News & Politics

John Kerry's Family Fights to Keep Peasants Away from Ancestral French Villa, Claiming Terror Threat

US Secretary of State John Kerry takes part in a ceremony in Saint Briac sur Mer, western France, Saturday, June 7, 2014 in memory of the three US soldiers who died during liberation of the city on August 14, 1944. (AP Photo/ Jean Sebastien Evrard, Pool)

Saint-Briac-sur-Mer on the Brittany coast in France is a private playground for the European elite.

It’s also the home of Les Essarts, the ancestral home of former Democratic presidential candidate and former Obama Secretary of State John Kerry. It has been in his family since 1923 and was the place he regularly vacationed as a child.

But Saint-Briac is now a legal battleground between the French state and the uber-rich villa owners, including Kerry’s family, who for decades have defied a French law that allows for a small right-of-way on the city’s beach for hikers and visitors.

Now it seems that the illegal efforts by the villa owners to keep the hoi polloi out of Saint-Briac is nearing an end.

Agence France Press reports:

Hikers demanding right of way along a pristine stretch of coastal France are locked in a legal war with villa owners in a posh Brittany resort town, not least the family of US statesman and former presidential candidate John Kerry.

Unless the latest round of lawsuits seeking to curtail free access to the Emerald Coast path near Saint-Briac-sur-Mer succeeds, officials say it will be open to all starting next year.

“In Saint-Briac there are more voters than residents — it’s the owners of second homes who make the rules,” said former mayor Auguste Senghor, a nephew of Senegal’s founding president Leopold Sedar Senghor.

Under French law the country’s coastlines must be accessible to all, similarly to Britain’s “right to roam” rules.

But for decades Saint-Briac leaders have steadfastly refused to obey via a series of legal moves, in particular Senghor’s predecessor Brice Lalonde — Kerry’s first cousin.

A law that passed in December 1976 ensures that the public has a three-meter right-of-way along France’s coastline. In 1982 an order was published demanding that Saint-Briac follow the law, which launched the current legal battle.

During the 2004 presidential election, Kerry’s relatives kept quiet the Democratic Party candidate’s ties to the village.

“We have been asked by the family to play down the French connection,” Kerry’s uncle Ian Forbes told the Los Angeles Times.

Kerry’s grandfather, James Grant Forbes, bought the Les Essarts property in 1923. His parents met there in the 1930s, and his family spent their summers at the villa.

AFP reports that Kerry was spotted there last July at a celebration commemorating Les Essarts’ 90th anniversary.

But Kerry’s cousin, Brice Lalonde — a former Green Party candidate for France’s presidency — told Le Figaro that a new concern is prompting them to flout the law.

Lalonde said he was “worried about the terrorist risk” and that “it will be easy enough to target members of my family engaged in political action.”

Enforcing borders because of the threat of terrorism? Sounds familiar.

A twist in Saint-Briac’s local politics is contributing to the challenge of French law, according to a former mayor.

“In Saint-Briac there are more voters than residents — it’s the owners of second homes who make the rules,” says Auguste Senghor.

The head of the regional hikers association states that all of the cities and villages in the region are complying with the right-of-way law except for Saint-Briac.

That appears to be coming to an end, Le Figaro reports. A prefectural decree enforcing the law was passed in 2015, but was immediately challenged by the villa owners. The state is moving ahead with creating the right-of-way path while an appeal continues.

Lalonde warns of dire consequences, saying that “the path will affect the well-being of the inhabitants if it razes their walls and ruins their privacy.”

Respecting walls, boundaries, and borders is good for John Kerry’s family’s French villa, but not for American taxpayers at home, it seems.

Having previously run a national campaign and fundraising operation, Kerry has been mentioned as a possible 2020 Democratic contender.

But a poll earlier this month of prospective Democrat candidates only showed 2 percent support for the former secretary of state: