On the 20 and 27 June 2021, the National Front (FN), the biggest French far-right movement, has a chance to be elected in the executive office of three of the thirteen French regions. This would be a first in the history of the Fifth French Republic. This Insight focuses on what has been a strong trend of French far-right activism online in the past decade.
The National Front and its ‘Normalisation’
When discussing the French far-right, most international analysts and observers often like to refer to the FN and how it was one of the first post-WWII nationalist parties in Western Europe to become institutionalised as early as the 1980’s, gaining significant results in French national and local elections (for example, The National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen earned more than 14% in 1988 presidential elections). Indeed, while most other European nationalist parties remained reluctant to make any political compromise, Jean-Marie Le Pen’s political family quickly became a major actor in the French political game, becoming the second party in the French presidential elections in 2002, and labelled as the “First Party of the Youth” in 2021.
In 2011 however, the arrival of Jean Marie’s daughter as the new leader of the FN brought along a lot of changes. Understanding the far-right, its networks and its narratives through the FN’s program seems rather insufficient. Little by little, Marine Le Pen has tried to marginalise the most radical elements of the party, in order to ‘normalise’ it for the upcoming elections.
Since then, the more radical nationalists in France, especially in youth circles, have been much more active in a rather grassroot, cyber-based and nebulous movement which calls itself ‘La Dissidence’ (The Dissent) – often referred to in the mainstream French media as ‘la fachosphère’ (the fascist sphere). From a foreign perspective, it resembles the American Alt-Right, since it is mostly active on the web, criticises the pre-existing right-wing institutions and takes quite a radical stance. Just as the Alt-Right did not emerge from within the Republican party, the fachosphère could not be reduced only to the FN. Its leaders are outside of the party, and often more radical, but are serving the party’s interest and ideology.
The Far-Right in France: A Tale of Two Families
In reality, the French far-right could be separated in to two intellectual traditions: a first group which could be described as ‘revolutionary nationalist’, and another which could be identified as the ‘identitarian movement’.
|Revolutionary Nationalism||Identitarian Movement|
|Born in the beginning of the XXth century||Born in the 1970’s, mostly as a reaction to immigration and to the ‘Great replacement theory’|
|Refusal of capitalism and socialism / Research of a Third Way through a nationalist paradigm||Can accept a capitalism or another political system so long as it seems to serve the interests of the nation|
|Anti colonialist and anti imperialist. Supports nationalist movements in southern countries. Strongly anti-zionist – supports panarab and/or panislamic movements in the Middle East|
|Support for nationalist and White supremacist movements abroad: American alt-right, far-right in Austria, or the Russian government. Also supports Israel and the zionist movement in a logic of Clash of civilizations|
|Some Revolutionary nationalists are influenced by German National-Socialism and Pagan revivalist movements, others are influenced by Gallican catholicism||Part of the identitarian movement claims to be Christian, while another leans towards agnosticism and a more secular ideology.|
|Opposed to immigration, globalisation, and ‘cosmopolitanism’||Opposed to immigration, globalisation, and ‘cosmopolitanism’|
|Believes in an authoritarian system where the ruling class holds a strong power||Believes in an authoritarian system where the ruling class holds a strong power|
|Opposed to a “moral decay” of the West and the post-modern approach of social values||Opposed to a “moral decay” of the West and the post-modern approach of social values|
Traditionally, the French far-right was dominated by revolutionary nationalists until the 1970’s, while the identitarian movement was rather new at the time, but rose as a strong reaction to immigration and the notion of a ‘Great Replacement’, introduced by French author and polemist Renaud Camus.
This is why the FN was a real success as early as its creation in 1972: the party managed to subtly gather the two movements, the old and the new, under the leadership of its ‘menhir’, Jean Marie Le Pen. He very often tried avoiding the fault lines of the two groups and focused mostly on their unifying themes.
A Form of Resistance Against the “Empire”
The French ‘dissidence’ however, is born outside of parties, trade-unions, or any political structures. It is linked to the rise of social networks, especially YouTube and Facebook, but also Twitter and Paltalk. This rebirth on social networks is very important in regards to the recent history of nationalist movements.
Starting in 2011 with the arrival of Marine Le Pen at the head of the group, who aims to ‘normalise’ it in order to become a ‘parti de gouvernement’, the more radical elements are progressively marginalised, and express themselves outside of institutions. The birth of the ‘dissidence’ is somewhat a side effect of the normalisation of the FN.
This marginalisation coincides with the popularisation of social networks in the political field, which can be seen in the widespread use of Twitter for the French presidential elections of 2012. In addition, the freedom of speech which characterises social networks is the key factor of this nationalist rebirth. Before the tech giants started moderating their content and publications, the activists and sympathisers of the far-right viewed the Internet as an unlimited space of expression – and indeed, it was. This is how they progressively forged the ‘dissidence’, a virtual space of expression for revolutionary nationalists.
Three parameters can define the ‘dissidents’, each being the consequence of the other:
First, they are firmly against what they call the ‘system’, or the ‘empire’, namely a coalition of the political establishment, the ruling class, the finance leaders and, very often, the occult communities who would allegedly rule the world (such as the freemasonry, the Jewish-Zionist communities, etc.)
Second, their defiance towards official information coming from the ‘system’ leads them to accept any conspiracy theories which contradict the mainstream narratives. Not all ‘dissidents’ are strong anti-Semites because they have a biological hatred of Jews – however they all firmly believe that the Holocaust numbers were probably overestimated, or that 9/11 was an inside job organised by the deep state.
Third, because they are wary of the ‘system’ and its media, the ‘dissidents’ are linked to the necessity of an alternative press: most of the ‘dissident’ platforms present themselves as mere activists for the ‘re-information’ of the masses.
La Dissidence: Bridging the Gap Between the Far-Right and the Suburban Youth
The ‘dissidence’ in itself was born in 2011, when far-right activist Vincent Vauclin launched the movement as an NGO called ‘La dissidence française’ (the French dissident), through which he called for a putsch in order to liberate France from capitalism, globalisation, freemasonry, Zionism and Islamism. A firm disciple of Julius Evola, he believed in the return of the revolutionary nationalist tradition. The word he uses to describe the movement (‘dissidence’) is a specious reference to political dissidents in former Soviet Russia like Alexandre Soljenitsyne, author of The Gulag Archipelago: ironically, the French far-right seems eager to compare itself to a form of resistance against authoritarianism.
The ‘dissidence’ quickly became a movement associated with Alain Soral, founder of Égalité & Réconciliation (E&R). Starting 2010, E&R claimed it wanted to fight the system, through the slogan “droite des valeurs / gauche du travail” (a subtle alliance of conservative right-wing values and a socialist approach of the working class). In the 2000s, former member of the Communist Party, Alain Soral, became an advisor for the FN, before founding E&R. He rallied French humourist Dieudonné in his crusade against Zionism or the ‘moral decay’ of France, especially during the 2012 debates around same-sex marriage in France. They aimed at reconciling French white and French non-white populations. For the first time in French history, the far-right tried to avoid the racial narrative and instead aimed to obtain support from the banlieues.