Across France, the the far-right group Generation Identity (GI) has stirred unrest and hatred, with their violent sentiments recently having manifested in an attack on a young woman in Lille, France. An undercover reporter for Al Jazeera’s investigative unit filmed the assault, in which three men are shown to have assaulted the woman after she is heard using Arabic slang.
The violence was broadcasted in Al Jazeera’s two-part documentary, Generation Hate, released last December. Following the documentary’s release, the three perpetrators associated with GI have been arrested and charged with aggravated assault.
Since the incident, a single name has come forth: Remi Falize. According to Al Jazeera, the Lille prosecutor’s office initially kept the names of the men confidential, but a local TV station, France 3, later revealed Falize as one of the assailants. A prominent figure at GI’s Flanders branch, Felize was seen to have struck the victim four times on her head while wearing gloves reinforced with hard plastic. Immediately following the assault, he then boasted about his actions to Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter and commented, “Girl or no girl, I don’t give a f***, she’s just an Arab.”
For Felize, this incident of violent hatred is not isolated. According to Al Jazeera, he was filmed stating that, should he ever be diagnosed with a terminal illness, “… he would go to Lille’s Wazemmes market and ‘sow carnage’ against Muslims.” Felize’s actions and threats reflect a far-right ideology that is quickly spreading its tendrils across Europe. According to Al Jazeera, GI is only “one of Europe’s fastest growing and most prominent far-right movements.”
Felize and the two other men are due to appear in court on May 10, and are expected to receive a light or otherwise insignificant sentence. The French court would thereby be sending a dangerous message to far-right radicals across Europe — that violent and racist actions are permissible, and perhaps, are even supported by those in power.
According to Al Jazeera, their investigation has “revealed evidence of close links between identitarian activists and key figures in Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, which has since changed its name to the National Rally.” Al Jazeera suggests that GI has not only established links with Le Pen’s party, but infiltrated it in an attempt to shape its policies. Aurelien Verhassel, the 34-year-old leader of GI Lille, may have played a crucial role in cultivating a relationship with the National Rally. In secretly-filmed footage shown in Generation Hate, Verhassel claims he wrote speeches for leaders of the National Rally, and was revealed to have ties to Le Pen’s aide — in particular, Sebastien Chenu.
In the documentary, two National Front members of the European Parliament, Christelle Lechevalier and Sylvie Goddyn, are shown visiting GI Lille’s headquarters, the Citadelle bar whom Verhassel is the manager of, and expressing support for GI.
Though there exists worrying evidence of ties between GI and the National Rally, GI’s actions are not without consequences, and the organization has received pushback within Lille. According to Al Jazeera, the Socialist Party mayor of Lille, Martine Aubry, had been disturbed by the documentary’s revelations and called for the Citadelle to be shut down. However, even if the mayor’s request is realized and the three perpetrators receive an appropriate sentence, GI’s presence in Lille is yet unlikely to be quashed, as the movement has established a strong basis of power across France, and its influence only continues to grow.