This article explores the ways antisemitism reemerged in contemporary France as a response from reactionary, nationalist and ultra-conservative movements to what they deemed civilizational dangers and how, in turn, this response allowed the alliance of movements that seemed, at first, ideologically opposed. This baffling and worrisome reemergence requires an analytical framework that is both sociological and historical if we are to understand how, on the one hand, antisemitism, racism, and antifeminism were imbricated and how, on the other hand, this imbrication has shaped the reactionary resistance to the principle and practice of the equality of rights in contemporary France.1
These movements, especially those mobilized against the 2013 Mariage Pour Tous (“Marriage for All”) law in France, were structured around fantasies of “otherness” that crystallized around figures of Jewishness and homosexuality.2 Such fantasies have a long history: antisemitism has defined itself in contrast to an imagined and feared otherness since at least the second half of the nineteenth century (Poliakov 1994; Joly 2011). At different moments in the twentieth century (especially during the 1930s and World War Two), antisemitic rhetoric presented “the Jew” as an abject figure, necessarily foreign and uprooted, whose own body signified gender disorder and sexual perversion (Sanos 2013).
While antisemitic discourse has been a constant feature of debates of otherness that have circulated within Western societies since the end of the nineteenth century, it is especially important to see how antisemitism is shaped through sexist, antifeminist, and homophobic discourses (Rodriguez and Benbassa 2002; Favret-Saada and Contreras 2004; Allal 2006). Together, these categories of meaning shape the construction of national identity. Such connections have not been explored within the contemporary context, and yet, such an analysis remains urgent if we are to grasp them not as separate expressions of fantasies of otherness but, in fact, as imbricated categories of meaning that have structured these French reactionary movements and ideas. Antisemitism both founds and gives shape to discourses over the last few years against the Marriage for All legislation and what has been referred to as “gender theory.”
These debates and controversies, which embody a specifically French tension between equality and republicanism, reveal how, depending on demographic and historical contexts, the republican contract has been built upon the exclusion of particular categories of individuals. Indeed, this is why policies that are focused on sexuality and gender equality are at the heart of “the national question” and are imbricated in the very way social relations have been racialized in contemporary France.
This essay, situated at the crossroads of sociology of social movements and gender, offers an analysis that focuses on three related themes. The first focuses on the resurgence of antifeminism among nationalist and conservative groups. This is hardly novel: as historians and political philosophers have shown, fear of women’s emancipation has always structured conservative and nationalist politics (Muel-Dreyfus 1996; Fraisse 2000; Sanos 2013). The wartime Vichy regime, for instance, promoted the kind of antifeminism that had first circulated during the interwar years (Bard 1999), and became a cornerstone of its legislative efforts to remake the nation. While these antifeminist movements rely on various arguments and practices (including violence), they have also relied on the images, symbols, and stereotypes that fictionalize sexual difference and women’s inferiority in literature and cinema.
In the contemporary context, such discourses offer a naturalized and essentialized understanding of femininity, masculinity, and the family as the foundation of the “eternal nation”. When this ideological construction has been challenged by feminist activists and scholars, it is often then derided as being Jewish. But what is striking in contemporary nationalist and conservative rhetoric is the way it has focused on the cross-pollination of three supposedly “natural” foundations of civilization: gender norms, family status, and heterosexuality. All three, it is claimed, are in need of restoration.
If we analyze these movements as social movements, writ large, we can grasp how the range of actors fashion identities through their challenge to social hierarchy and order (Pigenet and Tartakowsky 2012). Building on a critical approach to the sociology of social movements allows a broader understanding of the ways contemporary antisemitism can only be grasped when we consider its imbrication within a post-colonial context both in France and in Europe. While studies on the question of sexual minorities, gender, and racism has flourished in the last few years, few studies have offered an intersectional analysis that may shed light on the role of antisemitism in these reactionary groups. Nor has the scholarship explored the relationship between antisemitism and antifeminism among these groups. However, focusing on the ideological role and political effects of antisemitism sheds light on the seemingly baffling alliances forged between very different political groups, from the National Front to Egalité et Réconciliation.3 While they agree in their fierce opposition to Islam and homosexuality, it is their ideological construction of gender roles, sexual difference, and sexuality that are foundational to the social order that has cemented their political alliance.
A second analytical focus will explore how antisemitism circulates in public discourse (actors, organizations, networks, political organizations, and media) and how it takes shape through the concept of gender and the elaboration of a fantasy of “gender theory” that allows its propagation and even, at times, its institutionalization. Indeed, few have asked why and how denunciations of “gender theory” have tended to overwhelmingly invoke and rely on references to Judaism, Jewishness, and (fantasized) Jewish figures. In the same manner, few have analyzed how such a turn to “gender” as undoing social order has allowed the reinvention of antisemitic ideas and fantasies. Lastly, we examine how these ideas resonate and are given life in these reactionary groups through invoking conspiracies, which in turn legitimize them via a paranoid vision of the world.
The term, concept, and idea of “gender” has been a particularly effective tool of mobilization. The references, on reactionary French websites and in movements, to its English form “gender” rather than the less widely used (French term) “genre”, act as a rhetorical tool designed to emphasize its “foreign and thus threatening” nature (Bereni and Trachman 2014, 6). Since the early 2000s, the insistent invocation of the Anglophone term “gender” has been systematically deployed by Catholic intellectuals in their opposition and denunciation of public claims in favor of (gender and sexual) equality, such as with the Marriage for All legislation. While both fantasies of gender and antisemitism have always circulated internationally, they have always redefined national identity (Perreau 2014; Case 2015). “Gender theory,” which is more often than not, associated with Jewish intellectual figures, has thus become a privileged tool in the restoration of a weakened Catholicism. At the same time, it provided a focus (and explanation) for the anxieties experienced by the young generations (whose parents were formerly colonized North African and African subjects); these young people point out that there are governmental policies dealing with “issues” that do not concern them (gender and sexuality) and from which they themselves are excluded since they still suffer from economic and political marginalization. All of these developments have contributed to the reemergence of antisemitism under a new guise.
These beliefs function through the circulation of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories have emerged, especially in times of crisis, throughout history, as evidenced by the Black Plague during the Middle Ages, the 1789 French Revolution, or the 1929 economic crisis. The increasing numbers of (economic, social, and political) crises that have afflicted the Western world in recent decades have favored the reemergence of conspiracy theories. The increasing valorization of liberal individualism in the contemporary world as well as the end of political and historical utopias anchoring political belonging have brought about a sense of loss of control in the face of such crises. Indeed, as political theorist Pierre-André Taguieff has explained, such an “absence of control leads to a visceral need for order, even if that order is imaginary” (2013, 34). This perceived need finds expression in an increase of rituals, superstitions, and even “conspiracy theories” that provide an answer to this state of being. In this context, chance is “usually an undesirable and inadmissible host in human thought especially in the face of hardship” (Bronner 2007, 64). Consequently, such “conspiracy theories” provide meaning to what seems to have none because they offer totalizing explanations for the word and feeling of exclusion (Taguieff 2005; Bronner 2013). Similarly, in the movements that opposed the same-sex marriage law, these conspiracy theories designate an enemy who is believed to wish for the destruction of civilization. Taguieff (2005) has shown how conspiracy theories that were previously favored by far-right ideologies have circulated more widely, thereby allowing alliances between opponents to the law that may have seemed, at first, unlikely to agree. How then, have policies for sexual and gender equality become the opportunity for the reemergence of antisemitism in French reactionary and nationalist movements?
The inclusion of gender equality in educational programs has been one of the objectives of European and French policies since 1989.4 With the larger aim of preventing violence against women, these educational programs designed to support gender equality insist upon the constructed nature of gender roles and stereotypes. In the same manner and, as a result of the extension of legal rights for gays and lesbians, these programs are designed to highlight and prevent discrimination against sexual minorities. However, it is important to remember that, as Paternotte (2011) has shown, such extension of gay and lesbian rights and recognition of democratic equality has not followed the same trajectory throughout Europe and, as a result, public and popular reactions have varied. Although mobilizations against “gender” (or gender equality) and same-sex marriage are not specific to France since they have also occurred in Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and beyond, there is nonetheless something particular to the French context which may explain why the Manif pour Tous (“Protest for Everyone”) movement has been so successful there.5 The Manif pour Tous movement succeeded in forcing the Hollande government to back down on a number of issues, which included artificial insemination of lesbian couples, the recognition of transgender rights, and the official state education programs on gender equality and against gender stereotypes (ABCD de l’égalité).6 The movement also successfully prevented any discussion of a number of ethical issues such as surrogacy and euthanasia and managed to build a very vocal and public political presence of the kind never seen before (Paternotte, van der Dussen, and Piette 2015, 13).
