La Radicalisation violente d’extrême droite dans la France de l’après-13 novembre

Fernand Léger

Tableau de Fernand Léger (collection Rosenberg)

Le programme “Transnational History of the Far Right” menée par Marlène Laruelle (et auquel participent divers contributeurs de #FTP) publie une nouvelle note sur la plateforme de l’Illiberalism Studies ProgramNicolas Lebourg y analyse les processus de radicalisation violente à l’extrême droite dans la France de l’après 13 novembre.

On November 13, 2015, jihadist attacks on multiple sites across Paris (the Bataclan concert hall, restaurant terraces, and the Stade de France) left 131 people dead and 413 injured. The following February, Dabiq, Daesh’s French-language magazine, called for attacks on members of the French far right.[1] French police and intelligence services feared a second front would open, with a possible shift to violence by right-wing radicals, that would drag the country into a cycle of attacks and reprisals. Certainly, the phenomenon of far-right terrorism involves only a small number of people: out of 611 people jailed for terrorism in France in 2018, 505 were detained for belonging to jihadist networks and 28 for belonging to the militant far right.[2]

Yet the memory of the civil war during the decolonization of Algeria (1954–1962) and the terrorism of the French far-right Organisation armée secrète (Secret Army Organization, OAS*)[3] came to haunt current events, especially as two new clandestine groups were dismantled in 2017-2018.[4] The first adopted the name OAS[5] and was essentially limited to Marseille, France’s second-largest city and capital of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region. In June 2017, OAS’ ten or so members, teeming with rough-hewn designs of violent action, were arrested. A year later, the French services dismantled another group, L’Action des Forces Opérationnelles (Operational Forces Action, AFO) and arrested a dozen of its members after they tested grenades in the forest. A less geographically circumscribed entity, AFO had far more accomplished structures and plans, and attracted attention due to the demographic profile of its activists, who were largely senior citizens and had often previously served as policemen or soldiers.

While there are many differences between the OAS and AFO, both harbor a dream of taking revenge on what they see as Islam’s aggression. Although their desire for violent action makes these groups marginal, they nevertheless say a lot about France today and the normalization of radicalization that is taking place there. To date, France has seen very few far-right “lone wolf” acts. Those that have taken place include: a former Unité Radicale (Radical Unity, UR)[6] militant who was arrested for wanting to carry out a kamikaze attack on a mosque in 2003; a soldier who was arrested for planning to open fire on another mosque in 2013; and a former soldier who was arrested on suspicion of preparing an attack on a synagogue in 2020.

The documents used here to study OAS and AFO are of two kinds—that is, they pertain to two corpuses of legal documents in French law. The first is those documents in police and intelligence service archives that require special access, as defined by the Code du patrimoine (Heritage Code). A researcher may access these archives after taking an oath to evaluate the information contained in them in such a way as to respect individuals’ privacy and to not undermine either national defense or state security. Documents from ongoing investigations are of course not yet archived. The second set of documents is comprised of information relating to the machinations of individuals, the OAS, and the AFO that is contained in police and intelligence service material. Access to these documents is provided for in the Code of Criminal Procedure under the law on the secrecy of sources in the press.

I have chosen to use these documents subject to a particularly stringent twofold constraint. First, I apply the same restrictions as those laid down in the oath of special access, which implies that no mention is made of members of the forces of law and order or of the investigating authorities. Second, I have opted to strengthen individuals’ protection and the presumption of their innocence by anonymizing them, including those whose names have already appeared in the media, and not attributing their quotations in footnotes. The militants are named by the first letter of the name of their organization and then by a number simply referring to their order of appearance in the text. To avoid cross-referencing by readers, I have opted for simple invisibility and employed no nomenclature whatsoever in several passages.

Based on these unique documents, it is possible to 1) situate the OAS within the long view of far-right violence in France; which enables us to both 2) better understand the dynamics of radicalization at work among AFO activists in 2015 and 3) update our understanding of the paths and principles of far-right violent radicalization.

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[1] Dar al-Islam, no. 8, February 2016.

[2] French Senate, Menace terroriste : Pour une République juste mais plus ferme, report no. 639, July 4, 2018, p. 154.

[3] The OAS* bomb attacks are estimated to be between 9,000 and 12,000 in number. They have left 1,500 dead and 5,000 injured in Algerian counties and 71 dead and 394 injured within metropolitan territory. Here, the terrorism between separatists of the Mouvement National Algérien and the Front de Libération Nationale killed 3.957 people, wounding a further 10,223. See Anne-Marie Duranton-Crabol, Le Temps de l’OAS (Brussels: Complexe, 1995) 141–4; Rémy Vallat, “Un tournant dans la ‘Bataille de Paris’: l’engagement de la Force de police auxiliaire (20 March 1960),” Outre-mers 91, no. 342–343 (2004): 321–44.

[4] The French security forces’ doctrine of preventive action allows for arrests before the perpetration of planned violent actions.

[5] To distinguish between the two OASes, I write this particular OAS’ acronym without an asterisk.

[6] In July 2002, the state disbanded Unité Radicale (UR) after one of its militants shot at President Chirac, alleging that he was a “ZOG (Zionist Occupation Government)  agent,” though this militant was also connected with a far-right militant from the Zionist far right for whom Chirac was an agent of Eurabia—an analogical but this time Islamophobic conspiracy theory. See Dominique Albertini and David Doucet, La Fachosphère (Paris: Flammarion, 2016), pp. 95–128. The young leaders of the UR established the Identitarians, a network that centered on Islamophobia, a rejection of multi-ethnic society, and that jettisoned references to fascism and anti-Zionism.