Echoes of Trump at Zemmour’s Rally in France

Villepinte, France – The speech, replete with attacks on the media, elites and immigrants, with a fiery orator lashing thousands of flag-waving supporters, was reminiscent of the Donald J Trump campaign stop years ago.

But the scene was in France, last weekend, where Eric Zemmour, the polarizing far-right fighter who has destabilized French politics, launched his presidential campaign with a rally in front of thousands of ardent supporters.

“est chez nous!” – “this is our house!” – They shouted in a large convention center filled with spotlights, speakers and giant screens in the northeastern Paris suburb of Villepinte.

At some point during the rally, anti-racism activists were attacked of this kind Quarrel It was rarely seen in French political events. Earlier in the day, fans booed a TV news crew, forcing them to be temporarily evacuated, and several journalists reported being insulted and beaten.

The outcome of Mr Zemmour’s campaign remains unclear four months before the French presidential election, with President Emmanuel Macron still leading in the polls, and a fierce rivalry emerging from the right. But the rally offered a glimpse of where the election could be headed, and the Trumpian undertones it could take.

Unlike Marine Le Pen, the traditional far-right candidate, who has long sought success by tempering her party’s far-right views, Mr. Zemmour is betting that the full promotion of his reactionary ideas can fuel his rise.

He did so by mastering the rules of social and news media, and by appealing to a base somewhat richer and educated than the traditional far right. Recent polls indicate that this approach has worked; About 15 percent of French voters said they intended to vote for him in the first round of voting.

“He’s the one who breaks the dam,” said Vincent Martini, a professor of political science at the University of Nice. He said that voters who had refrained from supporting Ms. Le Pen had now adopted his more radical ideas.

But this quest to gain a far-right position may also backfire, as demonstrated at a rally on Sunday, when dozens of his supporters attacked anti-racism activists. According to political analysts, the violent brawl could tarnish his image and undermine his attempts to expand his electoral base.

However, as with Mr. Trump, no scandal to date has done any lasting damage to Mr. Zemmour’s political ambitions while exploiting widespread fears that a French identity is eroding due to immigration. These fears have been exacerbated by a number of terrorist attacks in recent years, some perpetrated by immigrant children.

The crowd of about 12,000 who gathered at the Villepinte Convention Center reflected some of the forces that fueled the candidate’s stark rise – upper-middle-class voters and some segments of the educated and wealthy youth.

Men near retirement age in hunting jackets and loafers waved French flags and cheered alongside young men in polo shirts. Many showed Roman Catholic crosses around their necks.

“Zemmour is someone who can really make our ideas win and save France,” said Marc Peretti, a 19-year-old student from Neuilly-sur-Seine, a affluent suburb of Paris.

Unlike the wealthy voters seen at Mr. Zemmour’s rally, Ms. Le Pen’s support comes primarily from the working class. A recent study showed that Mr. Zemmour fared well among the upper middle class, at 16 percent compared to 6 percent for Ms. Le Pen.

There was a widespread nod at the rally when Mr. Zemmour spoke of “France’s great reduction, with the impoverishment of the French, the decline of our power and the collapse of our school”. And there were loud cheers when he mentioned “the great alternative, with the Islamization of France, mass immigration and constant insecurity.”

The so-called Great Replacement, a controversial theory claiming that Western populations were replaced by immigrants, has been cited by white supremacists in mass shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso, Tex.

But Sophie Michel, a former history teacher and mother of nine, said she believed the theory, pointing to the growing number of immigrant families living in her apartment building in western Paris.

“We’re the last white people out there,” she said, “that’s real.”

Mr. Zemmour’s new party name, “Reconquest,” evokes the period of centuries known as the Reconquista, when Christian forces expelled Muslim rulers from the Iberian Peninsula.

The march was attended by two of Ms. Michele’s children, along with hundreds of young people. Hortense Bergerault, 17, said she followed Mr. Zemmour on Instagram, where he has nearly 150,000 followers, ranking first after Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen among the presidential candidates. “I have many friends who really like her,” she said.

Mr Martini, the political expert, said Mr Zemmour was the product of “culture wars” that gradually spread far-right ideas across society, particularly through Fox-style news networks, giving way to a Trumpist player in French political life.

“They understood that there was no lasting political victory without a prior cultural victory,” Mr. Martini said of Mr. Zemmour’s team.

This cultural win was evident in Villepinte, with many supporters citing Mr. Zemmour’s books and television appearances as great experiences. Some wore baseball caps that read “Ben voyons!” – My response Mr. Zemmour often uses to dismiss criticism, which roughly translates to “Oh, come on!” The crowd even chanted the phrase when Mr. Zemmour, speaking from the podium, mocked those who accused him of being a fascist.

Antoine Dires, a campaign spokesman for Mr Zemmour, said that although France and the US were different countries, they “clearly” viewed the 2016 presidential election that Mr Trump ran “because it was a success”.

Raphael Lorca, a French communications expert and member of the Jean Jaures Research Foundation, said Mr. Zemmour had successfully waged a “fantastic fight” aimed at promoting his extremist ideas and “lowering the cost of commitment” to the far right. .

Mr. Lorca said his YouTube campaign launch video, which is full of cultural references, has attracted nearly 3 million viewers – evidence of his mastery of the rules of popular culture.

“Calm is a way to defuse and neutralize ideas that are otherwise very violent,” he added.

In October, Mr. Zemmour said his success would depend on his ability to appeal to both conservative and bourgeois voters and the yellow vest movement, a mostly working-class movement that protested against the economic injustices that Le Pen has long invoked.

Whether he can strike this balance is far from clear, as evidenced by the attendance at the gathering. The main economic proposal he outlined at the end of last week – lowering business taxes – is unlikely to speak to working-class voters.

Mr. Zemmour’s theatrical entry into the convention center, to the sound of dramatic music, also did little to overshadow the fact that he had so far failed to garner support from any major political figure or party. That’s still a big difference from Mr. Trump, who can count on a strong Republican Party and strong financial support.

Mr. Zemmour said he was a target of the media and elites. He praised the crowd in front of him for standing up to these attacks. “The political phenomenon of these rallies, it’s not me, it’s you!” He cried.

But some of his supporters may be his biggest burden.

In the middle of his speech, dozens of strongman fighters punched several activists from SOS Racisme, an anti-racism organization, who stood on chairs at the rally and revealed “No to Racism” T-shirts.

Prosecutors have opened an investigation into the violence, including investigations against a man who lunged and grabbed Mr. Zemmour as he walked toward the podium.

Mr Diers, the spokesperson, said that anti-racism activists had acted provocatively and that he called on his supporters “not to use force unreasonably”.

With this polarizing campaign, Mr. Lorca, the communications expert, said Mr. Zemmour risks being “confused” by the extremism of his supporters.

French media later reported that some of those who attacked anti-racist activists were neo-Nazi fighters. While they were chasing the activists towards the entrance, wearing black silencers to hide their faces, they were stopped by a security personnel.

He told them, “Thank you for being there.” “Mission accomplished!”

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