The controversies that emerged around questions of gender and sexuality, marriage reform, and reproductive rights became the opportunity for new alliances that, in turn, reshaped the very framework of public debates and political mobilization, notably through the successful dissemination of views against the Marriage for All legislative project. As reactionaries and the far right came together, their successful influence on public debate led to a transformation of the French political map. This article will therefore examine the ways the Manif pour Tous activists defined themselves. How did they reshape the public sphere? How were they able to establish but also impose new institutional and political configurations and remap civil society? Indeed, studies on negationism (Poliakov 1994; Fresco 1999, 2008; Igounet 2000) and on far-right movements (Camus and Monzat 1992) has shown how these alliances have in fact emerged out of coherent and long-standing movements that crystallize around public events such as demonstrations or court hearings. The Manif pour Tous is nothing more than another incarnation of this long-standing mobilization.
It is therefore important to grasp how the convergence of political extremes and reactionary movements must be understood within a longer historical trajectory. Only such a historically minded analysis can make sense of the apparently baffling appropriation by these far-right and reactionary groups of traditionally leftist vocabulary and visual rhetoric. For this appropriation reveals how certain ideas, groups, and individuals are normalized within the public sphere and highlights the blindness of a large part of the French left, to the reemergence of antisemitic and homophobic beliefs within its own constituency.
Antifeminism and Antisemitism: How Ideas and Norms Circulate in Political Discourse
This renewed form of antisemitism can be said to have emerged out of a fear that gender equality has become the constitutive principle of a social order now “altered” by the extension of same-sex marriage rights and parenting. The contemporary transformations of the (conjugal) family and with it, its challenge to the supposedly natural and foundational role of heterosexuality and gender complementarity have led to profound anxiety on the part of same-sex marriage opponents: they are afraid of the loss of social cohesion and social order. This social panic, which fears both the dissolution of gender roles and the equality of men and women, has been coupled with a resurgence of antisemitism. Such a phenomenon is, in itself, hardly new. It reveals a reconfiguration of the imbrication of antisemitism and antifeminism in the ways these reactionary movements have invented a “theory of gender” that they argue threatens the very foundations of social order.
How was “Gender Theory” Invented?
The formulation “gender theory” began circulating as early as 2010 in both political discourse, as well as in traditional and social media, and quickly became widely used in France. Polemical interventions on the topic of “gender” first appear in 2011, particularly around new biology, anatomy, and natural sciences textbooks.7 When these were first adopted, a few Catholic teachers publicly expressed reservations as they feared having to teach “gender” in classrooms. These concerns, however, remained limited though they were met with academic responses. Public debate over this issue erupted fully in 2012 when widespread mobilization took place in the face of the proposed Taubira law granting the right to marriage for same-sex couples. Even then, the obsession with the menacing specter of “gender” did not disappear from public debate. Not did violent reactions to it. For instance, 2 years later, in 2014, when demonstrations took places in opposition to both the Taubira law and the gender equality ABCD de l’égalité programs, posters, commentaries and denunciations flooded social media claiming “We want sex, not gender” “Equal and different. Stop gender ideology in school” or “Our differences cannot be erased.” Whether in demonstrations or parodies on social media, these pronouncements declared their attachment to traditional gender roles. One poster summed it up: the headline in pink letters claims “Do not touch our gender stereotypes” above two blue figures holding hands – a fairy and a musketeer.8
A Manif pour Tous digital book, entitled “Gender Ideology” and published in 2013, explains that, “gender ideology is destructive, obscurantist, antisocial and antipopular just as it is antinatural.” These assertions, however, have not circulated unopposed: since 2014, a number of scholars have tried to respond to this media surge with the publication of rebuttals designed to clarify the distinction between the concept of gender and filiation as well as to defend the rights of gays and lesbians in the name of equality.9
These attacks on “destructive” and “antisocial” “gender ideology” find their origin in the Catholic Church’s mobilization especially during the United Nations (UN) conferences in Cairo (1994) and Beijing (1995). Indeed, this is when the UN officially began using the term and concept of gender in order to analyze inequalities between men and women. At the same time, policies regarding reproductive and sexual rights were being decided and implemented as part of a larger effort to realize full equality. The Vatican clearly opposed these developments as it feared the official recognition of homosexuality and same-sex parenting, which it still considered to be “pedophilia” (Buss and Didi 2003).
From this moment on, the Vatican devised a counterstrategy centered on the idea of “gender ideology” that fueled subsequent mobilizations. According to this discourse, gender amounts to a wide-ranging ideological project designed by feminist, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists and scholars of gender and sexuality. It also amounts to the “matrix of state forms that the Church condemns, [namely]: contraception, abortion, civil union, “homosexual marriage,” sexual education, “gender mainstreaming” and fight against gender-based violence, etc.” (Paternotte, van der Dussen, and Piette 2015, 11). This ideological framework allowed the paradoxical alliance between political projects that seemed at first antithetical. Relying on their belief in conspiracy, these actors claimed that the assault upon gender difference and sexual complementarity carried within it a revolutionary anthropological project that would end humanity through the inversion or dissolution of sexual and gender difference (Peeters 2013).
The Catholic Church and these social media activists have been unrelenting in denouncing a threat that they argue has remained invisible yet constantly at work in contemporary politics and that, they insist, may be even more dangerous than Marxism (Anatrella 2011). Through their appropriation of concepts such as “gender” and “feminism” that became part and parcel of their rhetoric, they hoped to reveal the “totalitarian dimension” of “gender ideology” in order to encourage communities “to resist this political project that is being silently imposed by a global elite through international institutions such as the UN, the European Council and the European Union (Paternotte, van der Dussen, and Piette 2015, 15). Some of these Church theorists denounced what they identified as a “postcolonial” discourse, which they insisted amounted to Western construction imposed upon African populations. Over the last 10 years, this framework (which focused on gender) and discursive strategies (denouncing “gender ideology”) have circulated very successfully in cyberspace and have contributed to the very strong mobilization characteristic of the French context. These (political) initiatives have put Christianity at the heart of the public sphere and shaped political debate but they have done so successfully without resorting to explicitly theological or religious arguments. When it comes to Islam, for instance, Christian movements have not necessarily mobilized around the issue of gender but around the issue of terrorism and of the various “headscarf” affairs that have emerged in France since the late 1990s. Overall, these groups protest a social contract anchored in the recognition of gender and sexual equality (Laufer and Rochefort 2014).
How Anti-Gender Discourses Circulate
The main activist groups that became visible in 2014 organized and expressed themselves on blogs, websites, with calls for demonstrations, activist meetings, songs, and articles against a “unique enemy” – “gender” – that took on many shapes. So-called experts were called upon to explain to a literal and virtual public how “gender” embodied all the ills of the contemporary world since it transformed the family, gender relations, reproduction, and filiation. They argued that the figure of “the gay” and “the lesbian”, that is of “the homosexual” would undo and destroy “the traditional and heterosexual family.” For instance, in a 2014 issue of the magazine L’héritage (“Inheritance”), the front page showed the outline of a man in rainbow flag colors (the symbol of the LGBT movement since the 1980s) firing upon a nuclear and heterosexual family with the slogan “Qui veut la fin de la famille?” (“Who wants the end of the family?”).10
Another activist group that has been especially visible both online and in the public sphere is the Hommen.11 They organized performances of counter-masculinity in order to denounce the threat embodied by gay masculinity. Their actions, termed “naked testicles,” attacked the alleged “counter virility” of gay men and the manner in which they embodied a perversion of gender identity. Videos of their performances have circulated widely online. With other groups such as the SOS Papa (“SOS Daddy”), they call for the improvement of the masculine condition under attack by “gay marriage” with slogans like “neither gigolo nor subjected” or “stop to the harassment of men.”
