Sunday March 20. Romain Bouvier gets out of the vehicle which drops him off in front of the Grand Hôtel de Solesmes, in Sarthe. With one hand, he greets his friends who have remained in the car. On the other, he’s holding a plastic bag, with everything in the life of a 31-year-old fugitive, that is to say, not much. The young man booked two nights in this former coaching inn, located opposite the famous abbey. He paid in cash: 260 euros. To the employees, the tenant of room 122 offers a discreet and well-mannered face. They see so many, in this village of 1,200 inhabitants, princes like the homeless, parading before or after a religious retreat. The abbey’s motto is inscribed on the stone walls and on the institution’s website: “All guests who present themselves will be received as Christ” (Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 53). The Benedictine monks, who offer silent retreats, have made hospitality a cardinal value of their refuge.
The day before, in the early morning, Romain Bouvier participated in the murder of a man. Not just anyone: Federico Martin Aramburu, a 42-year-old world-famous former rugby player, a star in his country, Argentina, and in France, where he played in Biarritz, Perpignan and Dax. The father, also, of three children. A confusion, on the terrace of the café Le Mabillon, in the heart of the 6th arrondissement in Paris. Words that fuse. Shaking fists. And gunshots. Romain Bouvier learned the news of Aramburu’s death on the radio, from a bar in which he took refuge after the brawl. Neither the police nor the journalists then have all the details of the drama. He knows he fired the first four bullets. Pan pan pan pan. Two in the air, but also two in the athlete’s thigh and liver. His sidekick, Loïk Le Priol, also fired four times. All have reached the rugby player. No colossus can withstand six bullets in the body.
Loik and Romain. Le Priol and Bouvier. From now on, their two names are forever attached to a sordid news item. The press has written a lot about Le Priol, this former ultra-violent corporal, the youngest member of the special forces and traumatized by war. An official of the GUD (Union Defense Group), too, whose three letters he had tattooed on his leg, in Gothic characters. On Romain Bouvier, on the other hand, few lines. To be interested in the journey of this “other” killer is to try to understand the plunge into far-right violence of a well-born child. A movement that celebrates and romanticizes virility, combat and weapons, and often leads its members to confuse chivalry with criminal behavior.
Romain Bouvier is a son of good family, of those who play “Luco”, the diminutive of the Luxembourg garden, in short pants before smoking their first cigarettes there and drinking coffees at 4.90 euros at the Café de Flore. His mother, criminal lawyer Janine Bonaggiunta, cherishes this only child, who did not inherit his Corsican surname. At the Paris bar, this 67-year-old blonde has the reputation of a nuisance with controversial methods. Specializing in battered women’s cases, she made herself famous by defending Jacqueline Sauvage, convicted in 2014 of killing her violent husband with a gunshot to the back. Losing in court, the lawyer won the battle for public opinion by making her client a heroine in a Balzac novel. “We are on your side,” says the voicemail of his office. On her Instagram account, the criminal lawyer highlights figures from her personal pantheon, from feminist activist lawyer Gisèle Halimi to former minister Simone Veil.
Like her, her son embraced a legal career, heading to the University of Assas, in the heart of this Latin Quarter in which he grew up. “He had a beautiful language, a beautiful eloquence,” recalls media lawyer Bertrand Périer, who met him during various eloquence contests, in which Romain often finished among the finalists. It impresses less when doing homework on the table; the young man prefers verbal contests to the aridity of TDs, and collects catch-ups.
At night, Romain Bouvier transforms. The literature lover runs the Roger Nimier club with a handful of friends, a group of far-right anars who want to be transgressive and romantic, like the hussars. Here, we read Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, we quote Renaud Camus, Ernst Jünger, Léon Bloy, Céline or Charles Péguy. On the collective’s website, Romain Bouvier publishes a few texts. His friends say he has style. In August 2014, we can read on the club’s Twitter account a quote from Charles Maurras, the founder of Action Française: “We must be intellectual and violent”. In the caption, this keyword:
It becomes much more concrete at the GUD, this far-right movement he frequented between 2012 and 2015. Romain Bouvier mixes with proletarians with shaved heads, without diplomas, who hunt leftists within the university and track down the CPF, “chances for France”. Understand: non-European foreigners. His high school friends speak of him as an open and kind man, and say they have never heard the slightest racist or anti-Semitic remarks from him. Those who defend him evoke a romantic, who was looking for a family and an ideal, found on the far right.
