The banalisation (and sometimes legitimation) of the extreme right is being made possible both by the context of the economic and social crisis that favour absurd notions of the country withdrawing into itself and by the political “novelty” enjoyed by the nationalist movement that has not been associated with any government for more than 70 years.
At the same time, its move into the mainstream is also the fruit of the work carried out by the groups and personalities of the extreme right themselves who have known for the past fifteen years not only how adapt to situations but also how to evolve to the point of sometimes being unrecognisable.
Above all, they have learned to spread a racist, nationalistic and sexist political culture that creeps in everywhere without meeting much resistance and know very well how to use all the resources offered by new modes of communication and discussion, especially on the Internet.
In the aftermath of World War II, because of the appalling legacy of its past Nazi and fascist crimes, the extreme right had no choice but to make a masked comeback, pretending that it emerged out of nowhere.
Today, although there are always nostalgic assumptions about Pétain’s Vichy or Mussolini’s Italy in France, most contemporary French nationalist groups and personalities lay claim to a certain modernity and a form of political “virginity”.
The Front National (FN), the extreme right’s main representative, although founded by genuine heirs to historical fascism, today presents itself as a party that defends freedom and the republic and, even more recently, as a party of social emancipation, all the time retaining its obscenely anti-egalitarian and discriminatory basic ideas.
“Neither Right nor Left: Front National” – by adopting this slogan, lifted from the infamous pre-war fascist Jacques Dariot – and updated in the 1990s by its youth outfit, the Front National de la Jeunesse (FNJ), in a national revolutionary perspective – it is less the idea of a “Third way” between capitalism and communism that is being defended than a wish to be found on the mainstream political chessboard in order to appear as the only solution after decades of alternation between the left and the right.
On the radical far right, in the early 2000s the so-called Identitaires, though founded by racial nationalist-revolutionists, were partly able to junk fascist folklore or at least modernise it (especially its visual symbols) without ditching its substance…thus creating a modern wrapping attractive to youth of a generation judged much less hostile to the far right than in the past and using all the resources of the Internet and social networks.
Many of those carrying this extreme right-wing baggage now want to find a voice and falsely claim the term “extreme right” is an invention used by the “system” which, feeling threatened by disturbing truths”, uses the term to defame and disqualify its enemies.
Of course, this “system” is never defined, and is never confused, for example, with capitalism as such. The “oligarchy” that purportedly controls the “system” and the globalism “that serves as its ideology” can equally well be the work of Jews, Freemasons, Americans, Brussels or, even, obscure parts of the “secret state”.
The so-called “national community” is outside the “system” and thus – supposedly – is not prone to sectarian party conflicts or class conflicts and is defined only by the exclusion of those who do not belong to it.
Some in this extremist spectrum even go so far as to suggest a convergence of all its “enemies”, right and left into an opposition of the centre (the “system”) with a periphery (the far right) fighting them. This is an old extreme right-wing idea in the nationalist-revolutionary current that, today, has found new vitality especially in new spaces of politicisation real and virtual.
In line with this, the new style extreme right-wing does not hesitate to steal, for its own purposes, the vocabulary, the positions and even the symbols of progressive protest movements. Certain personalities, regarded rightly or wrongly as being “of the left”, have participated in this confusion.
This has been the case with the “comedian” Dieudonné who, together with the opportunist Alain Soral, launched an internet site, Equality & Reconciliation (E&R), in 2007 that was (self)defined as “anti-system”. It has achieved notoriety for the most delusional, especially rabidly antisemitic, conspiracy theories and for the most outrageously racist or sexist statements, regularly developed by the mere assertion that they run counter to the “dominant thinking” that rejects them.
For E&R, the “resistance fighter” is now the one that casts doubt on the reality of the Shoah, the “dissident”, the one that supports Putin’s increasingly authoritarian Russia. Soral and Dieudonné do not make or outline any policy but rather spread a political culture, through lectures (mostly filmed), publication of books written by pseudo-specialists, and by flagging up their bogus “dissidence” that has quickly become a very lucrative business.
Beyond the particular case of E&R, which is now a little losing momentum, it must be recognised that by investing very early and massively in the internet, the far right in general has been able firmly to implant its own codes and catchphrases in this new political territory and managed to make its voice heard again, maintaining an alternative position to the hated “system” while, at the same time, its messages are picked up in the established media by neo-conservatives like Éric Zemmour and Alain Finkielkraut.
