John M. Becker

Anti-Gay Activist Commits Suicide in Notre Dame Cathedral: Updates, Analysis

Filed By John M. Becker | May 23, 2013 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Catholic church, Dominique Venner, France, gay marriage, marriage equality, religious extremism, same-sex marriage, suicide

notre_dame_cathedral.jpgThe iconic cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris was evacuated on Tuesday after Dominique Venner, a 78-year-old far-right Catholic activist, shot himself in the mouth in front of the altar as a protest against France's new marriage equality law. Hundreds of tourists in the packed cathedral witnessed the grisly event.

Mr. Venner was a well-known essayist and a former member of a paramilitary group known as the Secret Army Organization (OAS), which waged a bombing and assassination campaign in the early 1960s to protest France giving Algeria its independence. He was also close to the anti-marriage equality movement and an outspoken critic of same-sex marriage, which French President Fran├žois Hollande signed into law on Saturday.

Hours before his suicide, Venner published a homophobic, Islamophobic post on his blog denouncing the new law as "detestable" and condemning Islamic immigration from north Africa. (Venner did see a silver lining to an Islamist takeover of France, however: a hypothetical Islamist government would repeal marriage equality.) He also made reference to a planned May 26 protest against the law, writing:

It is not nice enough to organize street protests to prevent [marriage equality]... It certainly will require new, spectacular, and symbolic actions to wake up the sleep walkers, shake the anaesthetized consciousness, and awaken the memory of our origins. We are entering a time when words must be authenticated by acts.

And Venner made what seemed to be an ominous allusion to the symbolic action he planned to take later that day:
It is here and now that our destiny is played until the final second. And this final second has as much importance as the rest of a life. That is why we need to be ourselves until the very last instant.

I spoke with progressive talk-show phenom David Pakman yesterday about Venner's suicide. (Side note: if you're not yet familiar with Pakman's nationally syndicated political talk radio and TV program, The David Pakman Show, you'll want to be.) In the interview, Pakman wonders whether self-loathing homophobia may have fueled Venner's extreme anti-gay hatred.

Watch, after the jump.

A few updates have come to light since the interview:

  • Early reports indicated that a suicide note was found near Mr. Venner's body but the contents had not yet been made public. It now appears that the note was inside a sealed envelope that Venner laid on the altar just before ending his life.

  • The contents of Mr. Venner's suicide note have now been released. From the note: "I believe it necessary to sacrifice myself to break the lethargy that plagues us... I give myself over to death to awaken slumbering consciences."

    He also alludes to the blog post he wrote on the day of his suicide: "[My family, friends, and followers] will find in my recent writings intimations and explanations of my actions."

  • Far-right party leader (and extremist) Marine Le Pen applauded Venner's actions on Twitter, writing: "All respect to Dominique Venner whose final, eminently political act was to try to wake up the people of France."

  • The Daily Beast published an in-depth analysis of Venner's fascist history.

  • Edward Peters, a U.S.-based legal advisor to the Vatican, wrote that Venner's suicide "desecrated" Notre Dame and lamented that "all he really accomplished was to make opponents of 'gay marriage' look like kooks..."

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