Violent Extremist Movements In France - Part I

June 22, 2022


Like all democratic countries, France has a number of radical groups that reject its political system. Their ideological motivations are diverse, but each uses at least one of the following tactics: a) denunciation of democratic institutions; b) promotion of violence, especially against groups or individuals identified as adversaries; and c) calls for hatred of the 'other,' usually defined by ethnicity, religion, or sexuality, but sometimes by economic or socio-professional status.


In France, groups with radical ideologies are usually labelled "violent extremist." However, not all ideological extremism calls for violence. For example, groups such as the pro-Franco "Cercle franco-hispanique" or the "Association pour défendre la mémoire du maréchal Pétain," or "Association for Defending the Memory of Marshal Pétain," while neo-Fascist, do not directly call for violence or hatred.


Extremists who do not call for illegal action ("legalists"), and revolutionary extremists, often constitute two sides of the same coin. While proponents of each approach often denounce the other, sometimes a legalist can also have a hidden revolutionary side.


The French media tend to lump as fascist, under the label "fachosphere," all movements denouncing the decline of a national culture and opposing mass immigration, gay marriage, state-sanctioned euthanasia, authorities' helplessness against "no-go" areas, and so on. However, this is politically motivated oversimplification; these movements are often not "fascist" at all. At the same time, it should be noted that anti-capitalist revolutionary movements are more favored by public opinion because they attack the "system" and its establishment representatives, instead of targeting individuals or groups for their ethnicity, sexuality, or religion.


Groups that traditionally are considered violent extremist are generally made up of a few dozen to a few hundred individuals on either fringe of the political spectrum. The groups themselves often emerge, wax, wane, and disappear in accordance with the charisma and commitment of their local or national leaders, who themselves often clash with leaders of other groups. The composition of these groups is also constantly shifting, in line with personal alliances and enmities, and splits and offshoots are common. Ideological splits are common among groups on the extreme left.


Members of these groups are usually young locals. In extreme right groups, those who have jobs and families are less involved, even if they remain firm adherents of the ideology; leaders, however, remain active even if they are employed or have families. Anti-capitalist and anti-U.S. revolutionaries tend to remain committed to their cause for many years, even decades.


Because these groups are in constant flux, they cannot be fully defined at any given time. Moreover, monitoring of their online activity may yield information such as where meetings, outings, training sessions, rallies, and even violence against those they oppose are taking place, but will not necessarily provide information about their big-picture plans.


The extreme right and extreme left include ideologies ranging from economic liberalism to national socialism and paganism to Catholic fundamentalism, as well as different perceptions of how a revolution should be carried out and whether this should be systematic or the result of anarchy.


Today, the anonymity of online activity facilitates the dissemination of all ideologies, and most of these groups operate freely in cyberspace – particularly when their discourse and rhetoric are illegal under French law. And although users on extremist platforms are likeminded, each individual user is responsible for what he or she writes on it. 


The study, in eight parts, focuses on violent extremist groups and movements in France, setting out their ideologies, and describing their activism. Groups driven by religion – for example Islamists, jihadis, and other fundamentalists – are not included in this report.


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