yellow vests protest ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images

Will the Yellow Vests Reject the Brown Shirts?

Now that President Emmanuel Macron has retreated in the face of France's grassroots protest movement, the ball is in the protesters' court. The danger is that they will place themselves in the tradition of paranoid nihilism and pollute their ranks with the political vandals that France still produces in abundance.

PARIS – From the moment the French government canceled its planned fuel tax hike in the face of massive protests, it was obvious that the move would be perceived as inadequate, insignificant, and above all incapable of having any calming effect. Honor to whom honor is due: the Yellow Vests claim to be an expression of the sovereign people. But they now bear a heavy responsibility.

For starters, they must announce a moratorium on demonstrations and blockades for a period long enough to accommodate the dialogue proposed by Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, if not longer. In particular, they should renounce the much-touted December 8 “Act IV” of the movement, brewing on Facebook since Saturday evening, which everyone expects to be more violent, destructive, and tragic than the preceding installments. There have been enough deaths, injuries, and damage (including to some of the most famous monuments in Paris).

If the Yellow Vests decide the machine they have unleashed has overtaken them, and they can no longer stop Act IV, they must be prepared during the protests to help the police flush out the violent “brown vests” who will be circulating among them. Because the wreckers of the far right and far left will surely reappear to vandalize, terrorize, and desecrate; it is up to the Yellow Vests to say once again, this time as if they really mean it: Not in our name. Whether the Yellow Vests declare a moratorium or continue to protest, nothing would serve their cause better than to dissociate themselves – decisively and unambiguously – from all the political profiteers who would capitalize on their misery.