While the French government’s struggle against Islamo-gauchisme has captured international attention, the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darminin, has made an even more significant move to dissolve the far right group Génération Identitaire (Generation Identity)–more significant, because while Islamo-gauchisme is a nonsensical caricature of the Academic Left, Génération Identitaire is real, in the sense that it actually exists.
A youth group, GI is a well-known part of the identitarian movement throughout Europe, which emerged in the early 21st century in France–an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim assemblage that is dedicated to the preservation of the European white race and values, against the perceived threat of Muslim migrants. Some have adopted the imagery of the medieval period, featuring the 8th-century Frankish leader Charles Martel, who won the battle of Tours against Muslim invaders in 732 CE, as a particular role model (and cosplay opportunity).
According to José Pedro Zúquete, the group gained enormous visibility in Europe in 2012 with the posting of its dramatic “Declaration of War” (“Declaration of War” video). Mentioned by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) as a right-wing terrorist group, it has mostly specialized in stunt propaganda–a sit-in on the roof of a mosque under construction in Poitiers in 2012, another sit-in on the roof of a welfare office in Bobigny, a suburb of Paris that is heavily populated with immigrants, in 2019. Their members, even when arrested and tried, have generally received little or no punishment.
They are also influenced by the “Great Replacement” ideas of Renaud Camus. Most Americans first heard of Camus, or at least of the concept of “Replacement,” after the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” demonstration in August, 2017.
The medievalism, as well as Camus’s magnificent restored castle, are featured in the following video from Channel 4 in Britain. This video was posted just before the presidential election in 2017 that brought Emmanuel Macron to power.
The Channel 4 report includes all the points of their ideology, as described by Pierre Plottu and Maxime Macé in Libération: the “remigration” of Muslims back to their country of origin, including those who have since been naturalized (they do not accept Français de papier); the “Great Replacement,” a plan cooked up by “globalized elites,” to substitute Muslim immigrants for white Europeans; a pending race war. And despite the presence of women in the group, Plottu and Macé note that the role of women is “to make children to perpetuate the race” of their virile menfolk; all adopt the Catholic religion as an integral part of “European Identity.” The group has loose connections with a number of neo-Nazi as well as Identitarian groups throughout Europe.
On February 19, 2021, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced that he had started the process to dissolve the group, which could happen as early as February 24.
Darmanin released an extensive list of actions, going back a number of years–demonstrations, attacks on individuals, racist speech inciting hatred–but declared that the last straw, in effect, was a recent action in the Pyrenees to stop clandestine crossings of migrants “terrorists.” GI had quickly released a slickly produced video to commemorate the event.
The group had, however, taken a similar action in the Alps in 2018. So why dissolve them now? The same question was asked by the 25-year-old leader of the group, Clément Gandelin, quoted in Rfi, who argued that the government was “panicking” because they had recently taken action against Muslim groups, and thus needed to appease the Muslims by an action against the far right.
Indeed, after the beheading of Samuel Paty, Minister Darmanin shut down, for six months, the Grand Mosque of Pantin, in a heavily Muslim quartier north of Paris. The mosque had used its Facebook page to circulate an attack on Paty by the father of one of his students, who was angry that Paty had shown cartoons of Muhammed in a class about the freedom of speech. The rector of the mosque expressed regret over sharing the video, stating that he had done it “out of concern for Muslim children.” In addition, as Benjamin Dodman of France24 reported, the Cheikh Yassine Collective, a pro-Hamas group, was dissolved, with little pushback, because of the group’s clear involvement in the act. Less justifiably, the Anti-Islamophobia Collective (CCIF), a hate-group watchdog, was also shut down after the Paty attack; their webpage now only has a final statement that they are moving their operations to another country, and they are also appealing the French ban of their group to Human Rights Watch.