Most striking was the circulation in 2012 of a photomontage on the Egalité et Réconciliation website. This montage borrows the famous photo taken during the repression of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto insurrection as the ghetto was being “liquidated.”12 The photo, which shows a young Jewish boy with arms raised, has become one of the most well known images of Nazi repression during the Second World War and has often been used to signify the genocide of European Jews. In the Egalité et Réconciliation montage, the photo is juxtaposed to another mimicking its composition: a young child is also in the foreground with arms raised but, this time, holding a placard that reads: “Dick in the arse or not, we want equal rights.” This child is supposedly demonstrating for same-sex marriage and for the legal recognition of same-sex parenthood. However this photo is itself a fake since the child shown never carried such a placard. It had, in fact, been carried by adults during a demonstration organized by the queer organization The Pink Panthers (which ended in 2008). By juxtaposing these two photos through the almost identical bodily postures of both children – and both boys – the authors of this propaganda montage clearly establish a parallel between Nazi persecution then and “homosexual threat” today. The photomontage clearly suggests that children of gay and lesbian couples are endangered by egalitarian policies on filiation since gay and lesbian families bring about sexual degeneration. Children, the post argues, must be protected against a homosexual order that threatens their very existence.
In this manner, the conservative model of the family is opposed to the republican and egalitarian model guaranteeing protection to all its citizens, irrespective of their social, religious, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. For opponents to same-sex marriage, this republican protection is a distortion of equality. These beliefs are further buttressed by the JRE and Civitas websites.13 Indeed, the president of Civitas and Belgian far-right activist, Alain Escanda, organized a series of conferences on the theme of the danger of “gender theory”.
Similarly, the founder of the JRE also organized a series of conferences in 2014 on the “decadent nature” of “gender theory.” They are not the only instances of virulent expression of opposition to same-sex marriage legislation. Graffiti and a number of demonstrations, especially in humanities and social sciences universities, have further publicized this opposition. These protests mobilize fantasies of the “Other,” such as the Jew, the lesbian, the gay and the Freemason, held responsible for the dissemination of “gender theory.”
These fantasies are hardly new and find their origin in the long history of antisemitism (Poliakov 1994; Joly 2011) dating back to the second half of the nineteenth century (especially for France and Germany). Indeed, Jews were the predominant figure of the “Other”. They were deemed abject, foreign to French soil and their bodies incarnated gender disorder and sexual perversion (Sanos 2013). We can see how this imagery is still at work in reactionary discourses. During the October 5, 2014 demonstration, posters featured a long list of prominent male political and intellectual figures, some of whom are Jewish.14 Next to these posters were others stating that “Europeans were destined to become Negroid bastards” or “Here is the future elite of Jews and Khazars.”15 A few days later, in the town of Toulouse in the south of France, the walls of a secular and multicultural organization, which housed the LGBT center, were graffitied with homophobic and antisemitic slogans, Celtic crosses and Nazi swastikas.
How Religious Consensus is Made
In many ways, it is not a surprise to find different religious authorities hostile to homosexuality while practitioners are often less adamant and forceful in condemning it. Catholic authorities in large part supported the Manif pour Tous and most of its supporters. Their official support, however, raised a number of internal debates and dissent grassroots religious organizations. The dissent from a certain number of faithful, who were already on the margins of Catholic institutions, was silenced by Catholic authorities. For instance, the LGBT activists of the Christian organization David & Jonathan officially expressed their support for same-sex marriage in 2013 and 2014. The Church’s official statements led supporters of same-sex marriages to forge alliances with other marginal religious organizations in the media, including the Carrefour Chrétien Inclusif (“Inclusive Christian Crossroads”), the protestant organization Maison Verte (“Green house”) and Communion Béthanie (“Bethany communion”), the Jewish LGBT Beit Haverin, and the Muslim HM2F (Muslim Homosexuals in France) and the Buddhist LGBT Shinnyo. Together, they organized press releases, conferences, and online petitions.
In the meantime, Catholic religious authorities were especially eager to promote the public image of a united front and a religious consensus in order to render invisible those Catholics in support of same-sex marriage. What political philosopher Chantal Mouffe has called the “illusion of consensus” (that could also be understood as a coercive consensus) was fabricated by religious authorities and prevented the emergence of a plurality of positions within the Catholic world. Furthermore, a number of other fundamentalist religious organizations in the Francophone worlds, such as the Evangelical Protestants, joined the Catholics in their opposition to same-sex marriage, thus contributing to the creation of a coalition of Conservative Christians (Stavo-Debauge and Roca i Escoda 2015).
Those who have mobilized in the name of religion, and especially in the name of Catholicism, against the right of same-sex couples to marry and to have children cannot be considered to be representative of most religious actors (Rochefort and Sanna 2013 and Rochefort and Sanna 2016). The exclusion and marginalization of minority groups and opinions reveal the need to question the manner in which religious coalitions are defined. Without denying the religious component of their opposition, it becomes clear that religious opponents to same-sex marriage should be defined as theologically “traditionalist,” even if that was not necessarily the label they claimed for themselves.
A similar division characterized the Muslim world; although the Union des organisations islamiques de France, the UOIF (“Union of Islamic Organizations in France”) called upon its followers to demonstrate against the Taubira law, and some Muslims were at the forefront of the February 2, 2014 demonstration alongside reactionary religious and political groups, most Muslims remained indifferent to the law.16
In fact, Muslim authorities have generally been somewhat absent from these demonstrations and have shown little interest in participating since the demonstrations have been mostly Catholic and Eurocentric (Larisse 2015). This limited interest illustrates both the minority condition of Muslim citizens and the internal debates within French Muslim institutions, especially regarding feminist and LGBT issues. As a result, the Manif pour Tous activists’ efforts to create bridges with Muslim communities and organizations have mostly failed.
In contrast to Christian groups, not a single Jewish organization has called for support of or presence alongside Manif pour Tous activists. However, in practice, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant authorities did discuss the issue and in September 2013, the Conference for Religious Authorities (which brings together different Jewish religious organizations) agreed to officially oppose the same-sex marriage legislation project irrespective of whether it is religious or civil (i.e., under the purview of the secular state). Indeed, in his December 21, 2012 speech to the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict approved France’s Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim’s condemnation of homosexuality. That same year, Bernheim published an essay titled Marriage Homosexuel, Homoparentalité et Adoption: ce Que l’on Oublie Souvent de dire [“Homosexual marriage, Homoparentality, and Adoption: What we Often Forget to Say”], which was actually largely plagiarized from the Catholic priest Joseph-Marie Verlinde’s book L’Idéologie du ‘Gender:’ Identité Reçue ou Choisie? [Gender Ideology: Chosen or Received Identity?]. Echoing Pope Francis’ as well as Alain Soral’s claims since, the book argues that the call for recognition of “homosexual marriage” is aimed at “the pure and simple destruction of marriage and family” and is designed to “dynamite the heterosexual foundations of our society.” Strikingly, Bernheim resorts to the same arguments used by the Catholic Church: he invokes a conspiracy and uses martial language to denounce same-sex marriage and parenting. Indeed, when Pope Francis berates the “powerful ideological colonization projects [that seek to impose] abnormal and irresponsible life choices,” he is clearly in agreement with Soral who argues that “homosexual marriage” is a concerted plan to damage “Greco-Christian” civilization. According to Gross (2015), Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim’s strategy until his resignation, was intended to reinforce the authority and legitimacy of his office and of the Consistory as the sole representative instance of Judaism against an increasingly pluralized Jewish religious context. On the one hand, moving closer to the Catholic Church was a decidedly institutional strategy designed to legitimize the dominant trend to speak in the name of Judaism. On the other hand, it was an individual strategy aimed at reinforcing his own personal authority within this dominant trend.
At the same time as the Chief Rabbi openly and publicly denounced homosexuality, the Mouvement Juif Libéral de France, or MJLF (“Jewish Liberal Movement of France”) refused to take a position on legal unions for same-sex couples, although it does not consider homosexuality to be contrary to a Jewish ethics. Other liberal organizations, however, did not hesitate in stating their support for same-sex marriage. This was the case of the Kehilat Gecher community overseen by Rabbi Tom Cohen who married a gay couple in 2015, or of Rabbi Pauline Bebe of the Paris Communauté Juive Libérale (“Liberal Jewish Community”) who married two lesbian couples in 2015 and 2016. In 2016, Rabbi Bebe published an essay openly challenging former Chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruk’s condemnation of homosexuality (Bebe 2016).
