'We won't back down': Young right-wing activists agitate across Europe for an idealized past

Young, right-wing activists are taking to social media and adopting Greenpeace-style shock tactics to agitate across Europe against immigration and Islam, Michelle Gagnon writes from Paris.

Greenpeace-style shock tactics and video used to campaign against immigration and Islam

Pierre Larti, 27, is a spokesman for Génération identitaire, an anti-immigration activist group active across Europe. (Michelle Gagnon/CBC)

They are traditionalists with a YouTube channel, nostalgic nationalists who text and tweet.

Young, white and European, they call themselves Identitarians, right-wing activists agitating across the continent against immigration and Islam and for a future rooted deep in an idealized past.

"I'm a product of my time," says Pierre Larti, a spokesman for Génération identitaire (GI), the French branch of the movement. "But I know the difference between what is good in this era and what isn't."

Larti is buff, squeaky clean and, at 27, already part of the old guard of the movement.

Génération identitaire uses of range of strategies to get its message across, from Greenpeace-style shock tactics to postering and stickering in like-minded neighbourhoods. (Michelle Gagnon/CBC)

After a long day and a meeting that ran late — Larti works in HR at a yogurt factory — he travelled more than 50 kilometres to lead a low-tech, late-night postering and stickering campaign in Issy-les-Moulineaux, a suburb just outside Paris.

"I've lived in this multiethnic society and seen its ravages, the dangers it poses for us, for the French. We've become passive, too accepting," Larti says.

"We accept the veil in the public square. We accept burkas. Little by little, we accept everything. We accept that France now has more than 2,500 mosques.

"We accept one or two attacks a year," he pauses and then asserts: "I cannot accept that."

Shock tactics

Neither, apparently, can scores of other youth across Europe. Best organized and most militant in France, Germany and Austria, Identitarians have a presence in Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Slovenia and Denmark, according to Larti.

The movement emerged in France in 2002 but the youth wing soon became a tangle of organizations that disbanded and regrouped until they coalesced in GI in 2012.

"We decided to concentrate on pure politics and create GI with a bang."

In October 2012, they released a video entitled Declaration of War as a kind of founding document.

One of the early propaganda videos released by a newly unified Génération identitaire in 2012.

It immediately established them as savvy 21st-century communicators, as did their use of Greenpeace-style shock tactics for their inaugural action: the occupation of a mosque under construction in Poitiers, a city in western France.

Larti was there.

"One of the biggest mosques in Europe was being built," he says.

"You have to know that in French history, in Europe's history, Poitiers is a symbol. It's where Charles Martel stopped the Arab invasion in 732. Thirteen hundred years later, we consider this a provocation."

Dominique Albertini, a journalist who covers the far-right National Front (FN) for the newspaper Libération, says they're a great school for activists, which is why some of them eventually end up in the FN.

"The far right is like a constellation with the FN as its core and a bunch of little movements gravitating around it," he says, explaining how the FN takes up most of the oxygen.

"It's become hard to exist on the far right now without a specific niche, but GI managed to find one by concentrating on dramatic action and their ethnocultural arguments."

The 'great replacement'

Across Europe, the movement shares a logo in the Spartan lambda, "a symbol of the courageous armies that pushed back the invader which speaks to us, to the charge we're leading today," Larti says.

Their arguments are built on the language of conventional warfare and carefully formed around their own awkward constructs.

As their argument goes, "immigration-Islamicization" has put their countries under siege, the "great replacement" of European populations by Muslims now apparently underway.

They argue "remigration" — the reversal of migration and the eventual return of immigrants to their homelands wherever they are — is essential to reconquering their countries and re-establishing their shared European identity.

"The idea is to say 'there's nothing for you here,' it's our home," Larti says.

"There's no money, there are no jobs, and anyhow you won't be happy here because, in Europe, we eat pork and our women can dress as they like, work and have rights."

A white world

"It's a cultural, not an electoral, fight," Albertini says of GI. "Values and mindset are what matter most.

"At the core of their combat is an ethnically and culturally homogeneous society. As opposed to the FN, they talk about the unity of European civilization and of a white world."

FN leader Marine Le Pen has spent considerable effort de-demonizing the party, trying to rid it of any traces of anti-semitism, homophobia and racism.

Thomas, 17, joined Génération identitaire six months ago. He's in his last year at the lycée. (Michelle Gagnon/CBC)

"Le Pen will speak about issues in terms of citizenship," says Albertini.

"She has to talk to the base and the outside world at the same time, and I think she's pretty deft at it. Her speeches are filled with traditional references to the Republic that remain open to interpretation."

Despite their differences, Albertini believes that Le Pen's nationalist, anti-EU, anti-immigration campaign benefits from GI's crusade.

"What is clear is that FN militants are much closer to this kind of thinking than Le Pen is. I'm convinced of it," he says.

"But there are no official links because it doesn't suit either of them. They're [GI] an audacious avant garde, but there's no percentage in having them as the little brother."

Larti couldn't agree more.

"We're complementary," he says. "We're the pointsmen: what are the most important themes, what are the solutions. And, more concretely, I think that 95 to 99 per cent of GI activists vote FN."

A fact that may be of relative value, at least for the moment.

Larti says the Identitarians now number in the thousands across Europe and that GI's numbers are growing weekly. He says there are 2,500 members in France, 300 in Paris alone.

But Albertini is dubious and believes that their shock tactics are more impressive than their numbers.

Certainly, the stickering in Issy-les-Moulineaux pales in comparison to the Poitiers occupation or the barricade GI erected in Calais last March to keep migrants out of town.

A video promoting Génération identitaire's anti-immigrant message shows activists erecting barricades in Calais to keep out migrants while clashing with police.

The outing is a small affair that counts 12 people traipsing around suburban streets. They talk about their day, laugh, smoke.

One woman is talking in Spanish on her cellphone throughout the whole exercise. It could just as well be a bunch of teens and 20-somethings whiling away after-dinner hours. It sort of is.

"Stickering is not the most thrilling," Larti says, "but it is how I got to know about the group."

Max, a translator who joined more than four years ago, says "me, too."

"I wasn't looking for anything but I came across a sticker and connected with it, so I sought them out."

Albertini says they do have some influence.

"It's hard to say whether it can be attributed directly to them, but some of their expressions have made their way into public debate."

"We won't back down" is one of them. 


Michelle Gagnon is a producer for CBC News. She covers domestic and international affairs.