The French government has threatened to shut down Generation Identity (GI), a far-right group exposed in an Al Jazeera undercover investigation that seeks to expel Muslims and migrants from Europe.
Interior minister Gerald Darmanin said on Tuesday he was “outraged by the efforts of Generation Identity activists to undermine the Republic” and had asked his staff to gather evidence about the group.
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“If there is enough evidence, I will not hesitate to advise closing it down,” Darmanin said in a news conference.
His comments came days after 30 GI members gathered at the Col de Portillion pass on the France-Spain border, in what they called a “surveillance operation to defend Europe”.
It was the latest of several border blockades staged by GI which have led to skirmishes with migrants and activists.
The move prompted calls by French politicians for GI to be shut down, including by Carole Delga, the socialist president of the Occitanie region who said this “violent and dangerous extreme right-wing group” must be dissolved.
Anti-racism groups on Tuesday welcomed Darmanin’s remarks, his first public condemnation of GI.
“I am delighted that the interior minister is considering the dissolution of Generation Identity which advocates hatred, the rejection of others and which has no place in our democracy,” Nicolas Nef Naf, lawyer for SOS Racisme, told Al Jazeera.
GI advocates defending “the identity and culture of white Europeans” against what it calls the “great replacement” by immigration and “Islamisation”.
Last month, three GI members were convicted of offences including incitement to “terrorism”, incitement to religious hatred, and assault, based on evidence in a two-part documentary by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit, Generation Hate, broadcast in 2018.
In Generation Hate, an undercover Al Jazeera reporter infiltrated the group’s headquarters at the Citadelle bar in Lille, northern France, for six months.
Following Al Jazeera’s investigation, Remi Falize, a former leading member of GI, was convicted of incitement to “terrorism” and assault. He was sentenced to eight months in prison suspended for 18 months.
Falize was caught on a covert camera declaring his dying wish would be to drive a car into a packed market in Lille popular with Muslims. In the documentary, he was also shown punching a 13-year-old girl four times on the head outside a bar in Lille.
Etienne “Le Roux” Vanhalwyn, who was filmed pushing a teenager in the same incident and making Nazi toasts, was given a five-month jail sentence, suspended for 18 months.
Gullaume Dumont St Priest, who pepper-sprayed the teenager struck by Falize, was given a three-month suspended jail sentence.
In August 2019, GI’s leader and two other activists were given six-month prison sentences after setting up a blockade in the French Alps and hiring two helicopters to search for migrants.
Some 100 rights activists responded by escorting migrants into France and scuffles broke out with police. GI was accused of vigilantism and the three GI members were charged with impersonating police officers, although the sentences were quashed on appeal.
GI was founded in France and has branches in Italy, Austria and Germany, although its membership is said to have declined in recent years.
In the documentary, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit also revealed evidence of close links between GI activists and key figures in Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, France’s most prominent far-right political party which has since changed its name to National Rally.
Two members of the European Parliament, Christelle Lechevalier and Sylvie Goddyn, are shown visiting the Citadelle and expressing support for GI.
After the documentary was broadcast, Martine Aubry, the mayor of Lille, called for the Citadelle to be shut down. The bar, however, remains open.