“Great Replacement” and “Reinformation”
The French extreme right, in its project of cultural and political reconquest, has not merely adopted a posture but has actually succeeded in popularising some of the concepts that have emerged from the nationalist ghetto to pollute public debate. Thus, the instrumentalisation of immigration by the nationalist movement underwent a new development in 2010 with the so-called “big replacement” theory elaborated by the obscure writer Renaud Camus, who was inspired by the theory of “Eurabia”, developed by Britain’s Gisèle Orebi (aka Bat Ye’or).
This aforementioned “great replacement” would be that of the European and Christian population by another population: immigrant, coming from Africa and Muslim. Ethnically and culturally, the French population and identity would thus be doomed to disappear in favour of a Muslim world.
Adapting certain characteristics of political antisemitism (for example, the alleged conspiracy against European civilisation) to a racism inherited from French colonial history, the “great replacement” supports its claims by making any public manifestation of the Muslim faith – veils, halal restaurants or even the mere presence of non-white people in the streets – a “visible” proof of this “replacement.”
The Identitaires, who have done much to publicise Camus’s thesis, have also made pig meat products a sort of branded talisman to repel the “invader”: bacon soup, street parties to glorify the pork sausage and, even, a vile so-called “March of the Pigs”.
In 2005, a blog made its debut – under the name “François de Souche” – by Pierre Sautarel, a former official of the FN’s website, that produced no evidence but selected negative news involving “foreigners” in general, and Arabs in particular, stigmatising Islam as a danger.
The blog’s success has been dazzling (more than 50 million visitors since its creation), and the site has even become a kind of reference point…and not just for the far right. Sautarel was able to sustain the illusion of providing “objective” information, leaving his readers to “analyse” it in commentaries, greatly reinforcing xenophobic clichés.
This example perfectly illustrates the concept of “re-information”, initially theorised in 2002 by Jean-Yves Le Gallou and defended in his personal think tank, Polémia. “Re-information” is defined as a “critical reading of information broadcast by the mainstream media with the aim of restoring the facts and dragging the manipulations of the powers-that-be into the light”.
Le Gallou, inspired by the Italian Communist and victim of fascism, Antonio Gramsci, made a pitch in 2008, inviting the Identitarian milieu to make a systematic criticism of the traditional media – accused of wanting to mask the truth from the French – but above all to invest in cyberspace (described as “an instrument of mobilisation of the silent majority against the elites”) by developing its own media.
This has since developed into what some call the “faschosphere”, a heterogeneous set of sites that are linked to each another, despite sometimes blatant ideological divergences but united by the same virulent Islamophobia and the same venomously reactionary thought.
These sites serve as fora for more or less known “personalities” who can unrestrainedly dump their xenophobic views and their untruths without risking contradiction.
Selective “freedom of expression”
Somewhat paradoxically, the extreme right-wing personalities or groups that support some of the most authoritarian and freedom-killing regimes on the planet (be it, according to the tendency, the Syria of Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic Republic of Iran, or Putin’s Russia) and who advocate the most brutal and cruel methods of “settling” social problems (camps, expulsions, death penalty, etc.) are also those who have only the words “democracy” and “freedom of expression” in their mouths.
Of course, this is not a freedom of expression for those (Roma, undocumented workers, clandestine workers…) who have no political or media voice but the freedom of speech that matters to them, namely their own.
When they criticise the “politically correct”, it is, in fact, their exclusion from debate, resulting from the dictatorships of the 1930s that they denounce. It is not by chance that Holocaust denial and racist, sexist and masculinist ideas are the first causes they defend.
The other advantage of screaming “freedom of expression” is that the fanatics can to adopt a “victim” stance. However, this victim pose is generally safe, since the overwhelming majority of racist, antisemitic or sexist statements circulate on social networks with total impunity in any case.
Worse, while this type of communication literally overwhelms any open discussion on the internet through trolling, any disputing it is immediately claimed to be a form of “censorship” and it is the anti-fascists who find themselves accused of being the true fascists.
This anti-anti-fascism fuses with the “anti-system” posture when the nationalist groups claim that anti-fascism is remotely controlled by the powers-that-be (police, secret services, unspecified “lobbies” etc.).
If this conspiracy thesis is not enough to denigrate anti-fascists, the extreme right insists on branding their alleged “violence” without hesitating to call them “fascists” or, even “Nazis”, in a rather comical role reversal.
Though this has not yet found an echo in the media and public opinion, the FN has taken up the theme by promising dissolution of “ antifa militias” if Marine Le Pen becomes president.
We have been warned…