Extreme-Right Terrorist Radicalization in France since November 13, 2015

Nicolas Lebourg

Illiberalism Studies Program Working Papers no. 3 January 2021

Photo Cover: Paris, France – March 18, 2012: Two police officers patrol the Trocadero Gardens and Eiffel Tower, by BlackMac. Shutterstock.
©IERES2021


On November 13, 2015, jihadist attacks on multiple sites across Paris (the Bataclan concert hall, restaurant terraces, and the Stade de France) left 131 people dead and 413 injured. The following February, Dabiq, Daesh’s French-language magazine, called for attacks on members of the French far right.[1] French police and intelligence services feared a second front would open, with a possible shift to violence by right-wing radicals, that would drag the country into a cycle of attacks and reprisals. Certainly, the phenomenon of far-right terrorism involves only a small number of people: out of 611 people jailed for terrorism in France in 2018, 505 were detained for belonging to jihadist networks and 28 for belonging to the militant far right.[2]

Yet the memory of the civil war during the decolonization of Algeria (1954–1962) and the terrorism of the French far-right Organisation armée secrète (Secret Army Organization, OAS*)[3] came to haunt current events, especially as two new clandestine groups were dismantled in 2017-2018.[4] The first adopted the name OAS[5] and was essentially limited to Marseille, France’s second-largest city and capital of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region. In June 2017, OAS’ ten or so members, teeming with rough-hewn designs of violent action, were arrested. A year later, the French services dismantled another group, L’Action des Forces Opérationnelles (Operational Forces Action, AFO) and arrested a dozen of its members after they tested grenades in the forest. A less geographically circumscribed entity, AFO had far more accomplished structures and plans, and attracted attention due to the demographic profile of its activists, who were largely senior citizens and had often previously served as policemen or soldiers.

While there are many differences between the OAS and AFO, both harbor a dream of taking revenge on what they see as Islam’s aggression. Although their desire for violent action makes these groups marginal, they nevertheless say a lot about France today and the normalization of radicalization that is taking place there. To date, France has seen very few far-right “lone wolf” acts. Those that have taken place include: a former Unité Radicale (Radical Unity, UR)[6] militant who was arrested for wanting to carry out a kamikaze attack on a mosque in 2003; a soldier who was arrested for planning to open fire on another mosque in 2013; and a former soldier who was arrested on suspicion of preparing an attack on a synagogue in 2020.

The documents used here to study OAS and AFO are of two kinds—that is, they pertain to two corpuses of legal documents in French law. The first is those documents in police and intelligence service archives that require special access, as defined by the Code du patrimoine (Heritage Code). A researcher may access these archives after taking an oath to evaluate the information contained in them in such a way as to respect individuals’ privacy and to not undermine either national defense or state security. Documents from ongoing investigations are of course not yet archived. The second set of documents is comprised of information relating to the machinations of individuals, the OAS, and the AFO that is contained in police and intelligence service material. Access to these documents is provided for in the Code of Criminal Procedure under the law on the secrecy of sources in the press.

I have chosen to use these documents subject to a particularly stringent twofold constraint. First, I apply the same restrictions as those laid down in the oath of special access, which implies that no mention is made of members of the forces of law and order or of the investigating authorities. Second, I have opted to strengthen individuals’ protection and the presumption of their innocence by anonymizing them, including those whose names have already appeared in the media, and not attributing their quotations in footnotes. The militants are named by the first letter of the name of their organization and then by a number simply referring to their order of appearance in the text. To avoid cross-referencing by readers, I have opted for simple invisibility and employed no nomenclature whatsoever in several passages.

Based on these unique documents, it is possible to 1) situate the OAS within the long view of far-right violence in France; which enables us to both 2) better understand the dynamics of radicalization at work among AFO activists in 2015 and 3) update our understanding of the paths and principles of far-right violent radicalization.

The OAS’ Legacy and the Continuities of Far-Right Violence in France

The OAS first emerged with the dissolution in 2013 of Jeunesses Nationalistes (JNS), the youth movement of Œuvre française (OF), which was also disbanded.

This political milieu has a long history and has been subject to bans on numerous occasions. It represents a deep-rooted tradition of French neo-fascism that originated with the foundation of Jeune Nation (JN) in 1949 by the former Francist and militiaman Pierre Sidos (1927–2020). He was the son of the high-ranking militia officer François Sidos, who was shot at the Liberation because of his links with the Gestapo. Initially Napoleonic (that is, favoring an imperial restoration of Bonapartism), Jeune Nation was launched with around a hundred members, one-third of whom were former Francists and militiamen, one-third Gaullists who had broken away, and one-third Bonapartists. Prince Napoléon disavowed the initiative because, as per the exile law of 1886 (repealed in 1950), the presence in the country of the descendants of those families who had reigned over France was conditional on their staying out of political activities.[7]

Pierre Sidos quickly managed to take ideological and militant control of JN. To spread his propaganda, he established transnational connections: German émigrés, former members of the Propagandastafell (the Nazi propaganda agency that controlled French media during the occupation) in refuge in Sweden, and the British segregationist activist Oswald Mosley,[8] who procured them mass mailings of leaflets. Jeune Nation had arms caches shared with other nationalist networks from 1950. According to the French intelligence services, the organization had 112 members in 1952, a figure that had increased to 500 by 1954. However, due to its radicalism, only ten percent of JN’s members remained on the eve of the political uprising in Algiers of May 13, 1958. JN ceased to officially exist that year, having been banned, but went on to reorganize its arms caches and would enjoy a high of 768 members by the time of the generals’ failed coup d’état in Algiers on April 21, 1961.

In a 1959 reform, JN became the Parti nationaliste (Nationalist Party, NP), but this new structure was dissolved by the authorities a week later.[9] Its Marseille section included 50 members. After their disbanding, ex-NP members launched a small new group; six of its members, including a former member of the Waffen-SS, murdered a Tunisian. A trial was held for the offence, and the search of a militant’s house revealed a stock of 85 kilograms of explosives and 422 detonators.[10] These facts show that the network was still very active; its members had indeed participated in OAS activities, founded in early 1961.

