White Supremacist Insurgency: The OAS 1961-1963

The OAS insurgency in Algeria and France as a case study of organised white supremacist violence.

Rafe McGregor is senior lecturer in criminology at Edge Hill University, where he researches political violence, media and culture, and policing.  He is the author of A Criminology of Narrative Fiction (2021) and Narrative Justice (2018) and has published in criminology, philosophy, politics, literature, and education journals.

The political unrest that accompanied Joe Biden’s succession to the US Presidency earlier this month reminded me of the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa from 1991 to 1992, during which I was an undergraduate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.  In both cases, there was a threat – or at least a perceived threat – of a white supremacist coup d’état and a concern that it would either be led or supported by elements of the armed forces.  In SA, State President F.W. de Klerk countered the threat by dismissing the most reactionary South African Defence Force and South African Police generals and in the US, the massive Homeland Security apparatus seems to belatedly be taking white supremacist extremism seriously.  The question remains, however, as to what particular challenges a popular and well-organised white supremacist insurgency might raise.  There is a relatively recent historical example that has received very little attention in the Anglosphere, the OAS’ insurgency in Algeria and France from 1961 to 1963.

The Organisation armée secrete (OAS) was formed by General Raoul Salan in Madrid in December 1960 from exiled pied-noirs (white settlers in Algeria) and renegade French military officers who had taken part in the failed Algiers Putsch of May 1958.  The OAS was reinforced after the failed General’s Putsch of April 1961, with a Madrid, Algerian, and Metropolitan branch, each of which included an Organisation-Renseignements-Opérations (ORO) section.  The Madrid OAS proved ineffectual, but the Algerian and Metropolitan OROs launched insurgencies in May.  The de facto leader of the Algerian ORO was Lieutenant Roger Degueldre, formerly of 1er REP (Régiments Étrangers de Parachutistes), who led the Delta Commandos, a unit of 200 operators divided into cells of half a dozen across Algiers and Oran.  The Metropolitan ORO was commanded by Captain Jean-Marie Curutchet, formerly of 14e RCP (Régiments de Parachutistes Coloniaux), whose mission was the murder of President Charles De Gaulle.  The first attempt on De Gaulle’s life was an ambush on Route Nationale 19 on 8 September.  De Gaulle escaped unscathed, the police made their first arrest within the hour, discovered the identities of the entire ORO cell that night, and arrested General Vanuxem, head of the Metropolitan OAS, the next morning.  The Metropolitan OAS nonetheless went on the offensive, taking advantage of a reinvigorated Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) insurgency in Paris and the tensions caused by the Paris police’s massacre of between 40 and 300 Muslims on 17 October.  At this point, the OAS enjoyed the support of 80 deputies in France’s National Assembly and Degueldre’s Deltas had defeated both the police and the FLN in Algiers, including an elite counter-insurgency (COIN) unit of 80 barbouzes (a derogatory term for undercover police agents).

Both branches of the ORO intensified their violence in January 1962, but this proved counterproductive for the Metropolitan branch when a four-year-old girl was maimed by a bomb blast in Paris on 8 February.  There was a public demonstration against the OAS that night and the police responded with characteristic excess, killing eight people.  Five days later hundreds of thousands of Parisians turned out for the funerals in a peaceful protest against both the police and the OAS.  The ceasefire between France and the FLN on 18 March turned the three-way struggle between France, the OAS, and the FLN into a two-way struggle that the OAS could never win.  Salan’s renaming of the organisation as the Conseil National de la Résistance (CNR) had little impact: both he and Degueldre were under arrest by the end of April and Algerian operations had ceased by the end of June.  The Metropolitan CNR remained determined to kill De Gaulle and an ORO cell led by Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiéry, an engineer in France’s Air Ministry, ambushed his motorcade in Paris on 22 August.  De Gaulle and his wife survived a hail of nearly 200 bullets, fourteen of which hit their car, without injury and Bastien-Thiéry was arrested in January 1963.  He was tried in February and became the last French citizen to be executed by firing squad on 10 March.  While he was on trial, the police prevented a third assassination attempt, by a sniper, which seems to have been the basis of Frederick Forsyth’s bestselling thriller, The Day of the Jackal (published in 1971).  CNR bombs continued to disturb life in Paris during 1963, tailing off until the last detonation on 11 July.  By the end of the year, however, all but three of the CNR’s leadership were in custody.

