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The Neo-fascist Far-Right in France: Racism and Violence Under the National-Identity Mask

Translated Tuesday 7 June 2011, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Henry Crapo

In the shadow of the National front, a party whose respectability the media have actively promoted, small neo-fascist groups are taking advantage of the current xenophobic ambiance to come out into the open. As in Lyon, where violence from pro-Identity youth leagues and other skinheads proliferates.

From our special correspondent in Lyon

Seen from afar, the gay pride parade seemed to have come to Lyon one month early. Massed in front of a truck adorned with bunches of pink balloons, about four hundred far-right activists that had come from almost all parts of France and even from elsewhere in Europe, gathered here at the heart of the old city centre on Saturday, May 14th, to protest against France’s “Islamization“. In a desperate attempt at civilizing their image, the local National-Identity groups recycled as much as they could of all the paraphernalia they had prepared for their “pigs’ march”, which was eventually banned. The pigs’ snouts had to go, but not the absurdly pink balloons and T-shirts in comic contrast to the mass of shaven pates that had come to vomit their hatred for Muslims under the pretence of marching for the “freedom of expression”. Meanwhile on the other bank of the river Saône the Watch Collective Against the Far-right, composed of about thirty leftist parties, associations, and unions mobilized as many as 2,000 people despite the driving rain.

Though they cannot muster as many militants, those far-right groups – whether pro-identity or neo-Nazi – are nevertheless coming out into the open more and more. “The arrogance of those far-right groups in Lyon calls to mind nasty memories of the 1930s”, declares Jean-Louis Touraine, a town-councillor in charge of peace and security.

Their feeling of impunity appears in repeated aggressive, sometimes brutal, forays against whatever seems directly or indirectly to threaten their white and European identity. At the end of their anti-Muslim gathering, a dozen people had to be taken to hospital following the unleashing of violence by the far-right gangs. The Watch Collective Against the Far-right puts the total number of days of leave from work at 230 for the victims of those attacks over the last year. On January 15, a couple of libertarian sympathizers were attacked with baseball bats after a concert in support of a worker-managed social centre. He had to spend four months in a wheelchair while she is likely to have a permanent neurological disability. The four alleged aggressors now in custody may get a 20-year sentence. Another anti-fascist militant was lacerated with a cutter that came within an inch of his carotid.

Far from being a round of war-like games between the far-right and the far-left, as the préfet of the Rhône département has long suggested, this violence will target a kebab takeaway in the city’s old quarters or a youth with a vaguely punk look – as Antoine defines himself. Pounced upon and hit by a score of assailants he came out with a broken arch of the eyebrow and a displaced jawbone.

Historically, the Lyon metropolis has been fertile soil for the various far-right movements, from the Catholic royalist fundamentalists to the pro-Identity skinheads through the revisionists at Lyon-III University. “The number of neo-fascist militants is estimated at 200, at least twice as many as they were five years ago,”, says Jean-Louis Touraine. Two movements seem to be on the rise, the Lyon branch of the National-Identity league, now called Rebeyne, and the Lyon branch of the neo-Nazi Blood and Honour League, better known as the Lyon dissenters. Both keep licensed shops. The reason why a council ruling ordered the local Bunker Korps and Dissenters shops to close down was because they had no fire doors.

While pro-Identity militants try as best they can to erase their disreputable past as Unité radicale (radical unity), Lyon dissenters’ shaven pates hardly hide their immoderate love of the Celtic cross. With its publicized slogan of “0% racism, 100% identity” Rebeyne covers up its xenophobic ideology in a cultural wrapping to defend a “White Europe” without incurring the charge of “incitement to racial hatred”. Although a number of far-right aggressors seem to be connected to Rebeyne’s pro-Identity activists – as were the four alleged authors of the attack in Villeurbanne [1] – the organization has spared no pains to smooth its image in order to come out of its political ghetto. The pro-Identity block is hunting for signatures [2] in order to be able to enter a candidate in the presidential election. If their attempt is unlikely to succeed nation-wide, with this initiative they might well gain their entry onto the local political scene. “The pro-Identity block now has a trump-card to play in Lyon,” Julien thinks. He would not be surprised if they struck an alliance with the National Front at the next local election.

[1An adjacent suburban town

[2Under the present Constitution presidential candidates must be “sponsored” by a minimum number of senators, deputies, elected councillors, or mayors; their signatures mean they think he or she should be allowed to compete, not that they will vote for him or her.

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