On April 20 of the same year, an informant told the Renseignements Généraux (RG; French equivalent of the FBI) that a coup d’état was imminent in Algeria. Explosives and weapons were seized in mainland France, and 130 nationalist cadres were arrested as a preventive measure.[11] The OAS* led the way through an escalation of violence and careful recruitment of military personnel and police officers. In 1961, excluding the Seine department (which includes Paris), French nationalists were responsible for 404 attacks, including 374 explosions, 14 acts of sabotage, and 13 acts of arson (see Figure 1).[12] Marseille alone accounted for a quarter of all explosions.

Figure 1. Bomb attacks from OAS* explosives in metropolitan France outside the Seine department in 1961[13]

JN split from the OAS in November 1962 to concentrate on running the Fédération des étudiants nationalistes (Federation of Nationalist Students, FEN) and its magazine, Europe Action. But Sidos’ movement was being taken from him by his second-in-command, Dominique Venner, a white pan-European nationalist. Sidos himself went so far as to reject the very idea of a European community since he believed there was a profound racial difference between German and French people.[14]

Sidos went on to found the Œuvre française (OF) in 1968, which set itself up in opposition to “international pan-Zionism.” Living in autarky relative to the rest of the extreme right, the OF was perfectly disciplined and maintained the cult of its history (to this day, it publishes its views on an internet site called Jeune Nation). Although the authorities considered disbanding it on various occasions, the group survived, perhaps because its training activities—according to a report by the French intelligence services—fell more into the category of paramilitary scouting than that of concrete subversive actions.

In the meantime, however, far-right violence had mutated considerably. Marseille and the PACA region were at the forefront, with a wave of racist violence breaking out in 1973 after an Algerian cut a bus driver’s throat and injured six passengers. North Africans were killed with axes, shot, and drowned (16 dead and as many injured). The Algerian consulate was bombed, leaving four dead and 23 injured. The perpetrators were right-wing extremists, mainly former OAS* members. Claiming responsibility for the attack on the Algerian consulate, they made it clear that the point was to react to the supposed “Algerian colonization of France” with the same means as the Algerians had used to throw off French colonization.[15] The wave of extreme right-wing attacks at the end of the 1970s were often claimed in the name of the Delta Commandos, a direct reference to OAS* groups.

Yet the decline of far-right organizations accelerated in the early 1980s. In 1983, the CIA estimated that since 1958, the French authorities had fought 41 terrorist organizations on their soil, including 16 far-right, 13 far-left, and 12 separatist organizations.[16]

Following a Palestinian attack on a Parisian synagogue on October 3, 1980, that left four dead and 46 wounded, anti-Jewish violence waned and was retriggered only after singular events that acted as stimuli: for instance, a Palestinian attack on a Jewish restaurant in Paris in 1982 that killed six people and wounded 22, and the trial of the ex-Gestapo functionary Klaus Barbie in 1987. Otherwise, since the 1980s, the standard driver of violence has been the rejection of a multi-ethnic society and the presence of populations of North and sub-Saharan African origin. As shown in Figure 2, the perpetration of violence has revolved around this anti-Arab/anti-Muslim motif since 1982, parallel with the successful importation from the British culture of skinhead sociability and the bent toward ethnicization brought about by the rise of the National Front (FN) vote.[17]

Figure 2. North Africans / Jewish people as victims of far-right violence[18]

In this respect, the creation of a new OAS structure in the Marseille region is more than significant. The youth movement of Œuvre française, from which it emerged, comprised about 150 militants when it was banned in 2013. A group of 15 of these militants established the Mouvement populaire Nouvelle Aurore (MNPA) in March 2014, imitating the Greek organization Golden Dawn. A dozen activists from the Paris region founded a second cell, and embryos of new sections were born in Brittany and Champagne-Ardennes—some 50 people in all. In September 2014, the MNPA caused a national scandal after a video was posted on YouTube in which the group’s militants defaced, then covered up, a statue in Marseille dedicated to Missak Manouchian, an Armenian hero of the French Resistance. In December of that year, two activists were arrested after evoking on Facebook the possibility of burning down a synagogue. In 2015, the leader of the MNPA decided to join the Parti de France (Party of France, PDF), a very small structure born from a split within the FN.

The new leader, O1, had been in the FN before he landed in the JNS. He is originally from Vitrolles, a town that, between 1995 and 2002, was in the hands of Bruno Mégret, the second most important FN figure, who, having provoked a split in the FN in 1999, took half the party with him to found the Mouvement national républicain (National Republican Movement, MNR). The MNPA’s neo-Nazi references attracted the attention of the intelligence services, which filed an S card (for state security: this is a record of potentially violent radicals) for O1 in July 2014.

The OAS milieu is significantly more mainstream than its AFO counterpart, as we will see below. OAS militants are not entirely out of step with current societal transformations: O2 mentioned that his family includes a convert to Islam and a transgender woman. O1 has a bachelor’s degree in industrial boiler making and is a temporary worker. Police note that “culture and intelligence vary greatly among members, but overall, their motivations are “political, even racialist.” O1’s politicization took place while viewing neo-Nazi videos between the ages of 13 and 15. He then considered moving toward nationalism, but the convictions he revealed during his police interrogation indicate a worldview closer to white nationalism, even if he deems the latter problematic due to its internationalism. O1 thus decided to join the group Action française (French Action, AF), originally created in 1905 to promote Charles Maurras’ doctrine. The choice may come as a surprise, given the reactionary and old-fashioned side of the group, but can be understood against a twofold backdrop. At the national level, AF was very active in the far-right demonstration Jour de Colère (“Day of Wrath”). On January 26, 2014, in Paris, 17,000 people gathered in a procession to demand the President of the Republic’s resignation; anti-Semitic slogans were shouted at intervals. About 20 police officers were injured during clashes with demonstrators, 262 of whom were arrested, among them a dozen AF members.

The Marseille section of the AF is also part of a local activist scene, engaging in regular clashes with the ultra-left. As a journalist has infiltrated this section, we know that it had a hard core of 40 young people (who are called only by nicknames to cultivate a subversive atmosphere) and a looser group of 200 sympathizers. One of the founders is a former skinhead who was also part of the Identitarians at the time of founding. The militants employ the fascist salute, honor the memory of Marshal Pétain and the OAS*, and pay visits to their Italian neighbors CasaPound.[19] Consequently, O1’s militant itinerary becomes coherent if it is considered not in terms of ideological contents (the national-populism of the FN, the neo-fascism of the JNS, and the integral nationalism of the AF being three very different orientations), but instead as heterogeneously determined by a) his hatreds, b) his desire for direct action, and c) his allegeance to a legendary militancy, from Jeune Nation to Golden Dawn.

