Far-right Generation Identity leaders jailed for Alpine stunt

Flying a helicopter in a remote mountain pass to deter migrants lands three members of French far-right group in jail.

    Generation Identity has been at the vanguard of Europe's rising far-right politics [Al Jazeera]
    Generation Identity has been at the vanguard of Europe's rising far-right politics [Al Jazeera]

    A court in southeastern France has sentenced three leading figures of Generation Identity (GI), a French far-right, anti-immigrant group, to six months in jail.

    The sentenced handed down on Thursday to the president, spokesman and an organiser of GI were for a 2018 stunt involving hiring a helicopter to fly above an Alpine mountain pass used by people entering the country.

    Clement Gandelin, Romain Espino and Damien Lefevre were also fined $2,200 each and will not be able to vote in elections for five years. Their organisation was hit with an $83,000 penalty.

    Lefevre, who has worked with far-right French politicians and goes by the name of Rieu on social media, boasted about the ruling on Twitter.

    "This political decision is an honour, a medal, but shows the determination to suppress those who defend France," Lefevre wrote. He said the sentences amounted to the state's "persecution of youth who dare to prove symbolically and peacefully that defending our borders is possible".

    Despite the show of pride at the sentence, all three will appeal the ruling - which their lawyer denounced as being made under "political, moral, and media pressure" upon a "court that didn't have the courage" to resist.

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    The sentences will be a blow to the "identitarian" group known for its high-profile stunts to promote its anti-migrant and anti-Islam agenda. French far-right activists have been at the forefront of Europe's growing identitarian movement, and GI has seeded offspring around France and across the continent.

    Anti-racism advocates in France have demanded a ban on the group, long on the government's radar. The guilty verdicts may make it easier for authorities to find a legal basis to act against the group.

    The three were handed the unusual charge of "exercising activities in conditions that could create confusion with a public function". Prosecutors alleged their expedition into a mountain pass could have been mistaken for a police manoeuvre.

    Earlier this year, France banned an ultra-right group, Bastion Social, which grew out of the violent GUD movement and shared the same neighbourhood in Lyon's old city as GI.

    GI's most recent bid to enflame anti-migrant sentiment occurred on March 19, when its members occupied the roof of a building in suburban Paris devoted to family subsidies and unfurled a banner down the side of the locale reading, "Money for the French, Not for Foreigners".

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    A junior minister, Christelle Dubos, denounced what she called the "hostage-taking of a public service" and vowed to get the group banned.

    Earlier this year, three far-right activists in France were charged with aggravated violence after being exposed in an undercover investigation by Al Jazeera. 

    The three men were accused of involvement in an assault filmed by an undercover reporter for Al Jazeera's Investigative Unit. The attack was broadcast in a two-part documentary, Generation Hate, which was released in December last year and exposed violence and racism at the heart of GI.

    Two years ago, some using GI's "Defend Europe" slogan scoured the Mediterranean Sea in a rented boat, searching for desperate migrants making the treacherous crossing from Libya to Italy.

    The group's propaganda caught the attention of the suspect in the New Zealand mosque massacre of 51 Muslims, who sent a 1,500-euro ($1,662) donation to Martin Sellner, the head of group's Austrian counterpart. The French group was also sent a donation to the Christchurch shooting suspect, but it has said the funds went into the wrong bank account and were not received. All deny any previous contact with the suspect.

    The movement, meanwhile, has leaked into politics.

    A well-known member of the identity movement in Nice, Philippe Vardon, now has a choice spot in the apparatus of the far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen. The far-right grouping in the newly elected European Parliament has taken the name Identity and Democracy, in a sign of the growing influence of "identitarian" supremacist politics.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies