French military nails its colours to Marine Le Pen’s mast

Voting patterns in French army have swung towards far-right since 2012, research finds

Marine Le Pen: Communities with a strong military or paramilitary presence all voted in greater percentages for her, the Front National and the Rassemblement National. Photograph: Sylvain Lefevre/Getty

Marine Le Pen: Communities with a strong military or paramilitary presence all voted in greater percentages for her, the Front National and the Rassemblement National. Photograph: Sylvain Lefevre/Getty

 

The proportion of the French military voting for the far-right peaked in the immediate aftermath of jihadist attacks in 2015, subsided somewhat in the 2017 presidential election and shot up again in May’s European election, a new study shows.

The study – Who Do the Barracks Vote For? – by the Ifop polling institute for the Jean Jaurès foundation, which was published on July 15th, concludes that the far-right vote among French military has risen significantly since the 2012 presidential election.

The military’s right to political expression is restricted, so Ifop studied voting patterns in communities with a strong military or paramilitary presence. All voted in greater percentages for Marine Le Pen, the Front National and its new iteration, the Rassemblement National.

“Professional experience, the esprit de corps and values that go with it, result in very specific voting behaviour that is different from the rest of the French population,” the 18-page report says.

For example, at Suippes, in the Marne, where the 40th artillery regiment and the 132nd canine battalion are based, Marine Le Pen won 65.3 per cent of the vote in the second round of the 2017 presidential election, compared with 33.94 per cent nationwide.

The far-right leanings of the military are not a surprise. A study by Cevipof, the research centre for Sciences Po in Paris, concluded that 51.5 per cent of police and military voted for the Front National in 2015 regional elections.

November 13th attacks

Jérôme Fourquet, director of public opinion at Ifop and the author of Who Do the Barracks Vote For?, says the election of the socialist president François Hollande in 2012 and in-fighting in the mainstream conservative right drove many military towards the far-right between 2012 and 2014.

“The reach of the FN then progressed very significantly in the 2015 regional elections, just weeks after the November 13th attacks,” Fourquet continues. The slaughter of 130 people at the Bataclan concert hall and other locations put the military and gendarmerie “in the front line against the Islamist enemy at home and in the near east”.

In five of six garrison towns where election results were studied by Ifop, the FN vote reached an all-time high in December 2015. In three of the six towns, the FN won well over 50 per cent of the vote, much higher than in surrounding departments.

Two factors explain the resurgence of the far-right military vote this year, Fourquet writes. The military were angry with President Emmanuel Macron for forcing army chief of staff Gen Pierre de Villiers to resign. And the FN/RN took most of the right-wing military vote from Les Républicains party after the campaign of conservative presidential candidate François Fillon collapsed in scandal.

The penchant for the far-right extends to the air force, military bases abroad and the gendarmerie. At the polling station next to Ventiseri-Solenzara airbase in Corsica, for example, the RN won 43.6 per cent of the vote in May, compared to 26.5 per cent in the surrounding department.

Cohesion and thinking

Towns and city districts housing gendarmerie or Republican Guard barracks also show a significantly higher far-right vote. Fourquet attributes this in part to socialisation. The gendarme, he writes, “lives with his family and colleagues within barracks, which strengthens the cohesion of the group”.

The gendarmerie are used to maintain order, patrol immigrant banlieues and suppress riots. They complain of being underequipped and of poor living conditions, which inclines them to lodge protest votes.

Communities housing large numbers of prison personnel also voted in higher proportions for the FN/RN. More surprisingly, so too did prisoners. In 2015, there were 18 hostage-takings in French prisons and 4,500 personnel were victims of aggression, according to prison unions.

In a related issue, a parliamentary commission of inquiry issued a report titled The Fight Against Extreme Right-wing Factions in France on June 13th. Membership in such factions has stabilised at about 2,500, spread over neo-Nazis, skinheads, neo-populists, ultra-nationalists, “identity” and survivalist groups. All believe the theory of the “great replacement” of whites by Arabs and Africans.

“A certain number of members of these radical groups served in the police, gendarmerie and army,” the researcher Jean-Yves Camus told the commission. Tracfin, part of the economy ministry, is working with other intelligence organisations to watch military and former military who might be tempted by violent action. The commission’s first recommendation was greater surveillance of military and former military “implicated in ultra-right groups”.

At least two of these ultra-right groups have been linked to Marine Le Pen’s RN. This correspondent met members of Alain Soral’s Égalité et Réconciliation at a Le Pen rally in 2017. In an interview earlier this year, Le Pen refused to condemn the Génération Identitaire group which has, for example, hired a boat to prevent NGOs rescuing migrants on the Mediterranean.

The historian Nicolas Lebourg called such groups contractors or service providers who allow Le Pen’s party to remain unstained by overt racism.

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