A disturbing trend has developed in France over the past few years that shines a light on what the country’s future may have in store under increasing pressure from the far right. Far right street groups have become more emboldened across the country, physically accosting and attacking elected officials perceived as their political opponents, even targeting their families. This has been especially the case in the wake of the Annecy attack in June 2023, when a Syrian refugee stabbed several people in a park, and with the rise of Éric Zemmour’s far right political party Reconquête (Reconquest, REC). These acts of intimidation are already having an effect on the democratic health of the country, as seen by the response of Saint-Brévin Mayor Yannick Morez, who, after having his house and car burned in an arson attack in 2023, fled the country entirely.
An early instance occurred in October 2022 when online hate against the mayor of Stains (Seine-Saint-Denis), Azzédine Taïbi, spilled over into the real world. Around 15 members of the local chapter of the far right monarchist group Action Française (French Action) broke into the town hall building, lit smoke bombs, and chanted racist and anti-Muslim remarks against the mayor and his team. While the event did not end up becoming physically violent, it demonstrated a significant escalation by these groups in terms of targeting the French government itself. The mayor immediately sent a letter to the Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin calling for the dissolution of the Action Française.
Later, in December 2022, around thirty hooded individuals armed with “batons” and “iron bars” showed up at an event at the University of Bordeaux, where two deputies for the left-wing party La France Insoumise (France Unbowed, LFI), Carlos Martens Bilongo and Louis Boyard, were present, in an effort to attack and intimidate them. The large far-right group, which chanted racist slogans and insulted the elected officials, were only prevented from accessing the event by members of the security service. Prior to the event, Bilongo and Boyard claimed to have seen “clearly racist tags from Action Française and La Cocarde [Étudiant]” (the Student Cockade) on the walls of the university before the event.
In the beginning of 2023, things would escalate further. Partially spurred on by Zemmour’s Reconquête (Reconquest, REC) party’s protests against the construction of reception centers for asylum seekers (Centre d’accueil de demandeurs d’asile, CADA), local far-right groups demonstrated in towns such as Saint-Brevin against what they perceived as a part of the “Great Replacement,” the idea that native French are purposely being “replaced” by immigrants. In Callac (Côtes-d’Armor), the neo-Pétainist Parti de la France (Party of France) and other far-right groups organized protests and intimidated elected officials online to the point where municipal officials decided to abandon one such project altogether. This only made the far right more emboldened; the Action Française began organizing demonstrations in Beyssenac (Nouvelle-Aquitaine) and Bélâbre (Centre-Val de Loire), while Reconquête brought its intimidation efforts to Saint-Nazaire (Pays de la Loire), Thiverval-Grignon (Île-de-France), and Saint-Brevin-les-Pins (Pays de la Loire).
In Saint-Brévin, far-right parties, such as Reconquête and Civitas, were present for a demonstration where those present chanted racist slogans such as “La France aux Français” (France for the French) while hooded neo-Nazis from the Ouest Casual network chased down and attacked migrants in the streets. Tensions hit a fever pitch when unknown individuals set the car and house of the mayor Yannick Morez on fire early in the morning on March 22, 2023. Following the attack, Morez would resign from his position, citing “personal reasons” and “lack of support from the state,” and pick up and leave France entirely on the recommendation of his family. The demonstrations continue in Saint-Brévin to the current day, as evidenced by an April 29 protest against the CADA, which witnessed police launching projectiles and tear gas grenades at protesters, and several fires in the streets, and the September 9 demonstration organized by the group “Les Notres Avant Les Autres” (Ours Before Theirs).
Yannick Morez stands next to his burned out house and cars
Then following the June 8, 2023, stabbing attack in Annecy, far-right attacks spread to other towns. In June 2023, the Villenave-d’Ornon (Gironde) office of Deputy Loïc Prud’homme (LFI) was tagged by anti-immigrant activists who wrote “Your migrants, our dead.” The same group had previously tagged other parts of the city with the slogans “crise mondiale, solution nationale” (Global Crisis, National Solution) with a cross of Lorraine, and “Action directe identitaire” (Identitarian Direct Action). More harassment of the mayor of Montjoi by the popular far-right Youtuber Papacito would lead to unknown individuals vandalizing the mayor’s home as well.
These intimidation efforts have spilled over into more violence. The left-wing mayor of Grabels (Hérault), René Révol (LFI), has been the recipient of waves of calls and death threats after taking a stand against the decision of Robert Ménard, the far-right mayor of Béziers, to refuse to marry a French woman to an Algerian man. On September 23, Révol was physically assaulted by two far-right individuals while on the way to the tram, who threatened, “friend of the Arabs, you lose nothing by waiting.” When Révol asked them whether they knew he was an elected official, they responded, “don’t worry, we know what we’re doing.”
In late December 2023, the left-wing mayor of Péage-en-Roussillon, André Mondange, and his family were attacked while in a bar in Avignon with relatives by a group of far-right individuals. Prior to the attack, the individuals, who claimed to be “identitarian nationalists,” essentially white nationalists, had asked Mondange about the pin he was wearing, a clear indicator that he was a mayor, and then yelled racist comments and attacked Mondange and his mixed-race daughter once four more companions arrived.
More recently, on January 14, 2024, the son of Louis Le Pivain, the deputy mayor in Viroflay (Yvelines) was attacked by two neo-Nazis outside his home. After seeing the two suspects spray-painting Celtic crosses, swastikas, and slogans targeting the police and the antifascist movement, the son attempted to stop them from further defacing their wall, at which point the two individuals, which police believe have ties to the GUD and the Zouaves, beat him, and sprayed an acidic substance on him similar to pepper spray and mace.
These attacks on the democratic process are something that cannot go unaddressed, and authorities need to take proper action against far-right groups that perpetrate them so that they are not emboldened to take additional violent actions in the future. These events show how local officials are vulnerable to violence from small, local far-right groups. History shows, too, that when public officials become the target of far-right extremists, tragedy can strike. This was the case of Walter Lübcke (CDU), a local politician in Hesse, Germany, who was assassinated in 2019 by a neo-Nazi after speaking out in support of the acceptance of refugees and against major protests by the anti-Muslim Pegida movement, which brought him many death threats. Similarly, in 2016, U.K. Labour MP Jo Cox was assassinated by a neo-Nazi who believed that liberal supporters of immigrants, like Cox, were a threat to white people. The current situation in France shows signs of an escalating threat to local politicians that the French government and police forces must heed.