Consequently, the terrorist attacks of November 13, 2015, are as much a shock as they are a revelation and a push factor. O1 has an acquaintance who lost his daughter. O3 now sees his mission as being “to protect whites” and “to attack the Muslim community.” Once the MNPA was dissolved, O1 thought first of emigrating to Hungary, then of leaving for Poland, finding these illiberal regimes to his liking. His decision to get baptized in April 2017 reveals a shift in the religious landscape of the French extreme right. In the 1980s and 1990s, the latter was massively neopagan; its return to Catholicism has been one of its fundamental features ever since September 11. From the AFO, both A1 and A2 also decided to be baptized after November 13.

At last, O1 found an outlet for his communitarian leanings in France; he became the treasurer of the association France Village, which has close ties with the white nationalist Daniel Conversano.[20] This association aims to raise funds to build a “nationalist eco-village”: a white nationalist urban community formed with reference to the Afrikaner village of Orania, but which also evokes the American example of “Aryan nations” and is comparable to the “Islamic villages” projects led by Salafists in France in the 2000s.[21] This transition is all the more important since the director of Tracfin (an intelligence agency that works against clandestine financial circuits) has specified that O1’s association has established links between OAS members, their purchases of arms, and “an association whose goal is to develop eco-villages.”[22]

In November 2016, O1 founded the OAS along with eight comrades. Of its nucleus of nine young men, four had fathers who had been members of law enforcement agencies and one had wanted to be recruited into the army. But while the organization’s acronym tips its hat to the OAS*, here it means Organisation d’armées sociales (Organization of Social Armies). The reason for this is that its members wanted to copy the CasaPound movement in France.[23] Social action was conceived as a way of covering up the violent action that a group called the Cicada Group, led by O3, would carry out in Provence. While the cicada (cigale in French) is typical of this region, the name is also an old joke among the French extreme right, since its pronunciation can be made to evoke the Nazi “Sieg Heil”.

The AFO and the Trauma of the 2015 Attacks

If the AFO was created after the November 13 attacks, the January attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Casher supermarket gave birth to its precursor, the Volontaires pour la France (Volunteers for France, VPF). This group’s activity on social networks began in the summer of 2015. The following October, they organized their first events, before publishing their official statutes on the first anniversary of the November attacks in 2016.[24] VPF members were located primarily in the PACA region. The VPF had two objectives: it wanted to denounce both the “Islamization” of France and the “capture” of democratic power by international lobbies.

The ethnocultural normative character of VPF’s nationalism was clearly visible through its designation of a series of “honorary volunteers.” Father Guy Pagès, whose anti-Muslim activism has resulted in him not being allocated a parish by the clergy, and Brother Thierry, a member of the pro-Putin Cercle de l’Aréopage, represent traditional French Catholic nationalism; Renaud Camus, the creator of the “Great Replacement” theory, its ethnic/racial component; American politicians Steve King and Rosine Ghawji its international connections; General Piquemal, who attempted to import the German PEGIDA into France and who heads the Cercle des Citoyens Patriotes (CCP), its Islamophobic aspect; and Christian Vanneste, its former deputy who is now president of the sovereignist Rassemblement Pour la France (National Rally for France), its homophobic features.

To date, General Antoine Martinez and Yvan Blot (1948–2018) have headed the VPF. The former is a retired air force general who has worked in intelligence. He presides over the association of reserve officers of the Pyrénées-Orientales, the department where O4 lives and whose only large city, Perpignan, went over to Marine Le Pen’s party in 2020. Along this Perpignan-Marseille axis, there is nothing vague about referring to the OAS*. In 2014, the Pieds-Noirs community (Frenchmen and women who lived in Algeria and were repatriated in 1962) represented 15% of the electorate of the region (where the FN list, led by Marion Maréchal Le Pen, obtained 41.5% of the vote in the 2015 regional elections), 5.5% of the electorate of Perpignan, and 16.7% of the local FN section members.[25] In 2018, Antoine Martinez accused President Macron of “treason” for signing the European migration pact. Today, like many a retired general, he dreams of running in the 2022 presidential election.

Blot was first a member of the Research and Study Group for European Civilization (GRECE)—a key institution in the structuring of the French Nouvelle Droite—as part of which he would refer favorably to René Binet’s “biological realism.[26] An ENA graduate,[27] Blot worked in the cabinet of two Interior ministers during the 1970s. He split from GRECE in 1974 and then co-founded the Club de l’Horloge, where he later linked up with Bruno Mégret. When Prime Minister Jacques Chirac resigned and created the post-Gaullist Rassemblement pour la République (Rally for the Republic, RPR),[28] Georges Albertini (a former collaborator during the Second World War, the European Social Movement’s first financier, and a key member of several radical right-wing groups) introduced Blot to it. Having become one of the principal executives of the RPR, Blot headed the campaign pitch unit of Chirac’s campaign for the 1981 presidential election and was an MP from 1986 to 1988.[29]

Blot maintained relations with the American Heritage Foundation at a time when it was planning to set up a conservative international. While he was a member of the central committee of the RPR, Jean-Marie Le Pen offered him the fifth place on the FN ticket in the 1989 European elections. Blot agreed to join the FN, claiming that he was still a Gaullist but that that the RPR had betrayed the General’s legacy. This former contributor to Nation Europa (a key pan-European ultranationalist journal founded in 1951 by the former Waffen-SS commander Arthur Ehrhardt to develop Mosley’s theses), presented George Bush’s New International Order as the implementation of ideas hatched by Jewish figures.

Blot took part in the FN’s national bureau, then in the MNR, and returned to the FN a year later, but left again after he was not elected at the legislative elections. After September 11, he became closer with Zionist right-wing circles.[30] He subsequently became a regular contributor to the Russian media in France and a member of the Valdai Discussion Club. In 2017 and 2018, he participated in a neo-Eurasianist meeting organized in Chisinau with the support of the Moldovan authorities. Having completed his career as Inspector General of the Administration (he was appointed in 2002), Blot, along with General Martinez, represents a certain social capital that gives credibility to the VPF’s discourse among militants.