From May 1961 to May 1963 the OAS/CNR was responsible for 12000 bomb detonations, 2000 attacks, and 1400 deaths on both sides of the Mediterranean.  There are three features of its defeat that have a bearing on white supremacist insurgencies more generally.  First, traditional COIN tactics had little effect.  Most if not all of the ORO operators had military training and combat experience, in consequence of which they were able to outmanoeuvre and outgun the barbouzes.  Second, in common with almost all insurgencies, the loss of public support proved crucial.  Third, the question of the military’s position was pivotal.  Salan erred by assassinating an army officer in Algiers in September 1961 and the military made an irreversible commitment to France by capturing the Algerian OAS leadership in Oran in March 1962.  In the space of two months, both the public and the military thus made decisive turns against the OAS.  The sympathy of the military and the police is one of the factors that makes a potential white supremacist insurgency particularly dangerous.  The lessons from France’s failure and SA’s success in preventing insurgencies suggest that the purging of sympathisers, particularly those of staff rank, is an effective COIN tactic.  As a tactic, it is most effectively deployed at the planning rather than the operational stage, before an insurgency has the opportunity to gain the support of the military and the public, a measure the US has traditionally been reluctant to take.

Dr Rafe McGregor, Edge Hill University

Email: mcgregor@edgehill.ac.uk

Twitter: @detectingharm

Website: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rafe_Mcgregor

Images: Courtesy of author

Examining Crime Through a Security Lens: The Case for a BSC Specialist Network on Security

This blog sets out the case for establishing a BSC specialist network on security and invites expressions of interest.

AlisonWakefieldDr Alison Wakefield is based at the University of Portsmouth where she runs the Professional Doctorate programme in Security Risk Management. She is also Chair of the Security Institute, the UK’s main professional association for security practitioners, and an Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute.

Security is a significant theme of the research and innovation programmes of governments, inter-governmental organisations, think tanks and research foundations. It is likely that it will only become more significant. The latest edition of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) strategic intelligence report Global Strategic Trends opens with the statement that ‘the world is becoming ever more complex and volatile’, whereby ‘the only certainty about the future is its inherent uncertainty’. Among the numerous and interconnected challenges discussed in the report, it predicts an increasing threat from crime and extremism, and increasingly fragmented societies along with decreasing social cohesion. Criminology has much to contribute to our understanding of those multiple challenges and how we should deal with them, on topics ranging from social crime prevention to the relationship between crime, criminal justice and future technologies.

Most, if not all, criminological research can arguably be placed under a ‘security’ heading, especially if one takes an expansive view of the concept as depicted in the word cloud below. Yet ‘security’ has no obvious disciplinary home, as a cross-cutting research theme that spans many, if not most, academic disciplines. It is a foundational concept of international relations, which evolved as a field of study after the First World War as scholars sought to explain the causes of war and conditions for peace, and in which ‘security studies’ is a substantial sub-field. The relationship of security with criminology is not made obvious in a discipline that has traditionally made crime, as opposed to security, its conceptual focus, although conceptions of crime as harm perhaps bring criminology closer to security studies, and specifically to its schools of thought that favour a ‘human security’ perspective over a state-centric view of security. Today, priority areas for security research and policy development cut across the sciences, social sciences, humanities and business studies. These include the need to understand human behaviour better, the intersection of security with development as well as other areas of public policy, scientific and technological security solutions, the interactions of humans with such solutions, and the development of the risk management-based approaches that underpin these. Many of such areas require interdisciplinary teams and perspectives that are equipped to address the multiple facets of complex security problems.

