He joined the monarchist Action Française (AF) in 1898 and led a monarchist and Catholic revival. Most French Catholics at the time were monarchists opposed to and alienated by the Republican view, stretching back to the French Revolution, that state secularism was needed to avoid wars fought over religion. Catholic priests were seen as a major reactionary force by the Republicans, among whom anti-clericalism became common. In 1905, a law was passed separating church and state in France and others were passed to root out religious influence in public education.
In addition to Action Française, several far-right “leagues” were created. Mostly antisemitic, they advocated for other far-right ideas including anti-Republicanism, militarism, nationalism, and often engaged in street violence. In 1882, the nationalist poet Paul Déroulède created the antisemitic League of Patriots (Ligue des patriotes). In 1889, the antisemitic and anti-Masonic League of France was founded.
Action Française was emblematic of France’s pro-Catholic and antidemocratic far right, and continues to exist today. AF spawned a youth organization, Camelots du Roi, in 1908 and remained influential in the 1930s, when the youth wing engaged in street violence. The Camelots du Roi included such figures as the duc d’Orléans (1869–1926), the Orleanist heir to the throne of France.
During the interwar period, additional far-right leagues were formed, such as the Jeunesses Patriotes established in 1924. In 1925, Georges Valois created Le Faisceau, heavily inspired by Benito Mussolini’s fascist movement in Italy. In 1933, when Adolf Hitler rose to power, Solidarité française was founded and Marcel Bucard formed Francisme, which was subsidized by Mussolini. There were many other such groups, inspired by Mussolini, who was much more popular than Hitler in French far-right circles due to the latter’s repression of dissident German conservatives and Catholics in the early 1930s.
July 1940 to August 1944 marked the Nazi collaborationist period of Vichy France, headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain. During this period, many parts of France were occupied by the Nazis and France was administered by the collaborationist regime established in Vichy, where Pétain led an authoritarian government that placed conservative Catholics in prominent positions, tightly controlled the media, and promoted antisemitism as official state policy. The legacy of the Pétain government, and whether it was really “French” given the country’s occupation and prominent resistance movement against the Nazis, is a sensitive issue on the far right in France to this day.
After the war, various far-right extremist movements continued to emerge. The Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS) was created in Madrid by French military officials opposed to the independence of Algeria. A terrorist group, the OAS advocated for monarchism and colonialism. Maurras’ personal secretary created the Catholic fundamentalist organization Cité Catholique, which included OAS members, and founded a branch in Argentina in the 1960s. Neo-Nazi groups including FANE (Fédération d’action nationaliste et européenne or the Nationalist and European Action Federation), which had extensive European contacts, also established themselves in the 1960s.
In the modern era, the most influential far-right political party, the Front National (FN), was founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972. Within a decade, the FN began winning seats. During the 1980s, FN managed to consolidate most rival far-right groups and movements and saw its strength at the ballot box increase. Also influential in the 1980s was Alain de Benoist, who became chief theorist of the Nouvelle Droite (New Right) movement. He created the think-tank GRECE (Groupement de Recherche et d’Études pour la Civilisation Européenne, or the Group for Research and Study of European Civilization) in 1968, whose viewpoints continue to be shared in magazines and publications as well as through copycats in other countries. GRECE advocated an ethno-nationalist position advancing the idea that Europe must remain white and immigrants, particularly from Africa and the Middle East, are incapable of assimilation and thus should remain in their home countries. Benoist occasionally contributed to the American Mankind Quarterly review, a race science publication that was associated with the American foundation the Pioneer Fund, now defunct, which provided grants to race scientists around the world. GRECE and the Pioneer Fund both argued that certain races were inferior intellectually.
The FN saw considerable gains at the ballot box in the 2000s, as its message focused more on anti-immigrant positions, particularly attacking the Muslim community as not belonging in France. By 2022 Marine Le Pen, Jean-Marie’s daughter and leader since 2011 of the now renamed National Rally (RN), came second in the first round of presidential voting, scoring 23 percent – the best showing ever for the RN. Le Pen then came in second again in the second round, scoring nearly 42 percent of the vote – again, the best showing ever for the RN or for a far-right candidate. That year the far-right vote was 32 percent, the highest vote ever in a French election partly because another far-right candidate, Éric Zemmour, who is rabidly anti-Muslim and pushes the white supremacist Great Replacement conspiracy theory, achieved seven percent of the presidential vote in the first round. As of 2023, a far-right candidate winning the presidency in the near future is not out of the question.
