Since the arbitrary dissolution of the Génération Identitaire (Generation Identity) movement in March, the French government has been increasing the number of legal proceedings against its young activists. The state’s targeting of these activists is raising fears that anyone campaigning against mass immigration policies and illegal immigration, even by peaceful means, could face increasingly repressive legal intimidation, effectively forbidding criticism and political protest on a topic many Europeans and the French are increasingly concerned with.
The move to outright ban political groups critical of the ruling government’s policies, as well as the attitude of public prosecutors and judges, is raising troubling questions about respect for democracy and the rule of law by one of the EU’s big players, which happens to be also one of the EU countries that is most vocal about supposed violations of democracy and the rule of law in Poland and Hungary. However, in the two Central European Countries ruled by right-wing conservative governments, there exists no such example of a legally acting, non-violent opposition group being dissolved in virtue of an administrative decision and its leaders being the subject of massive judicial harassment the way Generation Identity and its leaders are in France.
Thaïs d’Escufon, a young French lady, aged 21, is now one of the targets of the French state’s judges, prosecutors and law enforcement services. She agreed to answer a range of questions from Remix News.
Your movement was dissolved in March by the French government, can you tell us why in a few words?
The two reasons that were given to justify the dissolution decision were that our movement constituted a private militia and incited hatred.
To support the private militia argument, the government used boxing lessons that we give at our annual “summer university”. In this respect, one could say that all boxing clubs in France are private militias. The other thing that supports this argument is that for our Defend Europe operations, we had the same “uniform”, which is actually just the same jacket and the same color of clothes, like any scout movement for example.
Concerning incitement to hatred, this was based in particular on the claim that, in the videos we had made, we had essentialized and stigmatized immigrants, for example by associating them with terrorism. However, we had already had trials for incitement to hatred, notably after the occupation of the Poitiers mosque site in 2012, and we were acquitted. In this case, as in others, the courts have never convicted us of inciting hatred. Moreover, none of the statements made in those videos now being used against us to justify Generation Identity’s dissolution had ever been the subject of any legal proceedings in courts for incitement to hatred.
You are one of the leaders of the disbanded Generation Identity organization who are now being prosecuted by the public prosecutor. You explain in a video posted on Telegram that the reason the government is now taking legal action is that it lacks evidence to justify its dissolution order. As you have filed an appeal with the Council of State, which is France’s superior administrative court, the Castex government and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin need convictions to make their case.
That is precisely how things stand. Since our dissolution, we have seen a very significant acceleration of legal proceedings against us for comments we made in the past, tweets, or videos dating back to well before the dissolution. Some of the comments were made a year or more ago, as in the case of Clément Martin, who was summoned to the police station for a tweet posted more than a year ago, during the first lockdown in France. In that tweet, he had shared a video of an imam in Lyon sounding the call of the muezzin in the city, which is prohibited by French law. Clément had commented on the video, calling the imam an Islamist and demanding his deportation. It was a factual comment since that imam was breaking the law to advance Sharia law in France, and is, therefore, an Islamist. But as the government seeks to fill out its case, it has now opened a case for that old tweet anyway. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin is looking for every little thing that could get us convicted by a judge and thus justify our dissolution.
There are also charges now brought against Jérémie Piano for posters he put up in Aix-en-Provence. Those posters bore the inscription “Immigration scum Islamization” and, underneath, “Reconquest”. We put up those posters in all the cities in France where we are present and we are now faced with a procedure for these posters that were put up a year ago.
For my part, I made a video as part of our Operation Defend Europe in the Pyrenees last January. At the end of the video, I say that “we refuse to allow our people to continue to be overwhelmed and murdered by mass immigration.” According to the prosecutor, it is a call to hatred. And at the end of the video, I say: “To all those who want to invade us, go back home, Europe will never be your home.”
Today, those words are considered a public insult.
Before the dissolution, when we had been put on trial, it was only in the context of our group actions that were highly publicized in the media and caused a lot of discussion. However, we had never been sued individually for our videos, our press releases, our website, etc. Yet it is not difficult to be prosecuted in France with the LICRA and other such state-subsidized associations that are always ready to go to court.
It is thus clearly in order to strengthen its case that the government is having us prosecuted by the public prosecutor’s office today. It is because, in our appeal against the dissolution decided by the Council of Ministers, we argued that we had never been convicted and that all the trials against us had ended in an acquittal.
In your video posted on Telegram, you stated after the hearing for your trial: “The prosecutor had the nerve to say that there was no difference between a French hiker in the Pyrenees and an illegal migrant crossing a border.”
Did he really say that?