Feminism and Antisemitism: Modernity and Archeology of Female “Others”
Since the nineteenth century, the “stereotype of the “Jewess” was built in contrast to a national ideal of femininity that upholds masculine domination” (Allal 2006, 135). At the same time, the figure of the Jew embodied a range of negative characteristics (lecherous, dishonest, sickly, effeminate) in contrast to the masculine identity promoted by nationalist rhetoric, which celebrated a classically-inspired, Greek-style virility tasked with the reproduction of the “originary” race and of the nation. The Jew was therefore an obstacle to nationalism, insofar as he was the embodiment of a “rootless people.” These characteristics were further solidified when the figure of the Jew became associated with Communism in the twentieth century, cementing his supposedly “internationalist” character. This fantasmic figure was therefore involved as the antithesis of nationalist ideology and the masculine imaginary that supposedly embodies it. Antisemitism is a normative discourse relying on categories of gender and sexuality.
In the same period, feminism was derided by its opponents as an identity that threatened the traditional borders between femininity and masculinity. This subversion of the heteronormative underpinnings of gender and the pluralism of feminist positions question the very epistemological foundation of heterosexuality that is deemed “natural” and of the binary organization of sexual representation and practices. Because every incarnation of feminist politics entails replacing a fixed mode of thinking with one based on doubt, it opens a space of ambivalence, undecidability, and of play on the frontiers of gendered and sexual representations.
According to this imaginary, “the Jew” transgresses all borders of states, sexes, gender, and religions as well as stable categories of meaning. While antifeminism forged itself in the crucible of an unchanging mode of thinking about sexual difference and sexuality. This particular form of antifeminism first emerged to counteract first-wave feminists’ (successful) demands for rights for women at the end of the nineteenth century (such as the right to independent income, recognition of maternal authority, legal changes regarding paternal authority, the legalization of abortion, the end of underage prostitution, etc.). It often relied upon and was associated with antisemitism since this essentialist mode of thinking opposed universalist equality by singling out Jewish and feminist figures that represented modernity. This essentialist paradigm instituted differences in the world through a biological hierarchy (Thébaud 1986; Guillaumin 1993). The relationship made between fear of lack of sexual difference, hatred of lesbians and gay men, and the return of the specter of the Jew understood to embody decadence, reemerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s in France when second-wave feminism once again began mobilizing widely and publicly.
Currently, movements opposing same-sex marriage and gender studies (or “theory”) invoke sexual difference and gender complementarity as the primordial defense against a changing society where legislative efforts towards equality undo gender and sexual norms. Such legislative changes that, to them, subvert the social order, mean that sexual difference and sexual hierarchy are no longer at the heart of the paradigm of “mankind” upheld by conservative thought. Contemporary arguments strikingly echo early twentieth century discourse that shifted from a fear of gender inversion to a fear of gender undifferentiation and of the demise of normative heterosexuality. Just as the extension of models of parenthood fuels fear of social “miscegenation,” they predict the collapse of the alleged biological nature of the heterosexual family.
The relation between Jewishness and feminism, borne out of the late nineteenth century, has been reconfigured into the dual figures of the “Jew” and the “homosexual”. This recent transformation (that some have referred to as “queering” of culture) shores up the belief that ideal gender norms are being undone, which, in turn, leads to accusations of degeneration and perversion (see Depauw 2014). Within the French context of legal transformation of gender and sexual norms, otherness is perceived as both dangerous and subversive by conservative movements.
The Manif pour Tous conservative movements’ antisemitism has expressed itself in close association with antifeminism. This relationship is manifested through the deployment of a number of figures that have become the focus of their attacks.
In an image entitled “Le changement c’est maintenant” (“Now is the change”) which was widely distributed on social media by the Manif pour Tous movement, the then Education Minister Vincent Peillon is parodied as a hybrid female and male figure with photos of the then minister of women’s right, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem on “his” breasts.17 Next to “him” are the faces of Pierre Bergé (Yves Saint-Laurent’s former partner, philanthropist and entrepreneur who was, until 2013 the owner of the gay glossy magazine Têtu), François Hollande (then President), Laurent Fabius (Foreign Affairs Minister), Jack Lang (former Culture Minister and current President of the Arab World Institute), Daniel Cohn-Bendit (European Union parliamentary), Bernard Kouchner (cabinet secretary for Cooperation and Francophonie). It is hardly a coincidence that, out of the eight figures shown on the poster, six are Jewish or of Jewish origin, or gay (whether it be fact or fantasy), or both.
An article headline on the website bestofactus, associated with the JRE, promised to list the “Top 20 of the public figures the French like the least”. The article offered as an explanation for the French people’s dislike, each person’s alleged connections to Masonic, LGBT, Zionist or Jewish networks. Another instance of such obsessions can be found in the frequent articles and programs appearing on the Web, especially on the Egalité et Réconciliation website, such as the article from Claude Timmerman, a former collaborator of the Free Journal of France.18 In a conference titled “anthropocentered science,” Timmerman mocks theorists such as the philosopher Judith Butler or science theorist Anne Fausto-Sterling because they are “neurotic, lesbian, and Jewish” and are responsible for the “moral decadence of the family and [our] gender order.” These accusations resurrect the early twentieth century antisemitic stereotypes of the “Jewess” that here, invoke both the feminization of the intellectual and the virago, that embody, for men like Timmerman, the reversal and undoing of gender roles.
“Gender theory” opponents predominantly attack American philosopher Judith Butler as it representative. She has been the subject of many campaigns and boycotts every time she has given talks in France or Belgium. Some of these campaigns, which were initiated by Civitas or the Renouveau Français have been successful in preventing her from speaking. This was the case of the October 5, 2011 demonstration organized by the Renouveau Français at the University of Bordeaux and demonstrators used slogans such as “I want a mustache” “your theory is castrating me” and “I want to become a dolphin, can I?”.19 As these slogans illustrate, these groups portray Butler as the reigning queen of the gender ideology they denounce, namely as the “priestess of unbelonging and of the radical instability of extreme nominalism”. A self-titled representative of “indignant Christians” declared on his blog: “This utopia of gender epitomizes the kind of narcissistic individualism that has substituted itself to everything else in wealthy societies and that is inseparable from consumerism and an ultraliberal vision of the society. Gender embodies the lethal stage of liberalism: it contributes to the dissolution of society into individual drives that will prevent cohabitation” (De Plunkett 2012).
But why focus so obsessively on Butler, when gender studies have existed in France since the 1970s? According to Botbol-Baum (2015), her presence is troubling mostly because of the deconstructivist theory she has articulated in her works. The fantasized figure of the American theorist coalesces what philosopher Emanuel Lévinas has called “allergies to otherness” that transform into hateful discourse. “Butler” has come to embody the most dangerous form of otherness because her work and presence signify, for these reactionaries, the destruction of universalist principles of (ontological, religious, and state) authority enshrined in a law conceived as natural and unchanging. She embodies forms of otherness reviled by these movements: she is at once American, a philosopher, Jewish, lesbian, and a feminist. As these examples demonstrate, “Butler” becomes shorthand for Jewishness (associated with cosmopolitanism and the alleged desire to own the world by upending it), homosexuality, and feminism. She has been made to occupy this place because her work has been publicized in France, in contrast to French materialist feminism which has also criticized universalism and called for the subversive undoing of norms (Tabet 1998; Pheterson 2001; Mathieu 2014), but which has not enjoyed the same publicity as Butler’s work. Because of this situation, Butler is seen as the preeminent threat, subject to forms of demonization accused of undoing the “anthropological real” (Botbol-Baum 2015).
Figures of Decadence and Human Ecology
Since 2013, in blogs, campaigns, and demonstrations, essentialist discourses have systematically associated the figure of the Jew with the stereotype of the “gay [man]” that is supposedly undermining the virility that is fundamental to national identity. The association of Jewishness to perversion and degeneration has historically been part and parcel of antisemitic discourse and the ways it has evolved from the Middle Ages to the contemporary age. Under both Nazism and Stalinism, homosexuality, alongside minorities such as Jews, the Roma, and foreigners, was believed to be the symptom of social disorder and, as such, came to represent both the figure of a traitor and the agent of the nation’s dissolution (Matard-Bonucci 2001 and Tamagne 2002). These representations of decadence are invoked by opponents to same-sex marriage as evidence of the undoing of the republican social contract.
