PARIS (AP) — A far-right former TV pundit with multiple hate-speech convictions officially entered the race for France's presidency on Tuesday and warned his supporters that they will likely be called racists for backing his anti-immigration and anti-Islam views that have already shaken up the election campaign.
The launch of Eric Zemmour's run for the presidency made official a candidacy that had been gathering steam for months before it then stumbled of late — notably after the 63-year-old raised a middle finger at a woman who did likewise to him over the weekend.
That flash of temper — which Zemmour later acknowledged on Twitter was “very inelegant" — cast fresh doubt on the temperament and electability of the author and former journalist who has polled in low double digits since September despite having no hands-on political experience. Zemmour has drawn comparisons in France to former U.S. President Donald Trump because of his rabble-rousing populism and ambitions of making the jump from the small screen to national leadership.
Name-dropping Joan of Arc, Napoléon Bonaparte, Gen. Charles de Gaulle and others who shaped France's history, Zemmour announced his candidacy for the April election in a pre-recorded video, reading from notes and speaking into a large microphone. The pose evoked imagery of radio addresses that De Gaulle famously delivered during World War II, urging France to rally against Nazi Germany.
But the message Zemmour delivered was steeped in far-right thinking and language and far from that of the wartime leader who later served as president from 1959-1969. Along with images of people on filthy streets and in ramshackle shantytowns, he drove home his view of France as a country mortally threatened by immigration and “in the process of disappearing.”
“You feel that you are no longer in the country that you knew,” Zemmour said. “Your feel like foreigners in your own country. You are exiles, from the inside.”
The people that Zemmour was shown meeting in the video and the campaign supporters and crowds filmed at his rallies were nearly all white. And the vast majority of people shown doing jobs in the video — a mathematics teacher, a nuclear worker, cooks, suited business leaders, a butcher, a cattle farmer and others — were nearly all white men.
People of color, in contrast, were shown lining up for food handouts, pushing into a crowded train, milling around in a litter-strewn tent city and on a street corner and, in a scene at the start, seemingly taking part in a street deal. Other images showed Paris streets filled with Muslims kneeling down in prayer. Images of women protesting, some with breasts bared, were cut with violent scenes of people attacking police.
“It is no longer time to reform France but to save it," Zemmour said. “That is why I have decided to stand in the presidential election.”
With some immediately criticizing the contents and messaging of the video, Zemmour warned supporters to brace for a bruising campaign.
“They will tell you that you are racist," he said. “They will say the worst things about me."
Zemmour joins a crowded spectrum of candidates, from far-left to far right. President Emmanuel Macron is expected to seek a second term but he has yet to declare his candidacy. Polls have for months given the president a sizeable but not impregnable lead over Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader roundly beaten by Macron in the presidential run-off in 2017. The 2022 campaign seemed likely to be a sequel of that battle before Zemmour started siphoning off Le Pen supporters.
The campaign launch video left many questions unanswered about Zemmour's election platform. He didn't mention France's resurgent coronavirus pandemic, which has so far killed 119,000 people. He spoke of creating jobs, building France's industries and reducing its debts but didn't say how.
Macron's interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, called the video “absolutely revolting.”
The group SOS Racisme said Zemmour's video demonstrated “pathological racism.”