If you live in the U.S., you probably missed an event that happened last week in France. Because the American news media has become so toxically self-absorbed with a few square miles of land and a handful of characters who inhabit our Federal City, you can be forgiven if you haven’t seen any actual news that doesn’t involve Washington D.C. antics lately.
On Friday, an Islamist extremist living in southern France murdered four people and wounded sixteen more before he was killed by police in the small, quiet town of Trèbes, outside of Carcassonne. Radouane Lakdim was a 25-year-old French citizen born in Morocco. He was a petty criminal already on the radar of French police for his links to radical Salafist networks.
Lakdim began his spree with a carjacking, by shooting and wounding the driver of a car and killing the passenger – a retiree. The gunman then shot at a passing group of police officers who were returning from a jog, wounding one.
After he left the hijacked car in a nearby Super U supermarket’s parking lot, Lakdim stormed into the store where about fifty people were shopping for groceries at the time. Shouting “God is great,” that he was a soldier for ISIS, and that he was ready to die for Syria, he then shot a customer and a store employee, who both died on the spot. In addition to a handgun, Lakdim was also armed with three homemade explosive devices and a hunting knife. Some shoppers escaped through emergency exits at the back of the market, while others hid. One group locked themselves in a meat locker and telephoned police.
Then, one of the police officers outside, Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, offered to exchange himself for a female hostage being held in the store at gunpoint by Lakdim, to save her life and try to negotiate with the terrorist. Lakdim agreed, the woman was released, and Beltrame became the new hostage.
After about two hours, and for reasons still unknown, Lakdim suddenly opened fire on Beltrame several times. Beltrame had left his phone on so police could hear his interactions with the gunman. As soon as they heard gunfire, police went in and killed the jihadist.
Beltrame died Friday night from a shot in the neck. He was 44.
The death of Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame brought the death toll from Friday’s attack in southern France to five, including the gunman. Sixteen others were wounded. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, but the wording suggested that the attacker was inspired by ISIS, rather than directed by it. It was just the latest in a string of smaller-scale, individual terrorist acts to rattle France. They have been on a high terrorist alert since horrific attacks in Paris and Nice in 2015 and 2016.
On Saturday, Philippe Charuel, Grand Master of the Grande Loge de France, paid homage to the officer and made a rare public announcement that Brother Arnaud Beltrame was a member of the Masonic fraternity. According to a post on their Facebook page, he was initiated in 2008 in Jérôme Bonaparte Lodge in the Orient of Rueil-Nanterre. These sorts of messages are unusual there, generally because of widespread public distrust of the fraternity in that country. We don’t know just how lucky we are in the U.S. to not be confronted with this on an almost daily basis.
Married with no children, Arnaud Beltrame had served in the French military police. He served in Iraq in 2005 and was awarded for bravery in 2007. Upon his return to France, he joined the Republican Guard, part of the national gendarmerie which provides officers for the security of French institutions. He was a guard at the Élysée Palace, home of the French president, between 2006 and 2010. In 2012, he was knighted in France’s prestigious Legion of Honor. Beltrame was also secretary-general in the Ecology Ministry for four years.
Last year Beltrame was appointed deputy commander of the anti-terror police in the Aude region. Ironically, last December he led sixty police officers in a simulated exercise of a mass killing at a supermarket that was chillingly similar to the one Friday in which he lost his life.
Almost 250 people have died in terrorist attacks in France in recent years. Lieutenant-Colonel Beltrame is the tenth member of the nation’s security forces to be killed in a terrorist attack on French soil since 2012, as police and military officers have become regular targets of jihadists. In April 2017, Officer Xavier Jugelé was shot dead on the Champs-Élysées by an ISIS-related terrorist.
This weekend, there has been a massive outpouring of both grief and national admiration for Beltrame’s heroic act of sacrifice. He has been hailed as a hero by President Macron, Interior Minister Gérard Collomb, and countless other public officials.
In the traditions of the Grand Loge de France, the Mason is informed that he should be willing to “give up his last drop of blood for values, for the Republic, for the country…” Brother Arnaud Beltrame has indeed held to his obligation, stricken down in the performance of his duty. He leaves his grieving widow Marielle behind now. Neither she nor his Masonic Brothers shall forget him, even when the rest of the outside world moves on to the next tragedy or headline.
His column is broken, and his Brethren — and his entire nation — mourn his passing.
Requiescat in pace.
I was deeply saddened this weekend as I watched this story about Beltrame’s Masonic membership play out on several websites. Countless conversations quickly devolved into squabbles over the recognition and regularity status of the Grande Loge de France. Because the majority of the regular, recognized Masonic world chose in the 1950s and 60s to shift their amity from the GLdF to the Grande Loge Nationale Française from pressure by the UGLE, many Masons chose to make this an issue in this story of a gallant man’s sacrifice.
I find that especially galling, because I was involved in investigating the GLdF for my own grand lodge in 2002 when we considered recognition. They are as regular as any mainstream U.S. grand lodge, and I have sat in their meetings for myself and seen it with my own eyes.
But more to the point, why was this even a topic of conversation over this Brother’s death? Is that all Freemasonry means to some of our own members — nothing but rules, regulations, edicts, and pronouncements? Have so many of us forgotten what our rituals teach us?
I was going to type out an angry rejoinder over this, but then I came across the following response over on Reddit from ‘Tyler_Zoro’. He states it far more eloquently than I could:
- I recognize Freemasonry in the hearts of men (and women!) where it erupts. That doesn’t mean that I feel I have the right or authority to recognize them as Masons. Where the virtues of Freemasonry arise, we should acknowledge that fact, regardless of what our administrative view of local organizations might be.
- As far as this particular man being a Brother. All men are Brothers (and I mean that in a generic sense which includes all mankind, not just people with man-parts). The essence of Freemasonry is the bond that we form, but if you thought that bond was between only you and the officers performing your degree, you mistook the symbol for the thing symbolized. If you thought that it was only between you and the members of your Lodge, then you misunderstood the nature of the relationship between the part and the whole. If you thought that it was only between you and those who have used the word “Freemasonry” to describe their part of the Western Initiatic Tradition, then you did not understand which was above and which was below.
- When you decided to cross from the profane into the sacred of your own free will and accord, you entered into a larger Brotherhood than that of a jurisdictional contract formed by your Lodge’s Charter.
In that Brotherhood, I am full of such hubris as to claim that Arnaud Beltrame and I are equals, meeting on the level.