They function most powerfully when they are juxtaposed to a colonial fantasy that puts forth the derogatory stereotype of the irresponsible, violent, and destructive “black woman.” These dehumanizing discourses demonstrate how class and race are imbricated in the solidification of social hierarchies these reactionary movements proclaim. The very presence of Christiane Taubira in the government becomes the alleged justification for hatred and vilification.20 Taubira was another favorite target of attacks and caricatures. In addition to the relentless attacks leveled at Taubira, Manif pour Tous demonstrators would insult and harass her every time she was on official trips, as they did in one especially shocking instance, when they threw bananas at her and shouted “gorilla” during her October 25, 2013 trip when she was to speak on prison reform.21
These slanderous campaigns are usually accompanied by arguments founded upon an alleged “anthropological truth.” In France specifically, Manif pour Tous activists rely upon partial and tendentious psychoanalytical and anthropological interpretations in order to disseminate their arguments. This central component of their public strategy has worked especially well in a French secular context based upon a strict separation between religious institution and the secular state. In order to participate in a secular public sphere, activists have repeatedly gestured to the alleged enduring anthropologically-founded sexual difference organized into a heterosexual system, disavowing the religious underpinning of their own argument. They have also invoked the very same human sciences that they simultaneously decry in order to legitimize their arguments and oppose any evolution of civil or reproductive rights of sexual minorities. The “anthropological invocation” (Lemoine 2013) that has shaped French public debates in the name of contemporary ethics has been shared by many across the political spectrum. Most debates have relied on the works of renowned anthropologist Maurice Godelier (who argues that parenthood is structurally determined) and Françoise Héritier (who argues that sexual difference is an unchanging universal). Manif pour Tous activists have been able to build upon these discursive assumptions to oppose legal equality that, they claim, will only destroy natural law and “anthropological truth.”
The refusal to extend human rights to sexual minorities in the name of natural law is an undeniable symbolic and material violence, as it excludes those who are minority subjects from legal, political, and religious institutions (“minority” beingunderstood as a political category). Gesturing to human ecology and the preservation of human rights, opponents to both same-sex marriage and gender studies thus claim that, to avoid destroying social foundations, any reform aimed at greater legal equality must be addressed head-on and fought. This is where belief in conspiracy anchors these arguments since these same opponents explain that there is a secret feminist program that combines two “confusions:” the confusion of “gender” and the confusion brought about by “linguistic and ideological manipulation intent on abolishing “human nature” (Husson 2015, 94). They allege this secret feminist program is carried forth by contemporary feminist organizations that act as lobbying groups influencing European and national institutions. They further assert these feminist organizations are to be held responsible for all human perversions. They conclude that all of them are to be considered an enemy in the name of human ecology. As Perreau (2016b) has argued, denouncing “gender theory” enables reactionary movements to intervene in public debates by aligning their arguments upon commonly-shared public discourse: on the one hand, they can “hide” their theological origin by deploying the rhetoric of “common world.” On the other hand, they can simultaneously deploy the notion of “risk” that has been at the heart of public policy for years, as if they were invoking an environmental risk.
Conspiracy Theory as a Response to Social Inequalities
Opposition to the same-sex marriage law has resurrected the figures of the Jew and the homosexual who are imagined to embody a hidden and scheming elite. Associated with these stereotypes are antimasonic, antisatanist and antinationalist ideologies. This was made clear, for instance, when the Jours de Colère (“Days of Wrath”) demonstrations on January 27, 2014 became the occasion of slogans such as “Europe pedo criminal Zionist satanic.” During Manif pour Tous demonstrations that same month, antisemitic slogans were heard with people chanting “Jew, France is not yours” as well as insults denouncing foreigners, immigrants, gays, lesbians, and Freemasons. As sociologist Birnbaum (2015) has noted, this was a break in the norms of public sphere engagement. Indeed, this was the first time that antisemitic slogans were heard in public since the Vichy regime. Even worse, there were Nazi salutes and “quenelles” (an antisemitic gesture) during these demonstrations. But what was most striking was the silence that followed: neither the press nor scholars or politicians publicly commented.
Myths and Conspiracy Theories
These slogans, arguments, and accusations are built upon a long-standing obsession with degeneration that, since the beginning of the twenty-first century, has evolved on a moral level. The Antizionist Party founder, Yahia Gouasmi, declared, for instance, that “behind every divorce, there is a Zionist [sic].” Supremacist Kemi Seba has argued that the “aggrandizement” of homosexuality was nothing more than a “project of perversion and degeneration [babylonnisation] of society.” Alain Soral has explained that “homosexuals” have hatched a plan “attacking the very foundations of our civilization so that “people yield to a new world order that […] will destroy all morality, that is all civilization.” According to Naulleau and Soral (2013), these attacks are not the work of religion or of a race, but the work of lobbies. Lobbies “always” mean, Soral argues, “the two most powerful political lobbies in France, namely the Jewish lobby and the homosexual lobby. There are faggots everywhere.”
According to this logic, feminism is therefore the perfect tool to undermine and destroy civilization: Canadian conspiracy theorist Henry Makow wrote in his Makow book, Cruel Swindle—Feminism and the New World Order: Human Identity Attacked, that “the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds have created second-wave feminism to poison relations between men and woman (that is divide and rule). Their twin objectives are depopulation and a totalitarian world government” (Makow 2013b). The Manif pour Tous activists’ reaction to the feminist group, the Femen, further illustrates these obsessions.22 They find the Femen irritating and argue they are an integral part of the conspiracy theory they denounce. In response to their headline “Who are behind these ultra-sexist [Femen] and manipulate them,” the Egalité et Réconciliation website offered a litany of names of wealthy Jewish figures in the article. The article then explained that there was no legal action taken against the Femen’s activities in Israel because “one never attacks one’s champions?”
Even when Jews and homosexuals are not the only designated figures in these conspiracy theories, they are nonetheless made relevant though the circulation of commonly-shared beliefs in some undefined conspiracy by large portions of the French population. Indeed, according to the survey carried out by the British think-tank Counterpoint and published in the French center-left newspaper Le Monde in 2013, 51% of French people “somewhat agree” or “completely agree” with the statement that “one never knows who is pulling the strings.” Nonetheless, this statistic should be nuanced. Another survey carried out by the foundation Fondapol in 2014 showed that 16% of French people believe “there is a world-wide Zionist conspiracy” (Reynié 2014). As political theorist Pierre-André Taguieff has reminded us (2013), the aim of conspiracy theories is threefold: to identify those responsible for humanity’s unhappiness and who remain hidden in order to denounce them. To function efficiently, these multiform enemies must coalesce into one singular figure of the enemy. This is how, since 2014, the figure of the Jew has blended with that of the homosexual in most conspiracy theories. Finally, it is important, in these myths, to provoke a complete mobilization against this absolute enemy. “He” must be eliminated and only “his” elimination will free oneself.
The conspiracy theories that same-sex marriage opponents have most relied on follow similar patterns: they denounce in a number of various combinations a Jewish or Zionist elite that is at the same time gay or LGBT intent on destroying the moral (i.e., white, Christian and traditional) foundations of French society. Second, they denounce what they deem to be LGBT propaganda in schools (such as “gender theory,” the rumor that masturbation was going to be taught in schools, and the ABCD de l’égalité) as well as the after effects of the Marriage for All law (surrogacy or the legalization of adoption for gay and lesbian couples), both of which they claim are the projects of Jewish figures (or imagined to be Jewish) such as Judith Butler, the Education Minister Vincent Peillon, or even Sigmund Freud. Last, they denounce pedophile and/or Satanist networks that are, at times, associated with Jewish or homosexual elites.
A Jewish/Zionist/LGBT Elite
The Manif pour Tous demonstrations deployed a hybrid figure of the Jewish and homosexual elite. This association is a staple of Dieudonné and Alain Soral who are both openly homophobic and antisemitic. In 2011, Dieudonné released a film titled “The AntisEmite” in which Soral acted. The film (it is the story of a film made about a film about an antisemitic comedian) was prosecuted for slander but Dieudonné won the case. One of the final dialogues illustrates how this association is made. In the scene, Dieudonné, who plays the role of the comedian, can be seen talking to his acolyte, Jacky Segaux, who plays the role of Jewish actor Bernard. After having stated his hatred of homosexuality (“I can’t stand them”), he turns to Bernard and asks:
Do you have a lot of them in your community?