Similarly, “Cortes”—a nickname—also from the VPF, who resides in El Salvador and is the second-in-command of the French Embassy there, was appointed head of AFO for the Paris region on September 1, 2017. Among others who were behind the founding of the VPF but then moved to AFO is A3, who until 2017 was a member of the Mouvement Initiative et Liberté (Movement Initiative and Freedom, MIL), a groupuscule that both provides informal security for the Républicains and does FN-inspired poster campaigns.[31] A former soldier who spent half a year in Afghanistan, A3 wanted to “defend and protect himself in the event of chaos . . . were France to go up in flames like Syria.” A3 claimed that AFO members were basically “disappointed” with the FN.

As of January 1, 2018, an internal document by French intelligence stated that there were twenty AFO networks inserted in 72 departments, but the maximum possible estimate seems to be around 100 members. However, it should be noted that not all AFO networks were equally radical. Their own management structure divided them into white (open militancy), gray (logistics and survival training), and black (action) zones. The movement believed in partitioning activities thus as a guarantee of efficiency. Four levels of authorization were established for access to internal information. The acronym AFO itself was left unexplained to a whole section of members—historically, only Mussolini’s political police, OVRA, is known to have operated in this way, with an acronym the meaning of which was largely unknown to its members.

Not all VPF members had their main careers in the military or law enforcement. A4, a 54-year-old woman who later joined AFO, explains her engagement: “I am terrorized, I live in fear,” she said, residing in the middle of a city with a high concentration of populations of Arab-Muslim origin. In electoral sociology, this kind of political geography is known to provoke a threshold effect that earns votes for the FN.[32] A4 comes from a military family and is a member of the Gendarmerie’s Friendship Society. A5 is a teacher with no prior commitment other than having been in the Air Force reserves for 11 years. He discovered the VPF on Facebook and sent them a message in which he told them that he was a “good shooter.” He switched to AFO because “the VPF was doing political lobbying and I was looking for something more operational, where I could practice shooting, running, survival training, and train to be ready if ever I was attacked by Muslim terrorism.” A2 is part of the AFO political culture but has never been a militant thereof.

Figure 3. AFO Logo

Finally, A6, the AFO head, is a former police officer, a retired sergeant whose AFO pseudonym is Richelieu. In 2015, one of A6’s former subordinates introduced him to the VPF. He had no previous political engagement, but in Marseille he had co-founded an association with a Masonic title from which the movement took the acronym: Alliance Fraternelle Occidentale. The photograph of him that appeared in the press after his arrest shows him with a ring bearing Masonic symbols. The AFO logo is not to be outshone by others (see opposite), with its central apron—the blue may refer to the lodges of the first three grades, but its particular shade evokes the Rectified Scottish Rite, to which various French right-wing extremists adhere. The sword and the cross also suggest a neo-Templar style like that which informed Anders Breivik’s aesthetics.

The VPF maintains a subversive climate, if only through the use of ProntonMail encrypted messaging for communications between activists. The VPF website does not allude to any activities mentioned by its members: survival, self-defense, and shooting courses. The spirit is counter-insurgent but not accelerationist,[33] as an internal document states: “The action is often clandestine, the man is not necessarily so… Recourse to clandestinity will be avoided or delayed as much as possible. Clandestinity eats up energy and means.” While the VPF is at the origin of AFO, it also comes in handy as an alibi; in the event that they are taken into police custody, AFO members were instructed to say that they know each other from the time of the VPF’s legal activities.

AFO has other channels than the VPF; for example, two of its members were involved in the Rémora networks. These networks were created in 2016 by Luc Sommeyre, a militant from the Bloc Identitaire (he was beaten up by his comrades for having regained contact with the nationalist-revolutionary Christian Bouchet[34] in 2005), who simultaneously began campaigning for the Ligue du Midi, a local far-right cell known for its acts of violence. A retired RG inspector, Sommeyre set up a dozen or so cells to register mosques and “anti-French” militants; he was determined to provide back-up for the forces of order in the event of the government’s toppling.[35] AFO believes in the existence of a right-wing ecosystem: one of its internal documents specifies that “During a period of action, we will have to get closer to our cousins the VPF, the CCP (General Piquemal’s organization) and Remora.”

If VPF members have profiles that are far from stereotypical for the radical right and include a number of civil servants and senior citizens, they are on the way to radicalization. One of the people interviewed was found to have a recruitment interview outline. This outline consists of a questionnaire in which the interviewee was asked about their militant career, motivations, expectations, and skills, as well as “what material means they have at their disposal in the event of a hard blow?” or if they are capable of putting a “bullet in someone’s head” when a serious threat arises, be it to themselves, their family, their neighbor, their values, or their country.

Among VFP members, six were motivated by the 2015 attacks. A5, a teacher, justifies his commitment by reference to the reaction of his Muslim students during the January 7 attacks: “My class was 95% Muslim and they totally supported the terrorist act. I remember not being able to attend class the next day because they were just showing me pictures of the Mohammed caricatures.”[36] A7 has a daughter who was supposed to attend the Bataclan concert, but was fortunately unable to do so, though she lost two friends there. His first reaction to the event was to write to the prefect of his district, saying that he wanted to volunteer to help in any way. His plea having gone unanswered, he began to think that if another Bataclan-like event occurred, “it would be good to respond by putting a number of Salafi imams out of action.” A7 maintains a relationship with a man whose daughter was killed during the concert and who is obsessed with the idea of avenging her death. A young girl from A3’s residential area was among those killed, and A3’s son lives on Bichat Road, where people were massacred in seating areas on the sidewalk. A1 knows two people who survived Bataclan, the latter taking a bullet in the face. Believing that the state is unable to protect its citizens, A1 joined the VPF and its shooting clubs. He and A3 are convinced that “the war began at Bataclan.” As for A8, he suffered in the attack on the Stade de France and had two colleagues killed at Bataclan.

This trauma weighs permanently on their minds. Thus, when the Bataclan Hall reopened in 2018, a violent polemic broke out about a rapper’s programming. Guerre de France, one of AFO’s blogs, then published a photograph of the entrance to the hall with a viewpoint alleged to be “ideal for a sniper,” and of one of the emergency exits with the caption: “this narrow passage, with the possibility of a firing range, is a real trap in the event that the ends are blocked by heavy vehicles.”[37]

Path and Principles of Violent Radicalization

These militants’ careers testify that the violent radicalization of AFO and OAS members cannot be explained exclusively by reference to the jihadist attacks of November 13. It is also rooted in ideological determinants and social practices. In fact, white nationalism was imported into France along with survivalism (by the neo-rightist Guillaume Faye, among others), which is significant here. When questioned by a policeman to find out what he meant by survivalism, A3 made a perfect link between the two phenomena: “What I had in mind was that we are a community, that we go to a sheltered area in the countryside, that we become self-sufficient.” Here we find the mindset of “France Village”: while the various twentieth-century fascisms dreamed of inter-continental empires, today’s far-right radicals fantasize about retreating into narrow racial and cultural enclosures.

