Generation Identity: France shuts down far-right group

Anti-migrant group, whose members have been convicted for violence, dissolved after years of stunts and hate speech.

Generation Identity members protest the closure of the organisation
Generation Identity supporters protest against the planned closure of the organisation on February 20 [File: AFP]

France has shut down Generation Identity (GI) some eight years after the far-right, anti-migrant group rose to prominence in the country by occupying a mosque in Poitiers – the first of many stunts.

In a tweet on Wednesday containing images of the government decree, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the group has incited “discrimination, hatred and violence”.

The push to close the group followed an undercover operation by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit in 2018, which exposed the group’s racism, violence, and connections with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party.

Génération Identitaire, the French name of the group which had his headquarters in Lyon, advocated for “defending the identity and culture of white Europeans” and decries what it calls the “great replacement” by immigration and “Islamisation”.

In 2017, GI was behind the “Defend Europe” stunt that saw far-right activists set sail on the Mediterranean Sea in an attempt to block refugee rescue operations.

GI was founded in France and has branches in Italy, Austria and Germany, although its membership is said to have declined in recent years.

A letter dated February 11 from the French interior ministry to GI’s president detailed the reasons for dissolving the group.

According to the letter, the Al Jazeera investigation, called Generation Hate, “revealed the reality of this organisation” where members “rejoiced at the assault of a woman of North African origin”.

The letter accused GI of “openly hateful rhetoric” which “contributes to heightening tensions within the national community” and “provokes violent attacks”.

Three GI members convicted

Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit had infiltrated the group’s Lille branch, one of the most active GI chapters in France, and implicated its powerful leader Aurélien Verhassel.

An undercover reporter caught Remi Falize, a leading GI member, on camera declaring his “dying wish” to drive a car into an area packed with Muslims. He was also filmed punching a 13-year-old girl four times on the head outside a bar in Lille. A week later, he was seen inside the Lille GI headquarters celebrating the assault.

In December 2020, Falize was convicted of incitement to “terrorism” and assault. He received an eight-month suspended prison sentence.

GI’s Etienne “Le Roux” Vanhalwyn, who was filmed pushing a teenager and making Nazi toasts, was given a five-month jail sentence, suspended for 18 months.

Guillaume Dumont St Priest, who pepper-sprayed the teenage girl struck by Falize, was given a three-month suspended jail sentence.

Links to Marine Le Pen

In the aftermath of the investigation, the group distanced itself from Verhassel, claiming he was no longer a member of their movement.

Verhassel, however, insisted he was still a member.

In a news conference, Verhassel claimed that Al Jazeera’s documentary was based on “transient visitors” who were not linked to the group’s “activist base”.

Al Jazeera also revealed evidence of close links between GI activists and key figures in Le Pen’s National Front party, France’s most prominent far-right political party, which has since changed its name to the National Rally.

Two members of the European Parliament, Christelle Lechevalier and Sylvie Goddyn, are shown expressing support for GI.

Source: Al Jazeera