Us? A lot! Far too many, if you ask me… […]
Too many? Well, you also have sexually obsessed ones: Strauss-Kahn and others.
Ah yes, he is one of the best. […] I must say, we are present in all these categories. For example: pedophile!
Is that true?
Oh la la…
We never hear about it.
Well, we protect ourselves. The media… […]
I can’t stand it anymore. […] I think we should exterminate them.
The association of Jewishness with homosexuality is further solidified through its association with some form to some form of “perversion” such as pedophilia, which must then be exposed because of its (hidden) influence and (invisible) plot to undo society. In an article titled “Alain Soral analyzes homophobia in France,” Soral castigates the “degenerate Satanist pedo-criminal elites” intent on the legalization of same-sex marriage. Because of the slippage made between degeneration, perversion, homosexuality, Jewishness, Manif pour Tous activists have targeted the Jewish and homosexual figures allegedly responsible for such a law.
One of the conspiracies at work, these activists explained, was the teaching of “gender theory” in school. Farida Belghoul is the activist who, since 2014, most visibly and forcefully led the campaign against gender theory in schools, here inaugurating a novel and unlikely alliance between different political actors, namely the far-right with French citizens of immigrant origin. Belghoul was herself a teacher and had been one of the leaders of the 1980s anti-racist movement. In 2013, she was openly supported by Dieudonné and Soral and participated in the demonstrations against same-sex marriage legislation. She was even seen standing alongside the openly anti-Muslim Civitas president during a homage to French heroine Jeanne d’Arc.23 Belghoul has sought support for her cause not from a reactionary Catholic audience but from Muslim and formerly colonized people in working-class neighborhoods.
At the end of 2013, she organized the Journée de retrait de l’école or JRE (“Take your child out school”). Relying on social media and text messaging, she called upon parents to take their child(ren) out of school once a month in order to protest the teaching of “gender theory.” In order to persuade parents, she routinely pointed to articles claiming that the Ministry of Education was going to oversee the “teaching of masturbation” in kindergarten (Lesoufflet 2014). This led to almost 30% absenteeism in some schools. Indeed, according to Belghoul, the state was guilty of a crime by attempting to “spread homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality in school.”
In a video titled “the decadence of gender theory,” Belghoul called upon parents to act, asking “Are you now going to want [your] children to become LGBT?” She explained that the state was busy replacing the republican motto “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (“Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood”) with “Atheist, Illiterate, LGBT.” Unsurprisingly, she attempted to unveil these conspiracies by regularly pointing to allegedly masonic and Jewish origins of government representatives and public figures promoting this “gender theory.”
In another infamous instance, the JRE collective led by Belghoul posted a video online which accused a kindergarten teacher in the small town of Jouès-les-Tours of indecent assault on 3-year old children. It is important to note that the program for gender equality (ABCD de l’égalité) had not been implemented in this particular town, though this did not alleviate parental anxiety and did not prevent the success of JRE-engineered rumors. In the video, a woman named Dalila Hassan who introduces herself as a JRE representative, claimed to have been contacted by the Chechen mother of a young boy who had apparently been forced by his (female) teacher to undress and participate in sexual contacts with another young girl. She said that: “He explained that his teacher had pulled down his trousers, that there was also […] a little girl who had also had her trousers taken off and […] that the teacher had asked the little girl to touch his genitals and for the little boy to do the same, and then for them to kiss one another.”
She then detailed how the JRE and its founder Belghoul had revealed the incident to the school authorities who had sided with the teacher without any concern for the child’s welfare, even doubting that this had ever happened to him. The video ends with Belghoul telling viewers that “Dalida Hassan explains why she is testifying openly: “we can’t be scared of them.” Who is this “them” mentioned by Hassan? The use of this undefined pronoun illustrates how conspiracy theory is marshaled, with the slippage from the teacher and headmistress referring at the beginning of the video to a mysterious and singular enemy that might indifferently be the Ministry of Education, alleged champions of “gender theory,” leftist parliamentarians and elites, or LGBT organizations.
Over only 2 days, the video was watched 35,000 times. Removed from the site on March 31, it reappeared online on April 9 and 12 where it gathered 60,000 views. The rumor further circulated on Facebook and through emails and text messages thanks to websites closely linked to JRE, as one Muslim mother testified in an article in the Le Monde newspaper, stating that “Text messages were forwarded between mothers and the rumor started growing and became even more distorted.”24 Interestingly, this rumor came about just when the JRE movement was losing steam. The third installment of the JRE event took place on March 31, 2 days after another release of the video. A quarter of the children from the school that had been targeted by the movement stayed home. While the Jouès-les Tours school teacher and headmistress made an official complaint for slander the assistant prosecutor declared to Le Monde on April 2011 that, “To this day, I have nothing to substantiate the boy’s allegations.” The newspaper added, on the basis of judicial sources, that when “the police called the [boy’s mother] to ask her to come to the police station, it was Farida Belghoul who answered the phone.”
This affair was facilitated by the local political context at work in the town. These events unfolded as the second round of municipal elections was about to take place, on Sunday March 30. On Saturday, an anonymous and unsigned leaflet that nonetheless carried the logo of the right-wing party candidate Frédéric Augis was distributed in the mailing boxes of a disenfranchised neighborhood. The leaflet stated that “The socialist candidate Philippe Breton had already wreaked havoc on the family by allowing same-sex marriage. Since the start of the school year, they have now imposed the teaching of gender theory. I say Stop!”. According to testimonies, voters were shown the leaflet when they came to the voting booth (which is illegal in France). The next day, the right-wing candidate, who still denied any involvement with the leaflet campaign, won the election being only 200 votes ahead in a town of 300,000. The affair ended after three weeks when the boy’s mother confessed on April 15 to the “untruth of the alleged facts and the disruption they caused during an official meeting between school official and parents (Unknown 2014). Two years later, on March 24, 2016, Dalila Hassan and Farida Belghoul were tried in Tours for “slander against a public official.” Belghoul did admit that she had been present when the video was filmed. Nonetheless, both women attempted to downplay their involvement. Belghoul, who was accused of the editing and release of the video, blamed the cameraman for its upload on YouTube. Hassan declared that, “at no moment, did I state that these events had actually happened.” The court did not believe them and they were convicted to a fine on May 19, 2016. By December 13, 2015, there had been 82,542 views of the video.
This “affair” perfectly epitomizes the ways mechanisms of conspiracy theory and rumor function most effectively. Edgar Morin had already described these mechanisms in his 1969 book, La rumeur d’Orléans (“The Orléans rumor”), which detailed how the (antisemitic) white slave trade myth had taken hold in the city of Orléans. Indeed, the Joué-les-Tours rumor relies on pre-existing prejudices that were further reinforced by both a national (Manif pour Tous demonstrations against same-sex marriage) and local (municipal elections) media context. The choice of protagonists was also significant. Because she was a refugee, the Chechen mother who “testified” could embody innocence and fragility. She was also a Muslim woman whose traditions, habits, and beliefs were supposedly completely at odds with those embodied by educational programs on gender equality (Belghoul specifically targeted women in her campaign against the Ministry of Education). Last, the resonance and publicity afforded to this affair, highlights the effects of an intensive, systematic, and targeted social media campaign. As with most conspiracy theories, the very fact that they are later proven to be false in no way remedies the harm done.
Pedophile Satanist Networks
Strikingly, the same-sex marriage legislation allowed the reconfiguration of conspiracy myths that alleged the existence of satanic rituals. This myth inevitably links Jews and Freemasons whose rituals have historically been (mistakenly) associated with pedophile and/or satanic rituals. They are supposedly the work of elites such as politicians, bankers, and celebrities. In conspiracy literature, Jews or Freemasons are called “Satan’s synagogue,” a biblical reference. Already in 1893, the archbishop of Port-Louis in Brittany published a book titled “Freemasonry, Satan’s synagogue.” As Taguieff has explained, for conspiracy theorists who make these connections, it is modernity itself that is the outcome of the devil’s work. For fundamentalist Catholics, modernity is seen as a form of “judaization,” that is a form of dechristianization.
