Marion Le Pen caused a minor scandal when when she appeared at CPAC last month. Matt Schlapp insisted that she was “a classical liberal.” Others suggested that the Le Pen family and the National Front represented something very different from classical liberalism. At the very least, Marion Le Pen is the standard bearer of a distinctly European form of identitarianism. Which leads to the question: What exactly is “European identitarianism”?
Like Le Pen herself, identitarianism is a French product. The word itself became most known through “Génération identitaire” (Identitarian generation), created in 2012. The group had catapulted itself into the news cycle after occupying the construction site of a mosque in a small town in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. In the following year, the same group climbed on the roof of the building of the French socialist party, demanding the resignation of then president François Hollande for supporting gay marriage. The move was widely seen as an act of intimidation, and the activists were removed by police forces.
But why is it that these identitarians have been more successful that other far-right groups? The answer: marketing.
On the marketing tactics, these far-right activists have drastically improved from old-school neo-nazi parties. Everything is hip and fresh, ranging from the websites to the banners, the music in their videos and the style of their activists. No skinheads or tattoos. On the contrary: The modern identitarian wears fancy sunglasses and dresses to the extent that it’s tough to say who just shopped at Scotch&Soda and who thinks Europe is being overrun by Muslims. Their online merch features everything from polo shirts to stickers asking to people to “Defend Europe” against the “invasion.” The movement shows off a lot of female faces, by featuring gender-balanced videos and putting women in the first row in their protests. The goal is to break with the burden of old European neo-Nazi parties, which are heavily male and unattractive to (at least) half the population.
Behind the hipster look and the inclusive marketing campaign however, lies a deeply worrying philosophy. The “About” page of the French identitarians “Génération identitaire” calls its mission a “declaration of war”:
We are the victimized generation of May 1968. Of the one who claimed to want to emancipate us from the weight of the traditions, the knowledge, and the authority in schools, but which was emancipated at first from its own responsibilities. . . . Our only legacy is our land, our blood, our identity.
It starts out as a standard conservative criticism. The Baby Boomers were bad, the sexual and political revolutions of the 1960s decimated society . . . fair enough . . . but suddenly it’s all “Hey there! Blood and soil!”
This is what the identitarians are really about. Talking points on “race” become talking points about “blood” and “heritage.” Instead of talking about “preserving racial foundations of white people,” the new kids prefer to “defend Europeans.” In news coverage, identitarianism and neo-Nazism are talked about as different categories, but the reality is that it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.
To the extent that there is a difference between the two, it may be that identitarians aren’t openly anti-Semitic. They dodge questions regarding Jews and the Holocaust, and sue TV channels as soon as there is a suggestion that they are Nazis. However, when you enter the identitarian blogosphere and chat rooms, you see different attitudes at the grassroots level. In this identitarian forum post, for instance, an author argues that Judaism to be a dangerous religion and his (her?) commentators fill the sections with remarks such as “mohammad copied most of his shtick from the kikes” and “It’s like they are both sand nigger religions. Imagine that.” Earlier this year, inhabitants of the French village of La Salvetat petitioned local authorities to kick out the identitarian music group “Les Brigandes”, which writes songs that target Muslims and Jews. Back in 2003, budding French identitarians distributed pig soup to homeless people, with the intent of excluding Muslims and Jews.
The identitarians spend a lot of time organizing in the public space. They hold conferences and protests; they climb rooftops and put veils on statues. In 2016, German identitarians hung banners from the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin asking for “secure borders,” seemingly unaware that a secure border had stood behind that exact spot until 1989.
They may be hipsters, but they seem to lack any sense of irony. The “Ligue du Midi” (League of the South), an identitarian group in Southern France posted a video to Facebook last year, in which they violently demolished the offices of an organization that supports migrants. The description of the post said “no subsidies for collaborators.” The French word “collabo,” of course, is directly associated with people who supported the Nazis during Second World War.
If European Identitarians have a single calling card, it’s their “Defend Europe” mission, in which they intercept the boats of NGOs attempting to aid refugees at the risk drowning in the Mediterranean. With banners saying “NO WAY—You will not make Europe home!” these groups block and harass ships on rescue missions in order to prevent them from reaching Italy.
Marion Le Pen may be very charming. But neither she nor her movement are either conservative or classically liberal.
Let’s call a wolf a wolf.
This article was first published by The Weekly Standard.
Pictures are Creative Commons.
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