France's far-right groups have benefited from the media attention around the six-month protest against gay marriage. Alexandre Gabriac, a 22-year-old nicknamed the media's "favourite fascist," is their rising star.
France's far-right groups have benefited from the media attention around the six-month protest against gay marriage. Alexandre Gabriac (pictured first left), a 22-year-old nicknamed the media's "favourite fascist," is their rising star.
The six-month protest against the gay marriage bill (which became law on May 18) has turned the spotlight on a handful of far-right groups, more radical than Marine Le Pen’s National Front party. Alexandre Gabriac is their rising star.
Gabriac is young and camera friendly, boasts Facebook and Twitter accounts with thousands of followers, and was elected to France’s Rhones-Alpes regional council in March 2010. At 22, Gabriac is the new face of the radical far-right, head of a group called Jeunesses Nationalistes (Nationalist Youth).
Despite his young age, Gabriac already has nearly a decade of experience in far-right politics. He started off in the ranks of the National Front at the age of 13. In 2011, he first made headlines when Marine Le Pen kicked him out of the party after a photo of Gabriac doing the Nazi salute, or as he called it, “a picture with my right arm up in the air”, surfaced online.
On Sunday, he and his group, along with representatives of other right-wing movements, are gathering for yet another anti-gay marriage demonstration in Paris. Even though the bill became law last week, conservatives and far-right groups will gather to offer what may be a final cry of disapproval. But for Gabriac, Sunday is more about protesting against President François Hollande and the political system as a whole.
Sunday’s rally: not just about same-sex marriage
“I’m realistic; the demonstration won’t change things, the law was passed and though there have been cases of laws being repealed, I doubt that will happen and there is little we can do now,” Gabriac told FRANCE 24 in a phone interview. “What’s important for us on Sunday is to show that there are a number of people who are just fed up with the political system.”
People want to see more radical action, Gabriac said. “They don’t want the pink balloons and t-shirts anymore, they want action.” His group already had more than 1,000 members, but the debate around same-sex marriage has helped them recruit hundreds more.
“There are youth out there starting to turn towards us,” Gabriac continued, adding that even he was surprised by the growing interest.
Therein lies the rub. The more attention the media devotes to radical groups opposed to same-sex marriage, the more attention they generate. In Gabriac, the media seems to have found the perfect protagonist.
'The most important thing is that you talk about me'
A law student with a rugby-player allure, Gabriac is a witty young man who knows what to say when the camera is pointed at him. It's a talent he mastered nearly ten years ago, when he started his political activism with the National Front. “I’ve been in the Front since I was 13,” he said, “so let’s just say I’ve got a little experience now.”
In a previous anti-gay marriage demonstration a member of the right-wing UMP party tried to kick him out of a march, claiming Gabriac’s presence was sending the wrong message and causing a kerfuffle. “I thanked him later,” Gabriac said with a laugh, “because of him the cameras were turned on us.”
In late April 2013, he was even arrested during an anti-gay marriage protest and later found to be wearing a hidden microphone, causing police to accuse Canal Plus, the TV network involved, of collaborating with Gabriac.
Last week, France 2 television show Complement d’enquête followed him for several days. They visited his studio flat in Lyon, “a mini-museum of fascism,” said the reporter.
The camera crew also went to secret night meetings with him, and followed him to a demonstration. On the web, his television appearances are often followed by comments of viewers expressing their disgust with seeing a young Frenchmen take such a radical turn.
But for Gabriac, born in 1990 and raised in the 2.0 era, there is no such thing as bad publicity, and he quotes his “political mentor” and former FN leader and father of Marine, Jean-Marie Le Pen: “Talk about me in a good way or talk about me in a bad way, the most important thing is that you talk about me.”
A media-savvy digital native
And because of the Internet, Gabriac and other groups don’t need to rely on cameras to get their propaganda out. “We have our own media now,” he said.
Last week on Twitter, he thanked Liberation for their article, and acknowledged Schneidermann for doing “exactly what the journalist bemoans in his piece”: giving Gabriac more press.
On Facebook, for nearly 4,600 subscribers, he posts the YouTube videos of his every TV appearance, articles that are written about him and calls for support at rallies, but also quotes Erasmus or Léon Degrelle, a Belgian Nazi politician.
Since being kicked out of the National Front, Gabriac has managed to keep himself in the political spotlight. He remains a “non-affiliated” member of the Rhône Alps regional council.
Surfing the far-right media wave
The protest against gay marriage has revealed a new fracture in the French right-wing, between conservatives and revolutionaries, with some UMP partisans separating from Catholic conservatives, and both distancing themselves from National Front supporters. But the division has also shed light on marginal, previously unknown radical groups that are starting to show their popularity and strength.
“These groups are making the most of the media attention surrounding the National Front, but without changing their views. They aren’t trying to seduce people like the National Front is,” Magali Balent, senior research fellow on extremism in Europe and the far-right wing idealogy at the International Institute for International Relations and Strategies (IRIS), told FRANCE 24.
Gabriac agreed. “A majority of young people are tired of the fluctuating political discourse from Frijide Barjot or even Marine Le Pen. Our stance hasn't changed,” he said.
And the media, said Balent, cannot be considered responsible for their success. “The themes you find in the far-right’s discourse are themes that a part of the public agrees with and that reflect our society’s preoccupations, therefore the media report on what the public is interested in,” Balent said, recalling the 6 million votes Marine Le Pen earned in the 2012 presidential election, and adding that the smaller radical groups have benefited from that mediatisation. “Sure, the radicalised groups make the most of the media’s attention, but they remain small, and their views are still much more
More often than not, their appearances in radical, with a revolutionary attitude.”demonstrations end in clashes. “We prefer direct action,” Gabriac said, “but let’s not confuse that with violence.” Rather than violence, he says, he prefers determination. He denounces police brutality, claiming that the police are the ones starting the clashes. On Friday, he posted a statement on Facebook asking all police forces to call in sick for the demonstration on Sunday, along with a picture of him being manhandled by officers.
“The media attention around gay marriage has allowed us to be visible on a national level”, Gabriac said.
But after Sunday, radical groups will have to find another bandwagon to jump on, and Gabriac mentioned the foreigners’ right to vote issue.
In any case, he said, the gay-marriage debate allowed the country to see a part of the population that is waking up, and that’s the part of the population he wants to enlist.
“We want to be the funnel for that generation of young people who are boiling with rage,” he said.