All AFO members interviewed emphasize that they joined the association to be trained in survivalism. In May 2018, about 20 of them took part in a survivalist course in the Alps. One of them finally recognized that the systematic references to survivalism were rooted in a legal strategy for responding to potential police interrogations. However, their interest in survivalism was by no means fake; police searches of their residences turned up various brochures, and training weekends with a very strong paramilitary aspect took place. By no means do AFO members saw survivalism and an ethnically-segregated communitarian utopia as transfers from the American neo-Nazi milieu; they still imagined themselves to be Gaullists. Moreover, AFO contacted the neo-fascists of the small Dissidence française (French Dissidence), but did not maintain links, considering the movement too radical.

O1’s weekends were also regularly devoted to survivalism, which served as a pretext for owning a bulletproof vest. To make the training of OAS members legally possible, they formed a shooting and outdoor sporting association and registered its official rules with Perpignan prefecture at the end of 2016. One detail of its registration is ideologically revealing: the association refers to Occitan identity, but Perpignan is the only city of the Southwest to be not Occitan but Catalan, and the people of Perpignan are very sensitive on this point. This suggests how claims about whiteness and nationhood can also point to a lack of integration into the everyday local environment.

The relation to survivalism also relates to the escapism typical of radicals—that is to say, to the pleasurable capacity to transmute militancy’s humdrumness by adopting a grandiose and mythicized self-image.[38] A4, the cloistered owner of an arsenal, told the police: “At one point, I really thought I was part of the Resistance, like in the movies. There was a bit of that effect throughout the group.” One of the executives even drew up an organizational chart of how this “Resistance movement” would function in the event the government was toppled; each of the 19 cells were to work in strict compartmentalization in order to avoid the fall of the movement, with the alpha cell tasked with “punishing terrorists, criminals and traitors.” A6 would thus send encrypted messages that he signed as “National Commander Richelieu, commander of the General Staff of the Resistance of the Networks of Actions of the Operational Forces.” The use of pseudonyms was de rigueur in each group, but with a differentiation pertaining to social class; in the AFO, each person chose their own alias, which referenced an important, evocative figure (the choices of “Attila,” “Churchill,” “Cortes,” and “Richelieu” all revealing some hubris). Meanwhile, in the OAS, the leader alone chose the members’ nicknames.

OAS escapism did not employ the same models of reference. When a policeman asked O1, then in custody, why he chose the name “OAS,” he answered: “If we are going to intimidate an Arab and African population, we need a strong symbol.” O1 justified his plans for homicidal acts against people of immigrant origin—targeting kebab restaurants, mosques, drug dealers, etc.—as a matter of “using terror to trigger return migration,” thus reviving the expression aimed at French settlers at the end of the Algerian War: “the suitcase or the coffin.” According to O1, Europe today is in a posture of self-defense against Muslims and against the supposed accomplices in this Muslim “invasion”— hence the plans to attack Minister of Interior Christophe Castaner, left-wing politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and a bar frequented by the Marseille left. OAS’ dreamed pantheon is thus not that of the French Resistance claimed by AFO, but rather that of transnational terrorism.

In 2016, O1 created a Facebook page in defense of Anders Breivik (whose 2011 attacks in Norway killed 77 people and injured 151) that attracted more than 3,000 contacts within a year. He has also paid tribute to Alexandre Bissonnette (who in 2017 launched an attack on a Montreal mosque that left six dead and eight wounded), calling him a “brother.” He explained to the police: “I share the same ideology as Anders Breivik, whom I consider a real figure.” His back-up Facebook account bore this note under his pseudonym hunter in Utoya (a reference to the island where Breivik committed his crime). There, he created recruitment boards for his movement: “Rebels, blacks, scum, migrants, dealers, jihadists. You too dream of killing them all? We have made a vow to do so. Join the OAS!” or, “Arab Hunters.” It is this message, together with the fact that he was fired from a shooting gallery, that led the state services to take a close interest in the OAS.

O1 and O2, for their part, began taking part in commemorations for the OAS* organized by the Association for the Defense of the Moral and Material Interests of Former Detainees of French citizens (ADIMAD). One OAS member told the police that the idea was, above all, to attract financial donations from former Pieds-Noirs for their terrorist project. AFO has also sought subsidies through an Association for the Defense of Colonial Memory founded in 2008. This strategy epitomizes a fundamental trend: the assimilation of jihadism into a continuation of the Algerian war. This concept gained traction as early as January 2015, with its chief propagator being Éric Zemmour, a very mediatized polemicist who has become an Islamophobic star in France. In 2016, Zemmour declared that “we are out to avenge the Algerian war.” And in 2018 he stated, by way of justifying the French army’s use of torture during the Algerian war, that the torture was carried out in response to the terrorism at the time, which produced “one Bataclan every day.”

Yet on Guerre de France, one of AFO’s blogs, the selection of targets is made on the grounds that “The recent war that comes closest to the military problem posed today is undoubtedly the Algerian War. The potential enemy has more or less the same origin, mentality, family upbringing and religion as the FNL terrorists” (sic). AFO’s own terrorist strategy is based on an annotated reading of the French theorists of subversive warfare—in particular colonels Charles Lacheroy and Roger Trinquier—which is why “remembering and studying what happened in Algeria is […] vital.”[39] A search of one of the members’ computers turned up a veritable library of military manuals and instructions for the use of various weapons, from artillery mortar to machine guns. Another member’s computer was found to contain manuals on how to make a silencer, explosives, and so on.

AFO may be linked to the most extreme leanings in the OAS*. The operations it envisaged were diverse and ranged from poisoning halal food in supermarkets to throwing grenades at “worshippers performing street prayers, Salafi literature bookstores or even motorists.” This type of act was suggested to other OAS* cadres by Captain Curutchet in 1962, but was rejected by the other officers and especially by the fundraisers.[40] But as today AFO funding comes from its own members, there is no possible intervening voice to burst the group’s bubble of filters.

