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French mayors face violence and intimidation from xenophobic far-right teams

French mayors face violence and intimidation from xenophobic far-right teams

SAINT-BREVIN-LES-PINS, France — The mayor of a small resort city on the Atlantic coast of France resigned, closed his medical apply and moved away after his home and two automobiles have been set on hearth. The arson adopted months of loss of life threats over plans to relocate a refugee heart close to a faculty.

Greater than 150 miles (240 kilometers) to the north, hassle visited one other mayor when he determined to soak up a handful of refugee households. The purpose was to fill job vacancies within the village; as an alternative, he obtained a torrent of abuse. One menace learn: “I hope, Mr. Mayor, that your spouse might be raped, your daughter might be raped, and your grandchildren sodomized.”

These weren’t remoted incidents.

Mayors, usually among the many most appreciated elected officers in France, are beneath assault as by no means earlier than. Opposition to immigration is a driving pressure, led by small extreme-right teams which might be typically backed by nationwide politicians.

Whereas different European nations together with Germany, Sweden, Italy and Spain have seen protests over related points, the backlash towards mayors is very jarring in France. The French have historically revered state establishments. A small-town mayor embodies the values of the French Republic, paying homage to the revolution of 1789.

The ways used towards French mayors lately transcend the standard avenue protests and indignant public conferences. They embrace violence and disinformation — and native demonstrations are sometimes amplified by exterior agitators.

In France, like elsewhere in Europe, nationwide identification has turn out to be a battle cry for far-right political teams. They promote the concept that foreigners are stealing the riches of the nation by means of state handouts and that they’ll in the end upend France’s conventional lifestyle.

France’s inside safety company, the DGSI, is more and more apprehensive about fringe actions and their potential for violence, each on the far proper and the far left.

Far proper teams grew to become extra energetic after lethal assaults by Islamic extremists in 2015-2016. One among their objectives is to “precipitate a conflict” over these seen as outsiders, then-DGSI chief Nicolas Lerner stated in a uncommon interview with Le Monde final 12 months.

“The normalization of a recourse to violence, and the temptation to wish to impose concepts by means of concern or intimidation, is a grave hazard to our democracies,″ he stated.

The violent views of the novel proper within the U.S. have unfold to Europe and been amplified by means of social media, stated Lerner.

Matters debated by political events, like migration, are likely to “channel power,” he stated.

The French far proper first made its mark in 1984, when the Nationwide Entrance of Jean-Marie Le Pen gained 10 seats within the European Parliament. However the nation gasped when Le Pen, a Holocaust denier, reached a runoff within the 2002 presidential election towards the incumbent, Jacques Chirac.

Events on the left and proper mixed to maintain Le Pen from energy then. However right this moment the occasion of his daughter, Marine, has 88 deputies in Parliament. She plans to make her fourth bid for the presidency in 2027, after twice reaching the runoff towards President Emmanuel Macron.

A brand new occasion, Reconquête (Reconquest), has staked out a place even additional to the correct, calling for zero immigration. Its vp, Marion Maréchal, Marine Le Pen’s niece, is the lead candidate in elections for the European Parliament in June.

Reconquête’s ambitions go additional than only a protest motion, stated Jean-Yves Camus, a number one knowledgeable on the far proper.

“Past these anti-migrant demonstrations there’s a actual political challenge, which is confronting the state,” he stated. Whereas there isn’t a custom of suspicion of a “deep state” in France, Reconquête’s founder, Eric Zemmour, has emulated former U.S. President Donald Trump, taking purpose at elites and predicting the collapse of French society.

Zemmour, a French nationalist, has no private connection to extremist teams, Camus stated. “However he says, ‘If these individuals wish to be part of me and my occasion, they are often helpful.’”

Reconquête can also be main a marketing campaign towards the academic system with an agenda to finish what it calls the “nice indoctrination.” It runs a strain group, known as Vigilant Dad and mom, that tries to maintain colleges from educating about matters it deems inappropriate, equivalent to LGBTQ rights, and encourages individuals to snitch on academics who do.

Many on the far proper, together with Zemmour, subscribe to the “nice substitute” idea, the false declare that native populations of Western nations are being overrun by non-white immigrants, notably Muslims, who will in the future erase Christian civilization and its values.


This story, supported by the Pulitzer Middle for Disaster Reporting, is a part of an ongoing Related Press collection protecting threats to democracy in Europe.


The far proper claimed victory in January 2023, when Mayor Jean-Yves Rolland of Callac gave up his plan to deal with seven to 10 refugee households in his city in Brittany, in northwest France. His objective had been to assist fill native jobs and inject dynamism into the remoted enclave with a shrinking inhabitants.

For months, demonstrators from close to and much, some from Reconquête, converged on the village of two,200 individuals.

“They have been clearly threatening democracy,” Rolland stated, dumping a pile of written threats on his desk within the city corridor. One referred to migrants as “Sellers, Rapists, Aggressors” who ought to be “returned to Africa.” One other confirmed a patron saint of France, the Archangel Michael, trampling on a Quran and chasing Islam’s Prophet Mohammed out of France with a pitchfork.

Using disinformation, together with “troll factories” that generate swarms of emails concentrating on a person, is a trademark of extreme-right teams.

Rolland stated he obtained a whole lot of indignant emails that mysteriously handed by means of the Czech Republic. Some carried spurious contact particulars, complicating investigators’ efforts to find the senders, he stated.

“Ultimately, these contesting got here from exterior … horrible extremist teams,” Rolland stated.

Mayor Yannick Morez of Saint-Brevin-les-Pins was woke up within the night time on March 22 of final 12 months to seek out flames lapping on the entrance of his house whereas his household slept. His automobiles have been utterly destroyed by hearth.

Asylum seekers had been within the city since 2016, however a plan to deal with them close to a faculty triggered protests that kids could be in danger. As in Callac, among the demonstrators have been native, however out-of-towners seized on the chance to advertise their anti-migrant trigger, whether or not in particular person or by way of on-line campaigning.

Morez resigned and moved away, however his successor as mayor, Dorothée Pacaud stood agency, and the relocation challenge went forward. Months later, the city stays tense; it went into full lockdown for a low-key immigration convention final fall.

“An elected official, a mayor, a deputy mayor, that represents democracy. To make use of strategies like that, what occurred in Callac, it’s unacceptable,” Pacaud stated.

French mayors confronted one other temporary problem final 12 months: Six nights of nationwide rioting over the police killing of a 17-year-old with North African roots. Unusually, the unrest stretched past metropolitan areas and reached provincial cities too, super-charged by messages shared by youngsters on TikTok. A mass police deployment introduced the violence to a halt.

However the campaigns are persevering with, and have touched different cities, too. And one other supply of rigidity is brewing. In current weeks, French farmers have mounted protests throughout the nation, demanding higher pay and fewer pink tape, particularly from the EU.

The farmers are the embodiment of “la France profonde,” the very essence of what makes France French, that the far proper claims to signify. Activists are seizing the chance. Small teams of extremists, some members sporting brass knuckles, confirmed up at one farmers’ demonstration final month within the southern metropolis of Montpellier.

With elections for the European Parliament arising in June, the protests are a chance for the far proper to sow discontent with mainstream politics — and a warning of the opportunity of extra disruption to come back.


Mathieu Pattier in Callac, and Jeremias Gonzalez in Saint-Jean-de-Monts, contributed to this report.


Ganley has reported on the French far proper for The Related Press since 1984.

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