Some conspiracy theorists and supporters are therefore obsessed with identifying pedophile and Satanist networks. In France, these have appeared on the “alternative” website Méta TV, that is associated with Soral and Dieudonné; they have also been propagated by figures such as Soral acolyte and former Gothic Satanist turned “Christian missionary” Morgan Priest who regularly denounces Jewish, Freemason, and Satanist elites.25 He participated in the Jours de Colère demonstrations. Before splitting from Naulleau and Soral in 2013, self-named “free thinker” (or LLP) Salim Laïbi was also an active propagator of such rumors. In the same manner, a former police officer devoted to fighting pedophile networks that had organized his own kidnapping in 2012, Stan Maillaud (nicknamed the “white Zorro”) was another active participant in such rumors. Borrowing from unresolved cases, these men usually point to the clues left in unlikely places such as American rap or TV series. For instance, a video titled “Elites’ Pedophilia” featuring Stan Maillaud and LLP showed LLP explaining that “Stanley Kubrick showed very well [how satanic rituals work] in his film “Eyes Wide Shut.” Maillaud asked whether there was not a link between the biblical deity Moloch that demanded children’s sacrificial ritual and the Buffalo Grill restaurants, leaving even LLP bemused.
Despite the “folkloric” character of these self-titled figureheads whose audience remains marginal, it is undeniable that more and more people share these beliefs. Alain Soral himself stated in September 2011 that, “I think that global elites are carrying out a satanic project and that, in fact, those who belong to [Masonic] lodges and cults are in fact Satanic lovers,” adding that “there is Satanism [at work] among political elites.” According to him, one of Satanism’s accomplishments is the widespread practice of “criminal pedophilia” during “black masses” where “children’s sacrifice” takes place. He concludes: “these satanic elites are power.” In an article published on March 2, 2014 titled “Gender and Pedophilia: the damning proof of a Masonic and satanic conspiracy,” Laurent Glazy used two book releases to promote his own vision of homosexuality and gender equality. Glazy argued that the advocacy of “gender” was nothing more than a “satanic project” “designed to legitimate pedophilia.” According to Glauzy, the “dogma” of “gender” proposes that heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and pedophilia are all the same. This project is championed by “gay and homosexual movements” that are merely a “front for pedophile groups.” They are the foot soldiers of the Illuminati and financed by public authorities. For Glauzy, the Illuminati’s sole aim is to destroy the family (as an institution) by doing away with religion and by working through the conduits of culture and education (Walt Disney, for instance, is accused of being an Illuminati Freemason who “promoted cannibalism” and produced snuff movies). They hope to establish a New World Order by claiming allegiance to Lucifer. Glazy concludes that, “Assuredly, the world is ruled by a satanic logic, as “gender” illustrates” (Glauzy 2014).
Although a number of these conspiracy theorists gradually faded from view, in part as the result of internal quarrels, a few have remained nonetheless very active and, more importantly, their ideas have continued to circulate widely on social media thanks to younger generations. Conspiracy theory has become a rhetorical device as well as a state of mind. It provides answers to questions and certainty in the face of existential question that vary depending on the audience: the search for meaning, and the search for someone who can be held responsible for the ills and anxieties experienced in the face of social inequalities and individual doubts.
Against all odds, three years after same-sex marriage was legalized, the movements asking for its abolition have not or barely abated. Hundreds of thousands of people still campaign against access to marriage, surrogacy, and assisted reproduction for LGBT individuals and couples. This opposition has insistently focused on Jewishness and homosexuality. Not only have protests and opposition not decreased, but they have also taken place in the context of right-wing primaries in preparation for the 2017 presidential elections. The heads of Sens Commun, the political movement borne out Manif pour Tous activism, were invited to attend the debates. They did so in support of François Fillon (who ultimately won the primaries) and attended the celebrations for his victory.
As this study demonstrates, the convergence of extremist movements that were first seen as antithetical, within the opposition to the Marriage for All law is the result of two decades of ideological transformations. These organizations and movements have been able to shed their minority status in French society by turning to social media and capitalizing on an increase in populist politics. They are now determined to occupy the public sphere and to weigh in all major elections. They intend to impose new institutional and political configurations upon civil society. As David Paternotte has noted, “it is important not to consider these movements as the mere reiteration of older phenomena, nor should we believe that these are the last convulsions of antiquated political forces. Though we cannot predict the future, we must nonetheless admit that this is a novel strategy devised to respond to new challenges.” (Paternotte, van der Dussen, and Piette 2015, 15–16). In addition to contemporary expressions of antisemitism, as forms of antizionism and antiglobalization, it is undeniable that marriage reform and debates regarding reproductive rights for same-sex couples have reactivated Catholic groups’ opposition.
The political importance of these reactionary movements has surprised both political leaders and the media, who reveal they have remained somewhat blind to recent political evolutions. Indeed, a large part of the left has been convinced that antisemitism, homophobia, and antifeminism were necessarily only far-right or Catholic expressions. However, what has become clear in these last few years is that these beliefs and sentiments are shared beyond the far-right and conservative Catholics. Many who were traditionally left-wing have embraced them. Many turned to these ideas because they felt “left behind.” The fact that discussion of social equality seemed to “disappear” from mainstream debates has fueled widely-shared social anxiety. Amidst a generalized sense of social helplessness, sexual and gender conservatism provide a point of reference that promises some kind of hegemonic national consensus. This explains how this seemingly heterogeneous political coalition of fundamentalist Catholics, Manif pour Tous activists, and opponents to “gender theory” has been able to occupy public discourse and legitimate itself as a significant political force in a secular republican state. Their arguments have since been appropriated by many of the political elected leaders, activists, and sympathizers of the official right-wing party, the Republicans.
Nonetheless, this is a novel phenomenon that was crystallized in 2014 with new political actors little used to public debates. The reactionary discourse that has emerged from the far-right and seduced many beyond them, is now being harnessed to help convince many individuals from immigrant and/or working-class communities. Alain Soral declared “It’s not the proletarians who clamor for […] same-sex marriage […] it’s those parasitic bourgeois Badinter-style.” (Naulleau and Soral 2013, 31). As a result, economically disenfranchised young people of postcolonial migrant origin can turn to such arguments in order to counter the generalized accusation that they are “foreigners” and therefore not French. Indeed, these young generations feel little concerned by gender and sexual equality policies (Chetcuti 2014). Hatred of a common enemy has allowed the reactionary convergence that has decisively reshaped French politics.
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The term “reactionary” is used not so much as a political designation but to emphasize how this movement has structured itself “in reaction” to certain contemporary French legal, political, and cultural developments.
Mariage pour Tous, French for Marriage for All was the name given to the law passed on May 17, 2013 by the French government which extended marriage to same-sex couples. It is also referred to as the “Taubira law”, the name of the Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, who championed the law. With this legislation, France became the ninth European country and the fourteenth in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. In 2014, same-sex marriages amounted to 4% of all marriages in France.
Egalité et Réconciliation is a French political organization founded in 2007 by Alain Soral and two former heads of the far-right student union, the GUD, whose slogan was “to the left of labor and to the right of values.” This organization echoes the attitudes of the antisemitic, Holocaust revisionist, and anticolonial former stand-up comic turned political pundit, Dieudonné. They call their network the “dissidence” and are at the same time antisemitic, antizionist, conspirationist, and were firmly opposed to the “Marriage for All” legislation. This law will allow Egalité et Réconciliation to take a central role in bringing together Muslim and radical Catholic movements similarly opposed to it. As political theorist Camus (2015) has argued, Egalité et Réconciliation’s distinctiveness lies in the fact that it successfully popularized the question of “gender theory” among a minority of Muslim identitarian groups that had, until then, been on the margins of “Marriage for All” opposition. It is difficult to get an accurate estimate of Egalité et Réconciliation’s influence: its official membership is 5,000 and it is present in 29 cities and 27 departments in France, and there are some official delegations in Belgium and Switzerland. Its website seems popular (and is the best way to gauge its influence); according to Conspiracy Watch director, Rudy Reichstatd, Egalité et Réconciliation is one of the top French political blogs, and in 2015, it numbered 7 million views every month. Its Dailymotion channel totals 38 millions views.
