France’s Problem with Far-Right Hate and Extremism Is Growing

Anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim extremist groups have infiltrated their hateful ideas into France’s political mainstream.

Last month, the organization I founded, the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, released a report showing a worrying number of far-right hate and extremist groups in France. Given that far-right extremism has been in the spotlight and extremist political parties have secured power in recent European national elections, we weren’t surprised with what we found. But we are highly concerned with the breadth and influence of extremist groups in France, especially when it comes to far-right political parties.

At Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, we identify far-right groups, including political parties, that embrace beliefs and activities that demean, harass, and inspire violence against people based on their identity. The majority of the groups we identified in France are some combination of white nationalist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim, reflecting the current anti-immigrant “us against them” rhetoric and the purposeful conflation of the terms “immigration” and “Islam” by French far-right politicians and others looking to divide people. Many groups advance the white supremacist Great Replacement conspiracy theory, which has inspired racially-motivated mass killings across the world. The report also identified more than ten anti-LGBTQ+ groups and a handful of groups pushing religious nationalism, antisemitism, neo-Nazism, anti-Roma beliefs, and conspiracy theories.

Considering the increasing level of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric among politicians and others over the last few years, as well as legislative efforts that “[feed the] far-right ideology,” there is absolutely no doubt that anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim extremist groups have injected their hateful ideas into the mainstream. This means that even when far-right extremist parties don’t elect their candidates into positions of power, they are still pulling politics and policy to the far right.

FRANCE’S FAR-RIGHT LANDSCAPE

What’s more, these parties are growing. In addition to regional extremist groups throughout France using hate and division to drum up support for rights-restricting agendas, both Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) and Eric Zemmour’s newer Reconquête! (listed in our report as far-right and extremist groups) have gained ground over the last few years, sometimes with direct support from and partnership with more radical groups. In the 2022 elections, Le Pen came closer to securing the French presidency than any far-right contender has in the past. Adding in Zemmour’s 7% of the vote in the first round of the 2022 elections, the far-right has the support of more than 40% of the population, its highest-ever share.

Far-right extremist movements in France, and around the world, are fueled by misinformation and propaganda and must be pushed back to the fringes where they belong.

These parties deserve listing as far-right hate and extremist groups. Both are openly anti-immigrant and push anti-Muslim rhetoric. Le Pen has said that Muslims are to blame for antisemitism in France and has compared Muslims to Nazi occupiers. Her party, the RN, is in favor of “national preference,” whereby French citizens would have priority in certain services, rights, and social benefits over non-citizens, which conflicts with the French constitution. Widely known for her anti-immigrant stance, Le Pen has used disinformation to divide people and build her base. For instance, while campaigning, she said, “There are prayers in the street, cafes that ban women, and young women who get threatening looks if they wear a skirt. I will say when I become president that this is not the French way.”

Zemmour believes that non-white immigration is causing the native French population to be replaced by a Muslim majority. In other words, he explicitly endorses the Great Replacement conspiracy theory. He is openly anti-Muslim and is on record advocating that Ukrainian refugees should be allowed to obtain French visas, but those fleeing wars in Muslim-majority countries (specifically Arab states) should not. Zemmour has long held anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views and has twice been convicted of incitement of religious hatred for statements he made in broadcasts during his time as a TV commentator.

It’s important to note that there is overlap between smaller or less well-known far-right groups and these political parties. In many cases they are not separate, but part of the same extremist movement. For instance, some members of the RN and the Reconquête! party were also members of Génération Identitaire, a now-shuttered — but still, hugely influential — white nationalist and anti-Muslim movement founded in 2012. Zemmour has been supported by leaders of the Parti de la France, which is strongly influenced by neo-Nazism. And the Zouaves of Paris, a neo-Nazi street gang, has been present at several of Zemmour’s rallies, where they started fights with counter-protesters.

Extreme candidates for office and hate groups ranging from neo-Nazi street fighters to racists in suits should serve as a red flag for all of us. In France, far-right political parties have adopted the Great Replacement conspiracy theory as fact and target non-white immigrants and refugees as destroying France and French culture and society. These far-right parties’ use of disinformation and propaganda means we’ve got a real problem, not only in France but also worldwide, as other far-right political parties elsewhere may seek to imitate their hate-filled and misinformed ideology.

THE REAL THREAT

Far-right extremist movements inspire terrorism, hate crimes, and rights-restricting policies around the world. In the United States and Brazil, far-right movements literally attempted to overthrow democratic elections. In Germany, far-right actors staged a thankfully failed coup attempt. These movements threaten community safety and inclusive democracy. They can and must be thwarted.

We all have a role to play. The more stakeholders know about these threats, the better prepared they can be to stop the spread of far-right extremism. Elected officials must denounce this hatred and stop the far-right from swaying them to their positions. The media must call out extremism when they see it (sometimes there are not “two sides” to an issue) and explain the threat of the far-right to inclusive democracy without glamorizing or sensationalizing hateful movements or inadvertently giving extremist groups an even larger audience. While it is important to acknowledge that this is a complicated task, tech companies must put human rights and democracy above profit and deplatform hate, especially when it comes from the account of a politician.

Some progress has been made; after we reported on white nationalist Generation Identity chapters using social media to spread their hate, Twitter and Facebook took numerous accounts down. Yet, both social media giants just let Donald Trump back on despite the hate and incitement to violence he spread through the platforms. There is always more work to be done.

Far-right extremist movements in France and around the world inspire terrorism, mass killings, and rights-restricting policies. Community safety and democracies are at risk. We hope that our reports highlighting these movements in various countries assist stakeholders locally and globally to better understand the far-right extremist landscape, how it operates and the harm it causes, and how the dots are connected within countries and transnationally in order to counter the threats. Far-right extremist movements are fueled by misinformation and propaganda and must be pushed back to the fringes where they belong.

Wendy Via is the co-founder and CEO of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, an organization committed to exposing and countering racism, bigotry, and hatred; and to promoting human rights values that support flourishing, inclusive societies, and democracies.