French Nationalism, Le Pen and The Alt Right

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First Post

In case you missed it, which seems almost physically impossible, Le Pen made it through the first round of the French Presidential election and that’s not exactly great. I’m, honestly, a little worried. Though most polls, pundits and commentators should quell my nerves by predicting an overwhelming defeat for Le Pen, the stakes seem too high for me to be unconcerned.

As bad as the advancement of Le Pen is for Europe, it has provided me with a longer case study of French ‘alt-right’ politics French ‘new-nationalism’. Organisations like Generation Identitaire (GI), a French nationalist youth organisation, provide a tangible example of an alt-right organisation, but it’s very tangibility and structure indicate an operational distinction from the ‘alt-right’ observed during the last US election. Indeed, organisations labeled as ‘alt-right’ by French and international media appear to mostly share only youth and nationalist motivation with the original wave of ‘alt-righters’ in the US. Organisations such as GI and localised collectifs like Banlieues Patriotes, though sharing hard and alt-right policies such as language and religious restrictions, military conscription and forced repatriation, do not feature the political or social tactics of the American ‘alt-right’.

While the American example saw anonymous legions of Trump supporters from all degrees of the right vitriolically and emphatically attacking their opponents online, the youth of the French ‘alt-right’ deliver physical speeches and attend physical protests alongside a strong digital presence. Though their policies and opinions remain borderline extremist, the manner in which the French ‘alt-right’ attempt to propagate their policies are far more traditional and, worryingly, ‘acceptable’.

This presents some new questions with which to assess the ‘alt-right’; does the policy, the youthfulness or the method define a movement as ‘alt-right’? What made the American example so abrasive and infamous?

Moving away from the French involvement in the French elections and toward American involvement. Trump, as of the 22nd of April, endorses Le Pen as the “strongest candidate” for the French. The American ‘alt-right’, though intrinsically hard to measure and assess holistically, appears to support Le Pen in earnest. Breitbart, the infamous right-wing news and commentary website previously chaired by Steve Bannon, supports and endorces Le Pen, while the right-wing, closed social media platform Gab indicates a community of American ‘alt-righter’ firmly invested in an FN victory.

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Perhaps most interestingly, after a flooding of the official subreddit for the FN candidate, /r/Le_Pen, by supportive posts in English, moderators of the subreddit imposed a ban on English in threads, declaring that “It is the final sprint to the election, so we take back control of this subreddit to put it to better use, to convince undecided voters, not to cater to r/The_Donald users… Foreigners cannot really judge on what French voters will find convincing, so upvotes don’t mean anything.”

Though a subreddit is hardly democratic, this indicates that at least a small group of hard-core and relatively powerful reddit users that support Le Pen resent and resist the association of the American ‘alt-right’ with the French, further distancing the French ‘alt-right’ from the American.

The original scope of my research has expanded to include the wealth of information being presented by the French elections. As I mentioned in my previous post, I intend to reassess my previous conclusions about ‘the alt-right’ while recounting any notable developments of the movement. With the French elections, though, and the emergence of French equivalent with it’s various similarities and differences, I have found myself with a fractured understanding of the ‘alt-right’. Necessary to continue is to redefine the ‘alt-right’ while also, if necessary, challenging mainstream media use of the term ‘alt-right’ in certain cases. This will, of course, be reflected in my final research blog.

So far, my research remains predominately a review of media. Though I have utilised academic literature to form a basis of my understanding of political process and theory relevant to my area of study, there is still little academia to be found and that I can access regarding the ‘alt-right’. Recently, though, a great deal of research on Trump and his presidential campaign has been published. Simply due to the gestation and development time of peer reviewed academia this research is published with great delay. I intend to continue reviewing relevant publications and papers in the hope of finding something useful and informative on my research targets.

I am hoping for my research to develop somewhat organically. By this I mean that I hope my research, academic or otherwise, leads me to conclusions and areas otherwise unplanned. That said, though I still intend to focus on the present ‘alt-right’ in America, this latest turn of events in France, and those following the coming election, may lead me to focus more so on France. Only time, and the French voting public, will tell.