letter on the altar before killing himself. A police source said the letter contained similar writings to those on Venner’s website.
“We did not know him, he was not a regular at the cathedral,” Jacquin said, adding that he believed it was the first time anyone had committed suicide inside the cathedral.
Jacquin said masses had been cancelled and that church officials would hold a vigil later on Tuesday.
“We will pray for this man, as for so many others at their end,” he said. “This is terrible, we are thinking of him and his family.”
In a final essay on his website, Venner railed against France’s adoption of a “vile law” legalising gay marriage and adoption. It finally became law on Saturday after months of bitter political protests from the right.
Venner also denounced immigration from north Africa which, he said, was the real “peril”, calling on activists to take measures to protect “French and European identities”.
In what appeared to be a reference to his suicide, Venner wrote: “There will certainly need to be new, spectacular, symbolic gestures to shake off the sleepiness… and re-awaken the memories of our origins.”
“We are reaching a time when words must be backed up with acts,” he added.
In the January-February” edition of the Nouvelle Revue d’Histoire, Venner wrote of the tradition of suicide as a political act, referring to both the Japanese samurai and the Romans of old.
Death, he wrote, “can be the strongest of protests against an indignity and equally a provocation to hope.”
Venner had a long career publishing right-wing essays, military histories and books on weaponry and hunting.
He was a soldier during France’s war in Algeria and was a member of the OAS (Secret Armed Organisation), a short-lived paramilitary group that opposed Algeria’s independence from France.
French sociologist Jean-Yves Camus, a specialist on the far-right, said Venner’s influence as a theoretician went well beyond his immediate political family. “He was published by the major editors,” he pointed out.