The MoD report demonstrates that most of the risks and uncertainties facing the world in the twenty-first century can be conceptualised as security challenges. As a concept, ‘security’ is better suited than ‘crime’ both to considering the range of threats and response strategies at the global level, and to micro-managing risk in the most specific and localised of contexts. It embraces a much broader range of threats, associated with a wide variety of social, political, economic, technological, demographic and environmental conditions. It also presents enormous challenges, conceptually, analytically and practically. As a result, its study needs to draw on the expertise of multiple disciplines, at the multiple layers of strategy, policy and practice from the global to the local. Most academic disciplines and learned societies would benefit from making their contribution to the analysis of security challenges more explicit and better understood by their members, with security certain to be a central theme of research and innovation funding for the foreseeable future.

Security research and innovation

Research funding programmes with a focus on security include the Partnership for Conflict, Crime and Security Research (PaCCS) programme, established by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) (formerly Research Councils UK) programme in 2008 as the Global Uncertainties Programme; the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Secure Societies Challenge; and the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST). CREST was launched in 2015 following a competitive process managed by the Economic and Social Research Council. A consortium of psychologists from the universities of Lancaster, Bath and Portsmouth was selected to develop and deliver a national hub for understanding, countering and mitigating security threats. CREST-funded projects cut across a variety of disciplines, but its home discipline reflects the significance now being afforded by the UK government to behavioural science as a dimension of the national security solutions of the present and future.

Other bodies that have formed within the UK to facilitate innovation and collaboration in the development and delivery of security solutions include the Joint Security and Resilience Centre (JSaRC), which is a partnership of UK central government and the security industry located in the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) within the Home Office, the Security and Resilience Industry Suppliers Community (RISC) and the Academic RISC. RISC was established in 2007 as a security industry alliance serving as the principal channel of communication with the OSCT and other government departments and agencies on security-related requirements and policy issues. It was founded by the trade associations ADS, the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) and techUK, and it informed the development of JSaRC. RISC’s corporate members are a range of representative bodies within the security sector, with around 6000 companies being represented through the participating organisations.

RISC’s activities have also included representing industry perspectives in submissions to the UK government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), Security Export Strategy and National Security Capability Review (NSCR). The chair of RISC and the Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime co-chair the Security and Resilience Growth Partnership (SRGP), a forum that informs government-industrial co-operation on security issues. In 2014 Academic RISC was founded, inspired by the RISC approach, as a network of universities to promote academic engagement in solving challenges in national security and resilience. Academic RISC is chaired by Professor Chris Hankin, Director of the Institute for Security Science and Technology, Imperial College, and now comprises 120 member universities which receive updates on opportunities circulated by the UK government.

The contribution of criminology

Criminology has a huge contribution to make to such initiatives. For example, as our government has recently acknowledged, the UK’s future resilience to cyber security threats relies on a significant expansion of the cyber security profession and its broadening out to encompass a much wider range of capabilities, beyond the current, limited routes into the profession primarily through the STEM disciplines. Cyber security is, above all, about the strategic management of risk, and needs to take much greater account of the human factors that are a central feature of both the threats and the solutions, the partnership working and intelligence expertise on which those solutions rely, and its significant legal, regulatory and ethical dimensions. These human considerations are at the heart of criminological thinking. Michael McGuire’s[i][ii] work to bring technology to the forefront of criminology has been a valuable step forward, mapping out key areas of our discipline’s contribution to understanding, utilising and managing technological advancement. The concepts of crime science and applied criminology have become increasingly influential within criminology with their emphasis on practical applications to crime problems. Many police studies scholars, myself included, have long advocated expansive conceptions of policing that recognise the multiple actors undertaking policing functions, and the centrality of partnerships and networks to protective security, intelligence-sharing and other security/policing functions. Ten years ago, Lucia Zedner explored the relationship between security and criminology in her influential textbook[iii] and, if the value and potential contribution of criminology is to be fully recognised by government and industry as the competition for security research funding becomes fiercer, it is time to look at this again. Security should not be seen as a sub-set of criminology. Rather, criminology is arguably a sub-set of security in the context of the research programmes and cross-sector collaboration initiatives to which I have referred, or at least needs to be communicated as being one of its essential components in responses to research and funding calls and within inter-disciplinary networking.

