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A right-wing French historian and activist shot himself to death today in Paris's famed Notre Dame Cathedral, apparently in protest of the nation's new marriage equality law.
Dominique Venner, 78, walked past crowds of visitors and stopped beside the cathedral's altar, where he put a gun in his mouth and fired, London's Independent reports. Emergency medical personnel attempted to revive him, to no avail, and police evacuated the cathedral, one of the most popular tourist sites in France. Venner, although a Roman Catholic, was not known to be a worshipper at Notre Dame.
Venner has been an outspoken opponent of France's marriage equality legislation, which was signed into law by President Francois Hollande over the weekend. Earlier today Venner posted a screed against same-sex marriage on his website.
"His long essay was a tirade against gay marriage but also a warning that the 'population of France and Europe' was going to be 'replaced' and brought under 'Islamist control' and 'sharia law,'" the Independent reports. He also left a sealed letter on the Notre Dame altar just before shooting himself, but the letter's contents have not been revealed.
His editor, Pierre-Guillaume de Roux, acknowledged that Venner objected to same-sex marriage but said he also had concerns that went "far beyond" the issue, the BBC reports. De Roux saw similarities between Venner's suicide and that of Yukio Mishima, the Japanese author who killed himself in 1970 after a failed coup attempt by his paramilitary group. (Note: Mishima, although married to a woman, had many same-sex lovers.)
Venner was a prolific author and historian, with some works that won mainstream praise, "including a 1981 book on the Red Army which won a prize from the Academie Francaise," the Independent notes. But the paper adds that "much of his work has been steeped in the racist ideology of the far-right, apologising for the pro-Hitler regime in Vichy in the Second World War and warning of conspiracies to destroy European civilisation and to swamp the white race."
The historian was a former member of the Organisation de l'Armee Secrete, an ultranationalist terrorist group that opposed independence for Algeria, which was once a French colony, and made several attempts to assassinate Charles De Gaulle, president of France in the 1960s. Venner served 18 months in prison for his activities with the group.