French government dissolves anti-migrant identity group

International News

FILE – In this Feb.20, 2021 file photo, supporters of the group Generation Identity hold a banner reading “Man does not dissolve a generation” during a demonstration in Paris. French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced Wednesday the dissolution of the anti-migrant group Generation Identity during a Cabinet meeting on the ground it is encouraging discrimination in the country. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

PARIS (AP) — France on Wednesday dissolved an identity group that for years staged spectacular actions to get out its anti-migrant message in what it claimed was a mission to preserve French and European civilization.

The presidential decree at a Cabinet meeting cited an ideology “inciting hate, violence or discrimination of individuals” by Generation Identity “based on origins, race or religion.”

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who had made dissolving the group one of his aims, announced the dissolution on Twitter.

Generation Identity has influence throughout France and beyond, with sister-groups in several European countries, notably Austria. It contends its members are whistle-blowers to alert France and other Europeans to the dangers outsiders, notably Muslims, pose to their culture. The French government contends the organization is a militia espousing a racist cause.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said “with that decision we are putting an end to sometimes violent actions from the group.”

Darmanin has been the force behind the recent dissolution of three other organizations, all Muslim, deemed as posing a danger. Doing away with Generation Identity, with its far-right stance, is widely seen as a balancing of the political cards.

The decree dissolving Generation Identity mentions several anti-migrant operations carried out by the group and its “intention to act as a private militia.”

A lawyer for Generation Identity contested the bases cited for dissolving the group and said the case would be taken next week to the Council of State, the only body which can reconsider a presidential decree, along with an urgent request to suspend the decision while awaiting a final response in several months.

Attorney Pierre-Vincent Lambert said the group’s dissolution is an attack on the liberty of association, a fundamental freedom. But lawyers must also show there is a “serious doubt about the legality” of the decree.

Lambert described elements of the decree as “grotesque,” like one citing uniforms bearing a symbol derived from that of Spartan warriors that would link them to a militia. He said in an interview that the uniforms were no more than tee-shirts.

“They don’t go into the streets with spears and shields,” he added.

The president of Generation Identity, Clement Gandelin, did not return a phone call.

The decree also cited a donation from the man who attacked two mosques in 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 people, as further proof of Generation Identity’s “capacity for deleterious influence.” Both the French group and its sister organization in Austria, which it actively works with, reportedly received several thousand euros in donations.

The Lyon-based group was the backbone of a 2017 “Defend Europe” mission on the Mediterranean Seat that used a chartered anti-migrant ship crewed by European citizens.

In recent years Generation Identity members have staged several operations in a bid to stop migrants from entering the country by crossing the border with Italy in the Alps and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains.

During a Paris demonstration last June, Generation Identity members appeared on a rooftop with torches above an unfurled banner reading “Justice for Victims of Anti-White Racism.”

French authorities have voiced concern over the group in the past but saw legal hurdles in trying to dissolve it.

In its closest call previously, three Generation Identity leaders, including its president, were convicted in 2019 and handed six-month prison sentences for the mountain expedition a year earlier in a pass in southeast France — but won on appeal.

The group, an outgrowth of another identity movement, was born in 2012, announcing its arrival with a protest atop a mosque under construction in the town of Poitiers, known for the 8th century battle where invading Moors were stopped.

The group held a protest against the government’s move last month. Leader Clement Gandelin then told the AP that the group will fight to the end in court to retain the right to operate and if dissolved, “the militants will still be there.”

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Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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