Campaign Chronicles: The Rally at Toulon

Campaign Chronicles: The Rally at Toulon

With the Russian attack on Ukraine, French presidential candidate Érik Zemmour has been in something of a quandary.  He had praised Russia for many years; according to a recent article in Le Journal du Dimanche, he had been courted, even groomed, as an “opinions makers” (sic) by one of the oligarchs since 2015.  Little wonder: in December 2014 he had published an editorial praising Putin for his “rejection of the West, with the temptations of its nihilist, globalist, immigrationist, feminist, gay friendly ideology.”

Zemmour’s glib pontifications on civilization and culture, which have led many to see him as an important intellectual, have served him well with certain groups; for the young, he is a sort of French Ayn Rand.  The journal Marianne examined the two recently created Zemmouriste student groups at the elite Sciences Po: Génération Z, founded in September 2021, and Réconquête-Sciences Po, created in early 2022.  Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) had never gained any traction at the school; one of the representatives of another student group suggested shrewdly that the reason was that the voters of Rassemblement National were too “popular,” too lower class.  

With the invasion of Ukraine, Zemmour’s glosses on history and Putin, his determination to exit NATO, his dismissal of the Ukrainian ordeal as a “distraction,” have become increasingly insupportable.

Time for a reset.

The rally at Toulon–the historic naval port of the Mediterranean–drew an enthusiastic crowd, no doubt building on the embedded conservatism in the south as well as the decades-old strength of Le Pen’s National Front.

The first speakers had recently rallied to Zemmour.  Senator Stéphane Ravier, a longtime member of the National Front, is a native son of Marseille, and was thus on home turf; he gave a rousing speech that was at one point interrupted by a spontaneous crowd rendition of la Marseillaise. 

Next came Guillaume Peltier, who had come to Zemmour from Les Républicains; he name-checked Clovis, Capet, Jeanne d’Arc, Bonaparte, De Gaulle, the “army of shadows” (the Resistance); and described Zemmour as “a Berber Jew, sent by Providence to save France.”  Hmmm.  (Zemmour is Jewish, but culturally supports the Catholic religion as the tradition of France; it’s unclear how observant he is.  And his parents immigrated to France from Algeria, but he himself was born in France.)

Then came Philippe de Villiers, scion of an old noble family (his full name includes several additional particles and place names), an entrepreneur and politician; his brother, Pierre de Villiers, was the former chief of staff who resigned after a quarrel with Macron over the military budget.  Zemmour, who has called for increasing the military budget substantially, made reference to that incident in his speech.

It was Villier’s privilege to introduce the major prize of the meeting: after weeks of  speculation, Marion Maréchal–the niece of Marine Le Pen–was formally endorsing Éric Zemmour.  She is a political figure in her own right, serving one term as a deputy, followed by an unsuccessful run to be the Regional President of Paca (Provence-Alpes Maritimes-Côte d’Azur, the Riviera stronghold of the Le Pens); she is the granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen and is considered closer to him and frontisme than Marine is.

Philippe de Villiers asked his audience to imagine they were looking over the harbor, and could see a figure striding in: “She is blonde.  She is beautiful.  She is conquérante.”  Sound and light.  Movie trailer music.

Maréchal admitted that this had been a very hard decision for her–for family reasons, of course, and because she had left politics five years ago (after the 2017 elections). She had been discouraged.  But now she believed that victory was possible, that the union of the right, which she had always wanted, could actually occur.

But for all the excitement, the speech was not all that memorable:  Macron has divided us, has disrespected the gilets jaunes, has created divisions between the vaccinated and unvaccinated. . . . Immigration. . . . robot algorithms . . . confusion of the sexes . . . tearing down statues . . . . Nous sommes chez nous (This is our land) . . . At one point, as she was running through the litany and had reached wokeism, she laughed.  She seemed to be laughing at someone in the audience, but for a brief moment I wondered whether she might be laughing at the banality of what she was saying.  

She is indeed a magnetic presence and a good speaker.  But she was, at Toulon, something of an anticlimax.

And Les Républicains candidate Valérie Pécresse, who has a crackerjack oppo research team, was soon out with this montage of Maréchal through the years:

“I would like to have dinner with Putin, he is a phenomenal geopolitical strategist.”

“I believe that the French media demonization of Russia and even of Putin, through disinformation . . .”

“French media has an anti-Russian bias, in which Russia is accused, through insinuation, of crimes against humanity . . .” 

Once again, the desire to have dinner with Putin, “one of the things to do in life.”

[She attended a Russian conference open only to those in European parties favorable to Putin.  She was the only representative from France to accept the invitation; she considered it an honor.]

“Russia is, for us, an element of hope. . . .” 

“I believe that in France, one has a vision of what Russia is that is completely false.  . . .”

“When we look at democracies throughout the world, we should look, a little bit, at ourselves. . . .”

“France, in deciding to reintegrate into NATO, has become the victim, perhaps the accomplice, of the famous Brzezinski doctrine, which induced  the Americans to separate Russia from Europe, and Ukraine from Russia (my emphasis).”

“There’s no reason to debate again today over whether Crimea belongs to Russia (my emphasis).”

“Yes, I think France should get out of NATO, we humiliated Russia by not delivering the Mistrals, in refusing to the Russian military the power to . . . [Interruption: We should deliver the Mistrals?] Yes, certainly.”  [See The New York Times article below.]

“Even in going to the National Assembly, I cross the Alexandre III bridge, which was also offered by Russia; thus in going to work every day I think of you [Russia or Putin].”  

Many roads do indeed lead to Putin.


Header image by

Robin d’Angelo, “Info JDD. Quand les Russes choyaient Éric Zemmour,” Le Journal du Dimanche, March 5, 2022.

“Les jeunes pro-Zemmour à Sciences Po: ‘C’est la droite catholique qui s’est radicalisée,”’ Marianne, February 11, 2022.

Michael R. Gordon, “France’s Sale of 2 Ships to Russians Is Ill-Advised, U.S. warns,” The New York Times, May 14, 2014.

The full rally at Toulon, on YouTube:

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