PARIS (Reuters) – Armed with buckets of glue and brooms, Anne-Lys Falicon and a dozen others put down their drinks and walked out into the night to put up posters of Eric Zemmour, the political outsider with incendiary views who is shaking up France’s 2022 election race.
Falicon, a fashion student, never before identified with a political party, while the others plastering Zemmour’s portrait in a well-heeled Paris district included former supporters of the long-standing far-right and conservative parties.
“He’s never been elected, he’s not part of the political system,” the 23-year-old Falicon said. “He brings a new perspective. His life is not all politics.”
A polarising figure who has made a TV and writing career testing the boundaries of political correctness, Zemmour accuses the political class of allowing a steady erosion of traditional Christian values and national identity in France.
Born in Paris to Jewish Algerians who emigrated to metropolitan France in the 1950s, Zemmour points to himself as an example of how France once successfully assimilated its migrant population. Now, he says, waves of immigrants have been allowed to loathe France and push back against its core values.
His uncompromising rhetoric – he has twice been convicted of inciting hate – resonate with some voters and repel others.
“What shame!” shouted a passing motorist as the young activists affixed “Zemmour – President” posters to walls and concrete street barriers. Another motorist gave an approving toot of their horn, crying out: “France for the French!”
The activists were quick to try and detoxify the passing comment.
“There is a difference between ‘France should remain France’ and ‘France for the French’,” said Foucaud, who like most of the other Zemmour supporters gave his first name only.
“‘France for the French’ doesn’t mean anything. What counts is that people assimilate,” said Emmanuel.
Some of the activists said there was an “immigration problem” in France but avoided talk about Muslims in particular who have been frequently targeted by Zemmour’s verbal volleys.
Zemmour, 63, has not yet officially declared his candidacy for the 2022 race but is behaving every bit the candidate.
Polls show him challenging for a place in the second round run-off, poaching votes from both Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National party and conservative fringes of the mainstream right.
The dozen young people said they were part of a now 3,000-strong troop of young Zemmour activists who dub themselves ‘Generation Z’. They describe themselves as radical but not extremist, backing a man who wanted to get to the root of France’s perceived ills.
“Zemmour speaks often about insecurity, it’s a big topic. He has the courage to speak openly about it, without mincing his words. That touches me especially as a woman…We don’t talk enough about insecurity in France,” said Falicon.
A man passing through the neighbourhood the next morning said: “Everyone’s free to their own opinions. Thankfully, sometimes, adverts get plastered on his campaign slogans.”
(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Noemie Olive; writing by Richard Lough; editing by Mark Heinrich)