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.
He shot himself with a pistol shortly after 4pm and the cathedral, which at the time contained about 1,500 people, was then evacuated without incident, police said.
Venner left a message, which was read out by a friend after his death on conservative station Radio Courtoisie, and a final essay on his Web site.
They denounced both the recently passed law legalizing 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 Japan’s most important contemporary authors, killed himself in a dramatic, samurai-style disembowelment at a Japanese Self Defense Force camp in Tokyo in 1970 in a political protest.
Venner’s next book, due out next month, was titled A Western Samurai, his publisher added.
Venner’s suicide was hailed by far-right Front National Party leader Marine Le Pen 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.
About 100 far-right sympathizers gathered in the square in front of the cathedral to pay tribute to Venner on Tuesday night.
Notre Dame rector Monsignor Patrick Jacquin told reporters 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 Web site.
“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 canceled and church officials were to 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 Web page, Venner railed against France’s adoption of a “vile law” legalizing 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 “can be the strongest of protests against an indignity and equally a provocation to hope,” he wrote.