In this respect, AFO’s sociology ought to be likened more to that of the JN than to that of the JNS. JN members were young men, the sons of fathers who had been through the Second World War, and were at military service age as 1.5 million young men were being mobilized to wage war in Algeria. Male AFO members have often served in law enforcement and they also spontaneously talk a great deal about their military service, an important moment in their socialization and virility. Male members of the JNS, however, are younger and have not done military service (which was abolished by President Chirac in 1997).

Nevertheless, neither AFO nor the OAS share the OAS*’ national ideology. Islamophobia, essentially, is what drives AFO. With polemics over Islam becoming a permanent feature of French public life after November 13, AFO’s plans shifted from counterterrorism to straight-out terrorism. AFO members did not differentiate for instance between quietist and jihadist Salafism. Their plans to kill “200 radical imams” or radical detainees upon being released from prison after a “new Bataclan” are hampered by a practical aspect: as their knowledge of the religious fabric comes from Internet searches alone, they do not know how to find these imams. The attack in Trèbes (March 23, 2018, four dead and 15 wounded, claimed by Daesh) provided a “solution,” and some AFO members supported the idea of killing veiled women or men in kami (traditional clothes for Muslim men).

Yet religious hatred does not mean that racial hatred disappears from these organizations’ agendas. The ethnic/racial problem played a specific role for AFO, appearing in its recruitment and agitative propaganda narrative. The group has two blogs. Le Réveil patriote is a classic agit-prop site whose motto is “Resist so you are not replaced.” The site aims to recruit civilians. Its contact address can also be found on a website of the Zionist right, with an accompanying statement about resisting the “great replacement.” The second blog, Guerre de France, is much more extensive. Its writing uses a counter-subversive aesthetic, with numerous military references aiming, according to AFO members, to recruit among police officers and soldiers. Its miscellaneous section refers not only to the Holocaust denier Hervé Ryssen, the anti-Semite Alain Soral, and the neo-Nazi Boris Le Lay, and to Daniel Conversano. The site’s anti-Semitism has markedly increased with the COVID-19 crisis.

A4 believes that a genocide of the French is underway, carried out both by oligarchs and by “hordes of backward barbarians.” He sees in this no Jewish cause, in contrast to classical white nationalism.24 Instead, like A6 with his Masonic references, his statements attest that at issue is a radicalization of neo-populism and not a continuity with neo-Nazism of any sort.[41] Similarly, A4 considers that petty crime is in fact part of the jihad—a theme that Guillaume Faye spread widely twenty years ago, that was at the heart of the MNR’s message, and that has now been taken up by Éric Zemmour.[42] A4 did some online searches on U.S. sites for poison with which to infest halal meat in supermarkets and found one capable of causing hemorrhaging in healthy adults and of killing more vulnerable ones. The plan generated debate in the group; some members refused to accept the risk of killing children and old people, while others refused to poison anyone. There were similar discussions in OAS meetings around the issue of potentially using a flamethrower in a crowd. The OAS’ new leaning toward the East gave it hope of finding weapons in Serbia or via a Russian forum. This polarization leads to problems of internal cohesion because action does not happen, which is why AFO initially arose through a split in the VPF. One AFO member wrote to another:

When will the targets be defined in terms of nation? Why aren’t they yet? Why do we only get elusive answers? The guys are tired of preparing without knowing for what. Among the best of them, I feel some misgivings. Local, murderous operations to consider? Halal? Mosque? These two points are currently being prepared at home by specific groups. When they are ready, what do we tell them? Do we tell them to wait? And to wait for what?

The psycho-social determinants of AFO activists are not those of French domestic jihadists; they are socially well inserted people, often employed in the civil service and are protected from losing their jobs. Their discourse is structured; only one out of 13 has alcoholism problems (the national average being estimated at one in ten); and only one engages in troll behavior on social networks. Nevertheless, the editor of the Guerre de France website seems to have an overinflated ego, even though within the AFO he chose as his pseudonym a feminine first name that stands in stark contrast to the virilism of his prose. A comment by one member about someone else (“He has a hateful anger that he controls”) points to a trait typical of the extreme right-wing personality: the self-repression of anger. There are anthropological but not psychiatric dimensions to this: the psychiatric analyses of JN’s members at the time of their indictment by the Cour de Sûreté de l’Etat (State Security Court) revealed only profiles bearing pathologies such as lack of empathy or paranoia, but no dysfunctionality.[43]

Conclusion

The radicalization of the far-right groups studied here had the 2015 jihadist attacks as a reference point justifying their engagement. While these groups had pre-existing ideological bases, they were further activated toward conducting violence by the events of November 13: for them, the simple existence of a multicultural society is already part of a jihad against France. For this new generation of far-right radicals, anti-Semitism does not matter as much as Islamophobia. Some mix the two: when the Marseille group’s members use a neo-Nazi frame of reference, they engage in acts against Jews or the memory of the Resistance, and when they refer to the memory of the Algerian war, their designs are anti-Arab.

For both OAS and AFO, a central difficulty is access to weapons, since they lack connections with organized crime (a feature that differentiates them from domestic jihadism). While as individuals they may possess a weapon legally, their attempts to purchase them on the black market have been made with confounding naivety. One can only agree with the response of an AFO member during a custody hearing; when asked if the conspirators were ready to act, she replied: “Logistically, no, but from a psychological point of view, yes.” In fact, only two members of the group appeared to have the capacity to move quickly to homicidal action.

Since the two groups have been dismantled, the French institutionalized far right have repeatedly argued that the authorities have grossly overexaggerated these cases and that at issue are merely the chimeras of disoriented seniors and asocial youths.[44] As we see from this study, this narrative is by no means convincing. Similarly, the idea that radicalization happens through the Internet is not corroborated by the facts. Certainly, AFO members used the Internet to buy weapons, poison, survivalist manuals, and so on, but radicalization occurred far more in monthly in-person meetings.