But “panic,” as the GI leader suggested, seems less likely than a deliberate approach to go after the extremes, in view of the upcoming presidential and National Assembly elections. In response to the dissolution of GI, for example, Bruno Retailleau, a prominent member of Les Républicains (LR), quoted in Rfi, argued that the best way to fight such groups was to “end immigration.” His statement reflects a recent problem for the conservative party, as they have increasingly found themselves squeezed between Macron’s center-right approach and Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National (RN). Beginning with the campaigns of Nicholas Sarkozy (2007-2012), the party of the “right and center” has found itself pulled ever further to the right on the issue of immigration, divided over the issue of whether they should outflank or condemn the RN’s approach. The erosion of LR principles has been swift: in 2017, their candidate François Fillon, who failed to make it into the second round of the presidential election, immediately (not happily) endorsed Macron in his statement accepting his defeat.
Macron’s maddening “on the one hand, on the other hand” approach, of playing both sides against the center, can also be detected in the Islamo-gauchisme flurry: if the attack on GI can be seen as a blow to the right, and far right, then Islamo-gauchisme is aimed strictly at the Left, and particularly at Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his La France Insoumise (LFI)–not only a far Left party, but one that has distinguished itself for its attacks on growing Islamophobia in France.
But an excessively cynical interpretation of the Macron government’s actions seems wrong as well. France, whatever Macron’s opponents say of it, and of him, is a democracy; and democracies are under attack by networks of right-wing extremists. Late last August, the German Reichstag (Bundestag) building was stormed by far right protesters. Americans, distracted by the chaos in the United States, paid little attention. In retrospect, there are, as this news report (in English) shows, many similarities.
Many Americans have failed to realize how deeply shocking the January 6 spectacle was to the rest of the world, how fragile the US democracy, and by extension all other democracies, then appeared. Emmanuel Macron issued a statement, in both French and English, of solidarity and support. This, he said, is “not America.” But it’s impossible not to notice that last, tentative reassurance: “definitely.”
Darmanin’s letter on Génération Identitaire
Génération Identitaire in the Alps, 2018 (youtube)
Génération Identitaire website, with a statement against the dissolution, is here.
CCIF: Final Statement, French and English
On Renaud Camus:
Norimitsu Onishi, “The Man Behind a Toxic Slogan Promoting White Supremacy,” The New York Times, September 20, 2019.https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/20/world/europe/renaud-camus-great-replacement.html
Thomas Chatterton Williams, “The French Origins of ‘You Will Not Replace Us,’” The New Yorker, November 27. 2017. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/12/04/the-french-origins-of-you-will-not-replace-us
“What Charlottesville Changed,” Politico Magazine, August 12, 2018. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/08/12/charlottesville-anniversary-supremacists-protests-dc-virginia-219353/
“Government bid to outlaw French far-right group prompts online petition,” RFI, February 2, 2021.https://www.rfi.fr/en/france/20210215-government-bid-to-outlaw-far-right-group-prompts-online-petition-immigration-islamophobia-islamist
Benjamin Dodman, “Anger at Beheading of French teacher ‘must not override rule of law,’” France24, October 22, 2020.https://www.france24.com/en/france/20201022-anger-at-beheading-of-french-teacher-must-not-override-rule-of-law
Pierre Plottu and Maxime Macé, “Extrême droite: Darmanin veut la dissolution de Génération identitaire,” Libération, January 26, 2021. https://www.liberation.fr/france/2021/01/26/extreme-droite-darmanin-veut-la-dissolution-de-generation-identitaire_1818500/
Seth G. Jones, Catrina Doxsee, and Nicholas Harrington, “The Right-wing Terrorism Threat in Europe,” Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), 2020.https://www-jstor-org.exlibris.colgate.edu/stable/pdf/resrep24237.6.pdf?ab_segments=0%2Fbasic_search_solr_cloud%2Fcontrol&refreqid=fastly-default%3Aaaee34d796d843f284a27ebc783173d3
ZÚQUETE, JOSÉ PEDRO. “Intellectual Foundations, Practices, and Networks.” In The Identitarians: The Movement against Globalism and Islam in Europe, 7-104. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2018. Accessed February 23, 2021. http://www.jstor.org.exlibris.colgate.edu:2048/stable/j.ctvpj775n.8.