To some, Romain Bouvier said he wanted to follow the example of this father he admired, Jean-Yves Bouvier, who died when he was 17 years old. A former executive of the GUD, in the 1970s: at his funeral, former figures of the movement, such as Philippe Péninque, a close friend of Marine Le Pen, or the lawyer Jean-François Santacroce, were present.
The study of his virtual friendships, on Facebook, shows that the thirties practice the splits. On the day side, well-born young people, met at Lycée Montaigne or on the benches of Assas, including a handful of brilliant lawyers, like Antoine Vey, who defends him today. On the night side, everything on the far right includes partygoers and activists, including the most radical: Eric Zemmour’s partner and adviser, Sarah Knafo (who says she doesn’t know him), the former head of the GUD and friend of Marine Le Pen, Frédéric Chatillon, MEP RN Jean-Lin Lacapelle, also close to the candidate for the last presidential…
On the night of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, he frequents other sons and daughters of. Diane Sidos, of the family of Pierre, the founder of the French Work, figure of the extreme right Pétainist. Or Romain Maréchal, brother of Marion and grandson of Jean-Marie. “We met at parties, it stopped there …”, confirms the one who stays away from politics. With their friend Julien Rochedy (the former president of the National Youth Front), the three men practice in the same club the “close combat”, a close training of the military type. Thanks to Maréchal, Romain Bouvier sometimes crosses the heavy gate of Montretout, the Le Pen mansion in Saint-Cloud, where Marion’s brother organizes parties.
“I never want to see these boys at my house again,” her sister ordered her in March 2016. The MP had just discovered the Klein affair on the Mediapart site. Four members of the GUD were arrested for having filmed and tortured, in October 2015, their former leader, Edouard Klein. Logan Djian, then leader of the movement, is identified by the victim as the leader of men. But it is indeed Romain Bouvier and Loïk Le Priol who are described in court as “the most excited”, distributing instructions and blows with relish. For about fifteen minutes, they force the victim to undress, beat her, humiliate her. “You take off the shirt, you take off your socks, you take off your scarf or we hang you with it”, orders Romain Bouvier to his victim. On another video extract, he orders Edouard Klein to “dance the Macarena”, completely naked and lying on the ground.
Placed under judicial supervision, the five defendants are prohibited from dating. The case, on which the Paris tribunal de grande instance must render its verdict on June 29, could have been enough of an electric shock for the boys to settle down. In reality, Loïk and Romain never stop seeing each other. “As soon as they are together, it is as if the devil leans on their shoulder. They are uncontrollable”, regrets a former relative. Outings in nightclubs, at Castel or at the Bains-Douches, often end in pools of blood. The guards are linked. A car accident in 2015, which almost cost the life of one of their friends, divides the clan. The Klein case too. Suspicion hangs over “the balance” which would have given the videos to Mediapart.
Romain isolates himself from the rest of the world. In his large studio rue des Saints-Pères, which he owns, he smokes more and more joints. To some, he tells that he is writing a novel about Parisian nights, but will never send the manuscript to the publisher who contacted him. To others, he claims to set up a publishing house, or to be about to resume his studies. The truth is that he no longer sets foot in Assas and will never validate his master’s degree in “judicial careers and criminal sciences”.
With Loïk, they delight in a mutual fascination. “Fascist gentlemen”, in their words. “What brings us together is violence, not racism”, assures Romain Bouvier to the novelist Yohan Zarca, when the latter asks him to write a chapter of his book Paname Underground devoted to the far right in Paris.
Often, the two friends explain that they understand the jihadists, these men ready to die for a cause. “It will end badly,” warned a relative. In private, Romain Bouvier – who collects weapons – boasts of having planned everything in the event of an accident. What happened when he fled to Solesmes Abbey? Did the monks refuse him or, more prosaically, did they ask him to fill out an application online, as indicated on the website?
When Romain Bouvier returned to the hotel on March 22, he extended his room for a third night. This time, the demimonde paid by credit card. It’s not romantic, but that’s how the police tracked him down.