In more recent decades, anti-Muslim hate has come to the fore as a driver of far right organizing and activities. France continues to have white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups that are antisemitic, but many have either added to their antisemitic views or shifted their ideological positioning to emphasize that immigrants, particularly Muslims, are destroying French society and culture.
Two of the most influential books inspiring white supremacists worldwide and whose focus is on denigrating immigrants as a threat to “traditionally” white countries were produced by Frenchmen. The Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail, published in 1973, depicts a dystopian France overrun, pillaged, and sexually assaulted by South Asian immigrants. The book was republished in the U.S. by John Tanton, the now deceased founder of several anti-immigrant hate groups including the Federation for Immigration Reform and the Center for Immigration Studies, both of which have unfortunately had considerable policy sway in American immigration policy. The book is very popular in neo-Nazi and white supremacist circles. Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon has said it is one of his favorites.
The other book that holds wide sway among white supremacists worldwide is Renaud Camus’ 2011 tome, Le Grand Remplacement, or The Great Replacement. The book encapsulates ideas, such as “white genocide” and similar terms, long popular in neo-Nazi and white supremacist circles, and makes the argument that a Great Replacement is being orchestrated to replace white people in their home countries with people of color, usually immigrants or refugees and almost always Muslims in the European context. Other similar tomes argue that Europe is becoming “Eurabia,” because, they claim, it is being overrun by Muslim immigrants. This idea spawned the growth of the white nationalist Identitarian movement, led by Les Identitaires and Génération Identitaire, first in France and Germany, then across Europe and transnationally, including in the U.S. The Great Replacement conspiracy theory has inspired many recent terrorist attacks including those in Christchurch, N.Z, Pittsburgh, Pa., Hanau, Germany, El Paso, Texas, and in May 2022 in Buffalo, N.Y., among others. Especially in its antisemitic form, where Jews are blamed for orchestrating this replacement, it is the deadliest white supremacist idea today.
In recent years, the notion of Muslim immigrants creating a dystopian “Eurabia” in France and Europe has become widespread on the far right. In that vein, candidates for office and hate groups, ranging from neo-Nazis to racists in suits to far-right political parties, have adopted the Great Replacement conspiracy theory as fact and targeted non-white immigrants and refugees as destroying France and French culture and society. These far-right groups have also been involved in considerable criminality, including violence against immigrants and people of color as well as plots to assassinate elected officials, including President Emmanuel Macron.
France has in recent years been highly protective of LGBTQ+ rights, legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption in 2013. But similar to developments in the U.S. and other countries that have expanded LGBTQ+ equality, these human rights advances have been met with a backlash. In 2013, the French organization La Manif pour Tous, meaning “protest for all,” mocking the “marriage for all” slogan, became active against policies supportive of expansions of rights for same-sex couples. They organized major protests in which American-affiliated organizations, specifically the European Center for Law and Justice, were involved. Other far-right organizations, including those in the Identitarian movement, have followed suit and taken up the anti-LGBTQ+ banner. More recently, new factions within the French far right claiming to support liberal democratic issues, such as support for freedom of speech, LGBTQ+ rights, feminism, and secularism, have sought to co-opt these issues solely in an effort to demonize Muslims, whose faith they deem to be incompatible with Republican values.
What follows most certainly does not cover all extremist groups operating in France, especially those that have gone underground after being banned by the government. For example, the white supremacist group, Génération Identitaire (Generation Identity, GI), which in 2020 had at least 67 chapter Twitter accounts in 14 countries with nearly 140,000 followers, was banned by the French government in March 2021. As a result, just this group alone is now hard to track though it has a website and its members are clearly still active, whether in GI or in other white supremacist groups. The French government has also banned neo-Nazi groups recently that have moved underground, such as the smaller Identitarian group Alvarium.
This list also does not include far-right media outlets such as TV Libertés, which was created by a former member of GRECE and Les Identitaires and has the backing of prominent proponents of the white nationalist Great Replacement conspiracy theory such as Renaud Camus and Jean Raspail. Nor does it include other institutions, like the far-right book store and publisher Le Nouvelle Librairie, which was founded in Paris’ Latin Quarter where the antisemitic Action Française’s headquarters were, and is affiliated with the GRECE publication, Éléments, and with the Iliade Institute.