A French journalist infiltrates the campaign of far-right presidential candidate Éric Zemnour | France
A journalist undercover in Éric Zemmour’s presidential team claimed to have witnessed a culture of casual racism and a secret online campaign involving a “shadow army on Facebook” and repeated rewrites of the page Wikipedia of the far-right polemicist, the most consulted in France.
Vincent Bresson, 27, says he spent more than three months as an increasingly reliable member of “Generation Z”, as Zemmour’s group of young supporters are called. He said he witnessed multiple racist remarks from volunteers and senior staff.
“Officially, if you’re black or of Arab descent, Zemmour believes in ‘assimilation’: work hard, adapt to ‘French culture’, and you can be French ‘like the others’,” Bresson said. , a freelance journalist who has written for publications including Le Monde.
“In reality, it seems that some zemmourists will always see you as ‘less French’. And these are supposedly the most moderate and publicly acceptable faces in the campaign. I think this raises serious questions about the promises of equal treatment for all under a Zemmour presidency.
Zemmour, a media pundit who promotes the far-right ‘great replacement’ theory that Muslim immigrants are displacing populations from European countries, denies being a racist but has two convictions for racist hate speech and is appealing a third.
Less than two months from the first round of voting, he is in the running for third place in the polls with the right-wing candidate Les Républicains Valérie Pécresse, behind the far-right leader of the National Rally, Marine Le Pen, and the president outgoing, Emmanuel Macron. Bresson said in an interview that he decided to infiltrate Zemmour’s campaign because “there was at least a chance he would be president”.
During his first evening with a group of young activists putting up posters last October, Bresson recounts in his book Au Coeur de Z published on Thursday, “one of them used the word ‘nègres’, and no one frowned”.
On another occasion, a volunteer joked about a black driver delivering campaign leaflets: “If he knew what he was carrying.” A rare Arab-born Zemmour supporter was told by another activist that he could never sell his flat to him, “not with your face”.
He says he also witnessed a conversation between two senior team members who made reference to black parking attendants at the Villepinte exhibition center near Paris, where Zemmour held his first campaign rally last December. , under the name of “Mamadou”, a French-speaking African first name sometimes used in France. to label a black worker and recognized as a racial slur.
Bresson said he targeted Generation Z as the easiest way to enter Zemmour’s campaign, because as “a young white man, college graduate, called Vincent – a name in the Christian calendar – and raised a Catholic, I looked like a plausible recruit”. Zemmour claimed that if elected president he would ban families from giving children non-French first names, meaning people would no longer be able to call their sons Mohammed “but would be allowed to use it as a middle name”.
Bresson said he was amazed at how quickly he was integrated into the group, going from late night or early morning aerial expeditions to joining teams of activists scouring social media for potential threats. serious for Zemmour’s safety.
He was also promoted to an ‘elite’ list of trusted people assigned to sleep at the Zemmour campaign headquarters on rue Jean Goujon in the capital’s 8th arrondissement, acting as security guards in exchange for a signed book , a photo or a lunch with “Z”.
“I was amazed at the lack of security,” Bresson said. “I changed my last name and invented a job in public relations, but my identity was never verified. Often, I could have searched Zemmour’s office, for example – but I never did. I’m a journalist, not a spy.
Bresson also joined Zemmour’s highly sophisticated covert online campaign, run via encrypted Telegram chat groups by the candidate’s director of digital strategy, Samuel Lafont. “It’s not public at all, it’s secret,” he said. “It’s not a transparent political campaign.”
The book describes how a “shadow army” of hundreds of Zemmour volunteers is tasked with joining a vast array of diverse Facebook groups, ranging from fans of the late French rocker Johnny Hallyday to supporters of Lens or Lyon football clubs in passing through pizza lovers, anti-vaxxers and radical protest movements.
“We ask them to cram in, as much as possible, posting pro-Zemmour content – articles, videos, links to the site of his supporters – and asking what people think of him. Flooding Facebook, commenting and reacting as much and as often as they could, constantly improving their candidate’s profile,” Bresson said.
“They can copy and paste material from a central campaign site; they can post the exact same content to 20 different groups. It’s about creating the impression of a large number of people, a massive movement online.
The book also chronicles how volunteers are called upon for mass campaigns, orchestrated by Lafont, aimed at ensuring that pro-Zemmour hashtags – like #STOPcensure (#STOPcensorship), when the candidate’s Instagram account was briefly suspended last August – trending on Twitter, attracting media coverage.
Another unit, called “WikiZédia”, is responsible for editing Wikipedia entries relating to Zemmour, in particular the polemicist’s individual page, which was viewed 5.2 million times in 2021, making it the page of the the most consulted online encyclopedia in France.
In an online strategy document seen by Bressson, WikiZédia members are supposed to make Zemmour “as visible as possible on Wikipedia” by linking to his entry and citing his opinions on as many topics as possible, as well as by listing his television appearances.
An activist has also engaged in online revisionism to support Zemmour’s claim, refuted by historians, that during World War II, France’s collaborationist Vichy regime attempted to help French Jews rather than send them to death camps, writes Bresson.
The activist, a respected Wikipedia contributor, inserted photos of Vichy leader Philippe Pétain and Prime Minister Pierre Laval on Zemmour’s Wikipedia page, adding that their “responsibility for the Holocaust in France is debated.” .
Bresson quotes a senior French Wikipedia administrator, Jules, who said that WikiZédia’s activities were “unprecedented” for a political party in France and violated the site’s fundamental principles of objectivity and neutrality.
At the heart of the Z took six months from idea to publication and is published by Éditions Goutte d’Or, whose other clandestine reports also made headlines. His manuscript was, until the end of last week, in the hands of one of France’s top media lawyers.
One of the book’s editors, Geoffrey Le Guilcher, said legal action against Zemmour’s book was a possibility, but the company was confident there was “absolutely nothing wrong or unverified.” ” in Bresson’s 300-page story.
“It’s about infiltrating for more transparency,” he said. “Éric Zemmour is the only presidential candidate convicted of racist hate speech. His campaign’s online activity is amoral to say the least. There is a very clear public interest.