If these individuals are capable of violence, it is not because they are Evola’s “men in the midst of ruins” but because some segments of the French society believe in the potential for—and some even in the legitimacy of—of a domino effect of jihadist violence on far-right violence. As an example of that trend, one can mention the survey conducted following the murder of two policemen by a jihadist in June 2016: 73% of those surveyed believed that uncontrolled acts of reprisal would occur if another attack occurred. If this retaliation did occur, only 51 percent of respondents would condemn it, while 39 percent would understand it and 10 percent would condone it.[45] The social stratification of responses is revealing: 36 percent of senior managers and professionals, 39 percent of university graduates, and 57 percent of practicing Catholics said they would not condemn anti-Muslim attacks after a jihadist attack. This survey underlines how support for the rule of law in the fight against jihadism is gradually weakening in today’s French society, potentially creating the space to justify or at least excuse far-right terrorism.


[1] Dar al-Islam, no. 8, February 2016.

[2] French Senate, Menace terroriste : Pour une République juste mais plus ferme, report no. 639, July 4, 2018, p. 154.

[3] The OAS* bomb attacks are estimated to be between 9,000 and 12,000 in number. They have left 1,500 dead and 5,000 injured in Algerian counties and 71 dead and 394 injured within metropolitan territory. Here, the terrorism between separatists of the Mouvement National Algérien and the Front de Libération Nationale killed 3.957 people, wounding a further 10,223. See Anne-Marie Duranton-Crabol, Le Temps de l’OAS (Brussels: Complexe, 1995) 141–4; Rémy Vallat, “Un tournant dans la ‘Bataille de Paris’: l’engagement de la Force de police auxiliaire (20 March 1960),” Outre-mers 91, no. 342–343 (2004): 321–44.

[4] The French security forces’ doctrine of preventive action allows for arrests before the perpetration of planned violent actions.

[5] To distinguish between the two OASes, I write this particular OAS’ acronym without an asterisk.

[6] In July 2002, the state disbanded Unité Radicale (UR) after one of its militants shot at President Chirac, alleging that he was a “ZOG (Zionist Occupation Government)  agent,” though this militant was also connected with a far-right militant from the Zionist far right for whom Chirac was an agent of Eurabia—an analogical but this time Islamophobic conspiracy theory. See Dominique Albertini and David Doucet, La Fachosphère (Paris: Flammarion, 2016), pp. 95–128. The young leaders of the UR established the Identitarians, a network that centered on Islamophobia, a rejection of multi-ethnic society, and that jettisoned references to fascism and anti-Zionism.

[7] Secrétariat-général de l’Elysée (SGE), “Activité de la Jeune Nation,” December 19, 1949, 3p; id., “Au sujet de la fondation de la Jeune Nation,” December 20, 1949 (AN/4AG/76).

[8] Former Labour Minister Oswald Mosley founded the British Union of Fascists in 1932 and participated in many attempts to organize transnational fascist groups, from the Comitati d’Azione per l’Universalità di Roma in 1933 to the National Party of Europe in 1962. In the post-war decades, he developed the thesis of segregated spaces for each race, with the Europeans receiving Europe and North Africa.

[9] Direction des Renseignements Généraux (DRG), “Mouvement Jeune Nation,” Bulletin de documentation, no. 30, January 1958, p. 2, AN/F/7/15578; RGPP, “Les groupements et formations politiques d’extrême droite,” undated, pp. 26–7, AN20030515/1/DP705 id., “La Droite non parlementaire et l’extrême droite légale,” June 1964, p. 112, APP/GADR15; SGE, “Groupements à caractère politique ou paramilitaires,” August 1950, p. 4; and “Objet: A/S du mouvement Jeune Nation,” March 21, 1952, AN/4AG/76.

[10] Service Régional de Police Judiciaire (SRPJ) Marseille, “Participation au maintien à la reconstitution directe ou indirecte d’une groupement dissous,” March 26, 1960; telegram from SRPJ Montpellier to the Interior Ministry, March 24, 1960 (AN/19880206/15).

[11] DRG, “La Rébellion en Métropole,” undated, p. 7, AN/F/7/15646.

[12] DRG, “Bilan de l’activité de l’OAS et réseaux assimilés ainsi que la répression de cette activité en métropole (Seine exceptée) pour l’année 1961,” p. 2, AN F/7/15645.

[13] DRG, “Secret, étude sur le mouvement clandestin OAS, période du 1er octobre 1961 au 10 janvier 1962,” p. 22, AN/F/7/15645.

[14] Bureau de Liaison (BDL), “Organisation de l’OAS, conférences plénières des directeurs de la Sûreté Nationale, de la Sécurité du Territoire et de la Préfecture de Police,” November 16, 1962, p. 6, APP/H2B1; SGE, “Réunion privée organisée par le mouvement d’extrême droite Jeune Nation,” April 27, 1952, AN/4AG/76.

[15] Rachida Brahim, “L’Antiracisme Politique à Marseille, 1968–1983,” in Olivier Fillieule and Isabelle Sommier, eds., Marseille années 68 (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2018): 345–348.

[16] Central Intelligence Agency, Terrorism Review, June 23, 1983, p. 14, CIA-RDP84-00893R000100190001-0, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/TERRORISM%20REVIEW%2023%20JUNE%20%5B15515150%5D.pdf.

[17] Established in 1972, the FN has enjoyed repeated electoral success since 1982.

[18] DRG, “Le racisme et l’antisémitisme en France en 1988,” January 5, 1989, p. 2–3, AN/20090417/14.

[19] Valentin Pacaud, “Une Saison en Action Française,” Le Ravi, October 2017, https://www.leravi.org/journal/une-saison-en-action-francaise/.

[20] Danial Conversano was first a close partner of Dieudonné, an Afro-French humorist who became a popular anti-Semitic activist. Conversano then produced YouTube videos exhibiting a decomplexed white nationalism, emigrated to Budapest, and there developed a groupuscule of disciples, Les Braves, of about 500 people.

[21] Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun (New York: New York University Press, 2002); Laurent Bonelli and Fabien Carrié, Radicalité Engagée, Radicalités Révoltées (Nanterre: Institut des Sciences sociales du Politique, 2018), 213–4.

[22] Report from the parliamentary commission into the fight against far-right groups in France, June 2019, p. 435.

[23] Founded in 2013 in Roma, CasaPound presents itself as “the fascists of the third millennium.” The movement innovated in investing both in countercultural circles and social actions (for instance, calling for more social housing). See Caterina Froio, Pietro Castelli Gattinara et Tommaso Vitale, “L’extrême droite est-elle le porte-voix du malaise des quartiers populaires? Le mythe des campagnes pour le logement social de CasaPound en Italie,” Chaire Citoyenneté, June 2020, https://chairecitoyennete.com/extreme-droite-quartiers-populaires-casapound/.