Yes, I can confirm. And he argued that we were inciting hatred because we were equating an illegal immigrant with a foreigner when it could be a hiker in the Pyrenees since there is no difference between one and the other. They are both people who cross a border in the same way. When I heard that, I just could not believe it.
Can you tell us about your action at the premises of the NGO SOS Méditerranée in October 2018, for which you are now also being prosecuted in court?
We occupied the premises of SOS Méditerranée. We entered the premises and unfurled a banner in the windows, with the inscription “SOS Méditerranée complicit in human trafficking”. Our actions have always been peaceful, so we entered peacefully. We did not have any physical contact with the people of SOS Méditerranée. Still, we are being prosecuted for group violence and also for sequestration because two employees had locked themselves in the toilets, although we were telling them they could come out and we were not going to do them any harm.
The trial is going to start in November, when nothing has been happening for over two years, and I believe we are going to get a heavy sentence for this action.
Do you not have confidence in the French justice system? Until the dissolution, Generation Identity and its activists were always eventually released of all charges…
Now that the government has dissolved Génération Identitaire, I fear that the justice system will become much more biased. It is about giving us the coup de grâce. They have every interest in having us convicted in order to destroy the respectability of our movement.
Does that mean you think that the French judges you are dealing with are politicized, that they work hand in hand with the government?
Yes, that is clearly the case, although some judges may have a more critical mind. But we noticed that we were often given a very heavy sentence in the court of first instance, while the judges of the Court of Appeal were a little more measured, more impartial, and less politicized, which led to our acquittal. Today, however, the dissolution of our movement adds weight against us.
You are kind of a French Alexei Navalny…
I do not know if I can compare my situation to that of the Russian opponent, but we are clearly a thorn in the side of the French government. We were a very effective organization in pointing out the incompetence and lack of seriousness of the government, as we became more and more structured, with many donations that allowed us to have actions whose growing effectiveness was undoubtedly more and more embarrassing for this government. That is what worked against us because we found ourselves in the spotlight because of the media buzz we got. Even the dissolution of our movement was some sort of victory since it gave us a level of media coverage never before achieved. We have helped democratize the term “identity” which was considered a dirty word. Today, the word “identity” has become part of the everyday language of the right. For this reason alone, we have nothing to regret about our actions.
Is it forbidden to criticize mass immigration and even illegal immigration in France?
This is a question that can be asked, indeed. Our own words that are being used against us to convict us are words that have also been said by members of parliament, politicians, and people in the media. Éric Zemmour also often has to face legal proceedings for the same type of remarks. I think the trend is indeed to increasingly criminalize anti-immigration speech. Those in power no longer have reality on their side. So they seek to intimidate those who speak out to expose reality. Internet censorship is part of this trend. I myself am banned from traditional social networks.
You are only 21 years old and your face is now known in France, especially after your recent television appearances. Does it cause you any inconvenience in your daily life?
A lot of people think I am putting myself in danger by exposing myself in this way, but in reality, the people who recognize me most easily are people who like me, who come to support me. Most of the time I have been greeted on the street, mainly by young people. I have come across people who did not like what I had to say, but I have never been physically attacked, at most verbally. I am still a bit careful, but I do not feel any more insecure than before. As a woman, you have to be on your guard anyway and my activism did not change much. So I have not changed my habits.
What motivates you in your fight? Is it religious faith or your patriotic feelings, or maybe something else?
I have several motivations. There is indeed a religious aspect that I transpose into the defense of our culture, our heritage. My Catholic faith can help me in this struggle. As a Catholic, you have more optimism and hope because you know you are not alone. However, I do not put my faith forward as an argument because I know that France is very dechristianized. Nevertheless, I see that there is a feeling of attachment to our culture, our tradition impregnated with Christianity, in the population, and it is to these feelings that I appeal. Moreover, I had an education that transmitted traditional values and love for my country. I went to Catholic schools where I was taught respect for our ancestors and a good knowledge of our history.
My other motivation is the sense of urgency generated by the situation in France, which I find disturbing. I do not want my daughters to have to wear the veil one day, or my little sister to be assaulted in the street. The future belongs to the youth. We are the generation that will bear the brunt of our elders’ disastrous policies and choices or their lack of engagement in politics. I refuse to pass this burden on to the next generation and I am trying to improve our future lot because we are the ones who will have to face all these problems. A lot of older people are supporting us but I do not think they will go through as much as we will have to. I would like at all costs to avoid the civil war that could happen if France’s immigration policy does not change. I refuse to become a minority in France. It is unimaginable and unbearable for me to think that the French could become a minority in their own country within a few decades.