The Radical Right movement Génération Identitaire (GI) was banned by the French government on 3 March. Although the decision will be challenged in courts, it is very unlikely that it will be overturned, thus forcing the 800 to 1,000-members group to find new legal means to continue without facing criminal charges.
Curious about the future of the movement, I met with Clément Martin, one of GI’s former spokespeople, a day after the ban. Martin is in his late 20s, from the city of Nice. He jokes about “having grown white hair” and “belonging to a generation that has been hanging around with the movement for a decade,” saying it is time for younger members to get more responsibility.
But he confirmed that the core GI membership, himself included, had no intention of giving up the fight. The ban, he said, means that the group “will have to focus on online activism for a while”.
Much to our surprise, he told me that the ban had spared ‘Les Identitaires’ – a sister movement founded in 2002 and registered in 2009 under the leadership of Fabrice Robert (b.1971), once the key figure in the Identity movement, together with Philippe Vardon, now an elected official of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National.
Martin has just replaced Robert as the chair of Les Identitaires, which remains a legal entity and will legally continue to bear the torch of GI. According to Martin, Robert has chosen to focus on reforming his Hardcore band, “Fraction”, once the star of the French Identity rock scene.
Although GI’s website is now down, the bimonthly magazine, La Revue Identitaire, is unaffected by the ban. “We’ll keep on publishing it,” says Martin. Neither are the three militant ‘identity houses’ that exist in Lyon, Nice and Rouen, or the GI’s martial arts club which remains active in Lyon.
As for the ‘Citadelle’, an Identity venue in Lille that was exposed by Al Jazeera in 2019 as a hotbed of racist activity, Martin says it is not affiliated to Génération Identitaire any more and “even when it was, it followed its own ideological course”.
This loophole in the legal action against GI means that, albeit under a different name and with fresh faces as spokespeople, the Identity movement is set to continue its course, and can play the victim of a biased attempt to silence it on purely political grounds.
Although Marine Le Pen was careful not to endorse GI’s ideology of compulsory repatriation for non-European migrants, she nevertheless protested against the ban, and so did Conservative MEPs Nadine Morano and François-Xavier Bellamy, Frexiter MP Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, columnist and TV host Eric Zemmour and Souverainist philosopher Michel Onfray.
In the United States, Jared Taylor’s American Renaissance has also lambasted the ban.
But what prompted interior minister Gérald Darmanin, a Conservative who has rallied for president Emmanuel Macron, to enact the ban?
The pretext is the group’s last action in January: a kind of vigilante border patrol in the Pyrenees mountains, at the border with Spain, in order to stop undocumented migrants from entering France.
A similar high-profile action took place in 2019 at the Italian border, with Génération Identitaire even using a rented helicopter and police-like blue jackets in order to mimic a law-enforcement operation. Martin concedes that “the blue jackets thing was a mistake: they were too reminiscent of police uniforms”. Those who took part were sued for trying to fake a police operation but were found not guilty by the Court of Appeals in December.
This was embarrassing for the centre-right government, which by then had just announced a controversial law against ‘separatism’, passed by the House of Deputies on 16 February and yet to be approved by the Senate. The main target of the law is ‘Islamist radicalism’, which is seen as an ideology promoting secession from mainstream society and the values of the Republic, especially secularism.
In order to avoid giving the impression that this legislation is focused only on Muslim radicals, the government pledged to fight other forms of separatism and supremacism as well. From then on, the fate of Génération Identitaire, founded in 2012, was sealed.
The Ministry of the Interior contended that GI was akin to a private militia and incited hatred against foreigners, especially Muslims, two motives that enable the State to ban a group.
The mention in the movement’s propaganda that “a man exists and is significant only through his clan, his people and his community” was used as proof that it is a proponent of ethnic discrimination.
Although GI was one of the largest radical Right groups in the country, it is arguable whether it really was a militia. Members of the group do not display or use weapons and do not follow a military-like structure.
The fact that the Christchurch terrorist Brenton Tarrant made an online donation to the group was quoted by the decree as a reason for the ban, as well as the group’s reference to Charles Martel, the Frankish statesman and leader who in 732 stopped the Arab northward march to conquer France, and to the Reconquista.
But was GI really a terrorist threat? All the group’s actions are filmed and live-streamed on social media, the group is known for being media-savvy, with the goal of attracting young recruits through professionally produced videos and getting the most publicity from the mainstream media.
At the time the ban was issued, Génération Identitaire was planning a summer camp that would have gathered in Hungary, activists from the German and Austrian Identitäre Bewegung, the Danish Generation Identitaer and pro-Orban youth.
The annual summer camp of French militants also has an uncertain future.
In any case, the benefits from the ban are unlikely: according to Martin, 90% of the members are students and have acquired an intellectual training that they will certainly continue promoting, either as members of the Rassemblement National or through joint actions with like-minded groups such as la Cocarde étudiante, the New Right think-tank Institut Iliade and the supporters of Marion Le Pen, who will someday come back into politics.
Dr Jean-Yves Camus is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Director at Observatoire des radicalités politiques, Fondation Jean-Jaurès. See full profile here.
© Jean-Yves Camus. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
This article was originally published at CARR’s media partner, Open Democracy. See the original article here.