The Manif pour Tous is the name of a collection of organizations that initiated opposition to the same-sex marriage law. It deliberately mirrors the name given to the law and acts as an umbrella term that initially brought together between 20 and 40 groups, although the number varies. La Manif pour Tous relies mostly on social media to publicize its ideas, mobilize activists, and organize events. It had 29,000 members on Facebook in January 2013, 30,000 in April 2013, and 52,000 in November; 3300 Twitter followers in January 2013, 12,000 in April 2013, and 31,600 in November 2016. The Manif pour Tous YouTube channel had 1,857,063 views as of November 2016. It officially became a political party on April 24, 2015 (probably for financial reasons) but claims it has no intention of presenting candidates to elections. Some of its leaders have formed another organization: Sens Commun (“Common Sense”) that has been welcomed by the leading French right-wing party. Its initial program explained it wanted to “restore marriage between a man and a woman” by calling for the repeal of the Taubira law.
The ABCD de l’égalité (“ABCD of Equality”) is an educational program that was first championed by the then French Minister for Women’s Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. Its purpose was to fight sexism and gender stereotypes. It was first implemented as an experimental program during autumn of 2013 in over 600 kindergartens and primary schools. Following the controversy that erupted, the then French Minister of Education, Benoît Hamon declared that, although the program had been relatively successful, it would be replaced with a pedagogic training on “equality between girls and boys in school” aimed at teachers.
In the French context, the official designation is “Sciences of Life and Earth.” Eighty parliamentary representatives requested the withdrawal of a high school textbook, based on the chapter titled “Becoming a man or woman.”
The slogan “Pas touche à nos stéréotypes de genre” (“Don’t touch our gender stereotypes”) specifically refers to the antiracist slogan created in 1985 by the non-governmental organization SOS Racisme, typically featured with a bright yellow hand. The idea was to help promote the “integration” of youths of foreign or North African origin who were subject to racism and discrimination.
See, for instance, Huet 2014, and more recently, as Manif pour Tous activists demonstrated against surrogacy and artificial insemination, invoking the dangers of “gender theory:” La Manif Pour Tous 2016. Political theorist Bruno Perreau offered a rebuttal in an article published 4 days after the October 16, 2016 Parisian demonstration, titled “Gender: Let’s not abandon theory!) in Perreau 2016a.
The magazine L’Héritage is published by the French far-right organization Le Renouveau Français (“French Renewal”) founded in 2005. The organization is openly nationalist and Catholic and its emblem is the royalist fleur-de-lis. Though it officially has only a couple of hundred members, it nonetheless has 12 offices in different French regions. It is also closely allied with the National Front as well as the Civitas, a far-right Traditionalist Catholic group, (along with which it has demonstrated, notably in Manif pour Tous demonstrations) and a number of European nationalist organizations such as the Spanish Phalange, the Russian Movement against Illegal Immigration, the German NPD, and Aube Dorée in Greece. It focuses its activities mostly on conferences, seminars, and publication. The magazine specializes in the denunciation of a “homosexual lobby” that, they argue, is merely a front for a “pedophile lobby.” Its members have often been arrested in demonstrations for violent behavior.
This informal group without legal status or an official leader is made up exclusively of young men. Their name is a play on the French word for “men” (hommes) and is a parody and response to the feminist group “Femen.” They have appropriated the Femen’s strategies (demonstrating topless with writing on the chest) as well as those of the group Anonymous (wearing white masks). Their actions were deliberately performative: spraying fake blood (as the Act Up organization once did), burning documents, or demonstrating shirtless, all in the name of their opposition to “Marriage for All”, as well as surrogacy and artificial insemination for same-sex couples. They were supported by the Printemps Français (“French Spring”) which had split from La Manif pour Tous and was founded by a former spokesperson, Béatrice Bourges. The group, which was particularly visible in 2013, was supported by nationalist and far-right organizations such as the GUD, a French student group, and Jeunesses Identitaires (“Identitarian Youth”).
The JRE or Journées de retrait de l’école (“Take your child out school”) was a movement initiated by Farida Belghoul whose slogan stated its activism in favor “of the prohibition of gender theory in all schools.” The movement was in large part supported by Egalité et Réconciliation. It argued for the organization of “Take your child out school” days that asked parents to keep their children at home once a month in order to challenge the teaching of gender theory and the implementation of the ABCD de l’Egalité in schools. On January 24 and 27, 2014, the call for school “boycotts” was followed by over 100 primary schools (out of 48,000). On February 10, 2014, it was followed by 70 schools, according to the Education ministry. In Mulhouse (Haut-Rhin), approximately 500 children from 20 schools stayed home. The JRE movement was very active between January and June 2014, succeeding in getting the government to backtrack on the ABCD de l’Egalité, and was publicly championed by Civitas and invited by Soral and Dieudonné to appear on their program. However, it lost steam after September 2014 and became increasingly marginalized. Civitas is a Catholic fundamentalist and far-right organization, though the organization calls itself a “traditional Catholic lobby.” Now under the leadership of Alain Escada, it was originally close to the Saint-Pie-X Fraternity (FSSPX), then the Morgon Capuchin friars before becoming a political party. On July 5, 2017, Civitas published an online article upon the death of Simone Veil with the following headline: “Don’t cry for Simone Weil [who was] an abortionist, immigrationist, globalist,” in Escada 2017.
These included former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy, then minister Laurent Fabius, European parliamentary and former May 68 activist Daniel Cohn-Bendt and president of the French Jewish association, CRIF, Roger Cukierman.
This expression is a direct reference to some of the most virulent antisemitic rhetoric of the 1930s that referred to Jews as “Negroid,” thus evoking the contamination and perversion of the “French race,” Sanos (2013). The Khazars are a semi-nomadic people from the sixth to the thirteen century BCE who converted to Judaism. It is believed their name means “wandering” in Turkish.
The Libre Journal de la France is a radio program Radio Courtoisie designed to “bring together all patriots” (https://www.radiocourtoisie.fr/). It was founded by former leader of the Organisation armée secrète (“Secret Army Organisation”), Jean Ferré, who is a monarchist and close follower of far-right writer and Action Française leader, Charles Maurrias. After his death, his successor, Henry De Lesquen, steered the program to a more explicitly far-right agenda in line with National Front former leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, while remaining closely aligned to traditionalist Catholicism. The radio itself broadcasts history, political, religious, and cultural programs. Since 2007, the radio has a three-times-a-day program, titled Bulletin de Réinformation, which aims to “combat fake news.” de Lesquen has been repeatedly tried for racism and Holocaust revisionism.
Christiane Taubira is a Guyanese politician. She began her political career as an independence activist (Guyana is still a French “colony”’) and later helped found the Guyanese political party Walwari. She was parliamentary representative for Guyana between 1993 and 2012 and spearheaded the law for the recognition of slavery as a crime against humanity. She was the Presidential candidate for the French Radical Left party (PRG) in the 2002 elections and Minister of Justice from May 16, 2012 to January 27, 2016 when she resigned.
The Femen is a Ukranian activist group founded in 2008. Their belief that the body is a weapon has structured their activism: they stage highly publicized “interventions” (or zaps) where they appear topless, pointing to the need to recover the body as a form of political expression. Their activism has especially focused on a critique of religion that they denounce as patriarchal (Chetcuti-Osorovitz 2017).
Since the 1980s, the historic figure of Jeanne d’Arc has become the icon of National Front celebrations on May the first. For its former leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, she embodies “national unity” and “anti-immigration” sentiment since she had managed to “kick the English out of France.” The fact that Jeanne d’Arc was a fervent Catholic and was anointed as a saint in the twentieth century allowed the National Front to appeal to France’s “Christian roots.”
Méta TV is one of the most important among alt-right media. It was co-founded by Patrick Dhondt, (nicknamed Tepa) who claims he is a “dissident.” The website broadcasts mostly conspiracy theories 24/7, with a particular bent towards programs denouncing pedophile networks, Jewish conspiracies, Freemasons, and UFOs. It has welcomed conspiracy theorist, Thierry Meyssan and Holocaust revisionist Robert Faurrisson. Its Dailymotion channel (www.dailymotion.com/metatvofficiel) boasts 26 million views since 2016.