The challenges for protecting Public Figures- The Macron Incident

The latest incident with French President Emmanuel Macron being slapped by someone in the crowd has once again fired up the keyboard warriors who take any incident (video or picture) such as this and claim how improperly the EP team functioned and what would they have done differently and, of course, be more successful. As a Greek proverb says ‘’Whoever is outside the dance (floor), can sing many songs’’ Meaning: It is easy to talk about something when you are not the one involved in it. 

As security practitioners, we must be very careful what we say online, keeping in mind, whatever you post online stays online even if you delete it minutes later. We should not criticize security details and/or the people involved because we do not know all the facts, details, limitations and the full story. When you post a comment on a 10-second video, you may not have the full story. You do not know what happened before or after the incident. What you see in a photo may not be the full picture. It doesn’t make you any more ‘’professional’’ when you try to spot the wrong moves in an incident where you weren’t involved and you do not know all the parameters: you are just assuming.

In this case, we heard many opinions:

‘’Why didn’t they keep standard formation?’’- How can you keep standard formation when your principal is anticipating close interaction with a member of the crowd? Greeting lines are extremely tedious and are one of the most difficult situations to read and provide protection.

‘’The reaction time was slow.’’- The reaction time always seems to be slower when you see an incident on a video over and over again rather than being involved with it in real-time in the field.

‘’They were lucky he wasn’t holding a knife.’’ – Actually someone did their job well and made sure he (or anyone else in the crowd) wasn’t holding a weapon. What most fail to understand is that these crowds are previously checked for anything that can be used as a weapon.

‘’Why didn’t they saw that coming?’’ – They don’t teach ESP at EP schools…

‘’Why didn’t someone teach Macron?’’ – Most protectees won’t sit down and learn from you about protection, they want you to protect them. It’s not their job to know how to do yours…Why do you think you’re employed?

Now let’s address some challenges for protecting public figures and try to make some rational sense of all of this.

Protecting people whose identity depends on the public, such as politicians, in this case, is very much different than protecting a C-Suite executive for example. A politician needs the interaction with public. They shake hands, hug, get pictures with and celebrate with large crowds. Having people like them is what makes people vote for them, and they need to look and act quite approachable to everyone in order to gain votes. If they don’t get the votes, well, then they no longer hold their current political position. They have to attend gatherings and events and most of those functions may be outside of your span of control regarding organizing it. You have to provide services as best as you can with what you have and minimize whatever limitations you can. 

In this case ‘’the unknown crowd’’ is the issue. The ‘’crowd’’ provides a good opportunity for the enemy to blend in, act and even escape in some cases. Also, as most public appearances are preplanned and announced, the enemy has the time to be prepared for the attack. And when we say attack, let’s clarify that “attack on your principal” is not only an assassination or physical harm but also an attack on his/her personality, reputation or by causing embarrassment. 

While most EP training schools focus only on physical attacks, have in mind causing embarrassing situations may be something your principal is particularly vulnerable and endangered by, thus it is something you must be prepared to prevent. Making sure the crowd has been checked for anything that can be used as a weapon doesn’t mean you are safe from an embarrassing situation. Paying attention to people’s hands and what they are carrying doesn’t mean you can be sure about the intention of a handshake. A handshake can become a pat on the shoulder or a slap on the face. How would you know the intentions of the handshake and act within 2 seconds to prevent it? You must be in very close proximity to do that and sometimes you have limitations on how close you can be with your principal, particularly when they are interacting with the public and potential voters. When any public figure decides he/she want to come within close proximity of a voter, you are required to break the standard formations and you cannot have security between the voter and the principal because they need that ‘’personal space’’.

Act too aggressive and they will perceive this position as very unapproachable, something that goes against your principal’s political campaigns. So you have limitations or adaptations to perform your protective job competently. 

Another thing to consider is that some protectees will appear uncooperative with you and your suggestions or directions. They will do the exact opposite of what you have instructed them to do or whatever the plan was because they thought doing something different was ok, safe or was suggested at the last minute by their campaign manager. Some protectees will ask you to protect them no matter what. The fact that they won’t consider changing their lifestyle, and you have to do your best, becomes another facet of the ever-evolving detail.

Have we forgotten the flying shoe incident with President Bush in a press conference in 2008? The red paint thrown at Mary Harney, Ireland’s Health Minister in November 2010? Berlusconi’s nose being broken and two teeth knocked out when a man attending a political rally threw the statuette of Milan’s Duomo gothic cathedral straight in his face in 2009? Eggs being thrown at Bill Clinton in Warsaw, Poland? Nicolas Sarkozy being a victim of a flying pie in 1997? The book thrown at Obama in 2010? The glitter attack on Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlently in 2011? Pope being attacked by a woman who jumped barriers at St Peter’s Basilica and knocked him down in 2009? The famous slap on Dimitra Liani Papandreou, the widow of ex Greek PM at her book signing by a woman who appears to be there to sign her book? Bill Gates’ “Pie-to-the-Face” fiasco? There are so many more similar incidents including paint, body fluids, pies, yoghurt, vegetables, flour and even flashing body parts such as the Femen members who went toplessness in front of the EU-Russia summit, in Brussels, in December 2012.

Can we criticize the EP team members involved in these incidents? Can we say that you would have done better after the incident has taken place? From the moment you have a complete crowd check for weapons, you are in a “secure” space. But what leads you to believe that you have a better understanding regarding the mental status of someone who appears to be a voter or a fan? Can you honestly guess his motives if he/she wants to slap, or spit or in some way embarrass your client?

If you haven’t provided security details for Public Figures, it may seem easy for you to criticize an incident like this, but criticizing what you don’t know and just assuming doesn’t make you right and it very well may show your ignorance. Instead, use this incident as a reminder that people will use anything to harm your client’s reputation and their imagination can be big and quite unpleasant. Keep it as a learning tool for yourself and yet another scenario in your head of what you would or wouldn’t do if…

Denida Grow

Managing Partner

LeMareschal LLC

Founder & CEO

Athena Worldwide

Athena Academy

Nannyguards

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