The founder of the “yellow vest” revolt said it had become a dangerous “dog without a leash” prey to extremists and anarchists, and urged moderate protesters to open dialogue with the French government.
Jacline Mouraud, a 51-year old composer and hypnotherapist from Brittany, is credited with sparking the movement after six million people viewed her Facebook diatribe against environmental duties on petrol and diesel last month.
“What are you doing with the money apart from buying new dishes at the Élysée Palace and building yourself swimming pools?” she asked President Emmanuel Macron in her viral video.
But she said the movement had now been hijacked by an increasingly violent fringe of “extremists and anarchists”.
Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Ms Mouraud, said: “This movement has broken free of everyone, you can’t reason with people any more. Some don’t even remember what demands we made at the start.
“It’s as if we had kept the dog on a leash and today the leash has snapped.”
Before the violence of the past two weeks, she said the revolt was a “spontaneous movement of the people” that could not be manipulated.
Now, however, it was, she said, not just “beyond the reach of the government, political parties, unions” but “the people from the movement themselves”.
She added: “We’re witnessing a tsunami. The wave is still in the air and we’ll just have to wait for it to crash down again.”
Facebook, she said, had initially “helped bring people together and get organised”. But it also now had a “very negative side,” she added.
Experts said that Facebook’s decentralised nature is ideal for "gilets jaunes”, particularly as it changed its algorithms earlier this year to lower the visibility of content published on pages run by large media outlets.
The prime minister has called for three months of talks between the gilets jaunes and local and national officials.
She added: “Today, I have no idea how this will pan out. What’s for sure is if we don’t get organised, it will have no future. We’ll have done all that for nothing.”