Recently, the critical criminologist Alex Vitale controversially claimed that criminology ‘has become a technocratic pursuit of small questions divorced from ethics’, but security is far more than a technocratic concept. Its breadth is illustrated by this far from exhaustive word cloud of security terms.

security concepts wordcloud

Indeed, in the aforementioned MoD report it is argued that ‘the defence and security community should consider placing human security (“the people”) at the centre of their world view’. This influential report and its American equivalent view the world through a security lens, but encompass the ‘megatrends’ confronting the world in the coming decades, across the areas of global governance, economic development, technological advancement, demographics, migration, health, resources, environment, conflict, disorder and insecurity. Critical perspectives are as important as any to our understanding of challenges across these broad areas and how we can confront them. Developing sub-fields of our discipline such as green criminology and post-conflict/Southern criminology address vital aspects of sustainable development and bring ethical considerations to the fore.

A proposal for a specialist network

Through this blog I want to solicit interest in forming a BSC specialist network on security, with a view to raising the collective profile of criminology within government and industry, and collaborating with others to examine and map out criminology’s contribution to our understanding of security challenges and the search for solutions. This extends across security concepts and definitions; the global ‘megatrends’ and national and local political and economic trends shaping our world today; security risks and threats that extend beyond traditional crimes to include human rights abuses, environmental threats to life, corporate crime and corruption, for example; the multiple actors and agencies from the global level downwards that influence the construction of security challenges and the responses to them; and the laws, strategies, policies and practices that make up those responses. Since these areas are so broad that they potentially encompass all topics of criminological interest, what I am specifically looking for is members who would see particular value in collaborating through the lens of security, stepping outside the constraints of a crime/criminal justice perspective on the world while bringing the same expertise and interests to the table. This also requires a shift in language and terminology, with a focus on security problems, security solutions, and security agencies and departments, alongside our common concerns of crime and criminal justice.

The overarching aim of the network would be to support the engagement of criminologists – individually and as a collective – with stakeholders globally, regionally, nationally and locally. While making shared research interests its priority, the network would help inform criminology teaching and student employability in related areas, enhancing links to possible guest speakers and employers: a further means of reinforcing the contribution and stature of criminology across a variety of dimensions. I am in a position to support the development of members’ connections with the corporate and commercial sectors in particular, through my current voluntary role as Chairman of the Security Institute, the UK’s main professional association for security practitioners with just under 3,000 members at the time of writing.

As a first step, I would like to organise a meeting at this year’s BSC conference at the University of Lincoln from 2nd to 5th July, and a panel session at which to introduce the proposal for a specialist network in security, as well as to showcase some of the important research being undertaken in this area. I would like to hear from BSC members who would be interested in participating in the network, forming a committee, meeting up at the conference and/or contributing to the conference panel, and would be grateful if expressions of interest could be emailed to me at alison.wakefield@port.ac.uk before Tuesday 7 May. I strongly hope the idea of such a network will be of interest to BSC members both old and new, and also welcome general comments and feedback.

[i] M.R. McGuire, Technology, Crime and Justice: The Question Concerning Technomia (Routledge 2012).

[ii] M.R. McGuire, T.J. Holt (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Technology, Crime and Justice (Routledge 2016).

[iii] L. Zedner, Security (Routledge 2009).



Dr Alison Wakefield, University of Portsmouth

Email: alison.wakefield@port.ac.uk

Twitter:  @DrAlisonsTweets

Website: http://www.port.ac.uk/institute-of-criminal-justice-studies/staff/dr-alison-wakefield.htm


Images: courtesy of the author