[24] “‘Volontaires pour la France’ until:2015-12-31 since:2015-01-09,” Twitter, accessed December 12, 2020, https://twitter.com/search?q=%22Volontaires%20pour%20la%20France%22%20until%3A2015-12-31%20since%3A2015-01-09&src=typed_query; “Résultats de Recherche,” République Française, accessed December 12, 2020, https://www.journal-officiel.gouv.fr/associations/recherche/resultats/?reinitrefine=1; and Pierre Cassen, “Entretien Avec le Général Martinez,” Profession Gendarme, August 9, 2020, http://www.profession-gendarme.com/entretien-avec-le-general-martinez-2/.

[25] Jérôme Fourquet, Nicolas Lebourg, and Sylvain Manternach, Perpignan, une ville avant le Front national? (Paris: Fondation Jean Jaurès, 2014).

[26] See Nicolas Lebourg, “René Binet: the French Father of White Nationalism,” Illiberalism Studies Program, November 2, 2020, https://www.illiberalism.org/rene-binet-the-french-father-of-white-nationalism/

[27] L’École nationale d’administration, or ENA, was established in 1945 and is tasked with educating the principal French elites.

[28] In 2002, the RPR was absorbed into the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), which brought together Chiraquians and centrists. In 2015, the UMP renamed itself Les Républicains (LR).

[29] Philippe Lamy, “Le Club de l’Horloge (1974-2002): Évolution et Mutation d’un Laboratoire Idéologique” (Ph.D. diss., Université Paris VIII, 2016); Anton Shekhovtsov, Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir (London: Routledge, 2017),18; Le Monde, August 29, 1991.

[30] His attendance at the B’nai B’rith meeting was noticed: see Olivier Faye, Abel Mestre, and Caroline Monnot, “Yvan Blot, le drôle d’invité du Salon des écrivains du B’nai B’rith,” Le Monde, November 4, 2011, https://www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2011/11/04/yvan-blot-le-drole-d-invite-du-salon-des-ecrivains-du-b-nai-b-rith_5981809_823448.html.

[31] Established in 1981, the MIL was an attempt to compensate for the difficulties experienced by Service d’Action Civique (SAC), which was threatened with dissolution by the state and then dissolved  the following year due to the involvement of its members in the Auriol massacre (in which an SAC member suspected of being ready to “betray” the cause was killed with his entire family). Founded in 1959, the SAC is a protean organism that recognizes General de Gaulle as the only authority. It carries out security arrangements, postering, and surveillance of opponents and sometimes even state agencies to ascertain their loyalty. Some SAC members frequent criminal circles. After the foundation of the RPR, the SAC put itself at the former’s service. See François Audigier, Histoire du SAC. La part d’ombre du gaullisme (Paris: Stock, 2003).

[32] Fourquet, Lebourg et Manternach, Perpignan, une ville avant le Front national?

[33] Accelerationism is a concept popularized by Brenton Tarrant in his manifesto, The Great Replacement: Towards a New Society, which states that violence is authorized to accelerate racial wars and rescue the white race from dissolving into a multicultural society.

[34] Christian Bouchet was the UR’s general secretary until 2002. He rejected the Identitarians, whom he accused of “national-Zionism” on account of their Islamophobia.

[35] Matthieu Suc and Marine Turchi, “Forces de l’Ordre liées à l’ultra-droite violente: La DGSI s’inquiète,” Mediapart, April 9, 2018, https://www.mediapart.fr/journal/france/090418/forces-de-l-ordre-liees-l-ultra-droite-violente-la-dgsi-s-inquiete?onglet=full.

[36] This testimony is ambiguous, since supporters of the massacre are not supposed to show the caricatures. Thus, either the pupils engaged in contradictory behavior due to their youth or A5 was confused, a confusion having to do with the fact that he nonetheless did not join in the January 11 marches for the defense of democracy (four million demonstrators in a country of 66 million inhabitants).

[37] AFO, “Bataclan,” Guerre de France, accessed December 12, 2020, http://www.guerredefrance.fr/bataclan.htm.

[38] Xavier Crettiez, “Penser la Radicalisation. Une Sociologie Processuelle des Variables de l’Engagement Violent,” Revue française de science politique 66 (2016): 709–727.

[39] AFO, “Analyse,” Guerre de France, accessed December 12, 2020, http://www.guerredefrance.fr/gdf_analyse.htm.

[40] Délégation générale en métropole OAS/METRO/ORO, “Note de service;” Renard à André, “Objet: collecte de fonds,” April 18, 1962; Conseil national de la Résistance – Comité exécutif, “Historique et objectifs stratégiques et tactiques,” June 14, 1962 (AN/F/7/15646).

[41] Neopopulism is defined as a new far-right movement that emerged after 9/11 and claims it does not want to establish a far-right state regime, but only to secure the freedom and security of European peoples in the face of a so-called “Islamo-fascism.” On neo-populism, see Jean-Yves Camus and Nicolas Lebourg, Far-Right Politics in Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017).

[42] Guillaume Faye, La Colonisation de l’Europe (Paris: Æncre, 2000).

[43] Cour de Sûreté de l’Etat, AN5W 266 to 269.

[44] See, for instance, Xavier Raufer, a criminologist close to the Rassemblement National: Xavier Raufer, “Xavier Raufer : “Ces complots bidon ont mobilisé la police pour rien,” Boulevard Voltaire, November 24, 2018, https://www.bvoltaire.fr/xavier-raufer-ces-complots-bidon-ont-mobilise-la-police-pour-rien/.

[45] IFOP opinion poll carried out for Atlantico and conducted among a representative national sample of 1,004 persons on the Internet between June 28 and July 1, 2016. “Une cocotte minute nommée France. Terrorisme, risques de représailles incontrôlées et escalade généralisée de la violence, le sondage qui fait peur,” Atlantico, July 8, 2016, https://www.atlantico.fr/decryptage/2752686/une-cocotte-minute-nommee-france-terrorisme-risques-de-represailles-incontrolees-et-escalade-generalisee-de-la-violence-le-sondage-qui-fait-peur-jerome-fourquet-yves-roucaute.