French enthralled by controversial Éric Zemmour: ‘I say what people think’

The presidential elections will not be in France until six months, but the tension is already getting up. In the polls, an unexpected newcomer has skyrocketed like a comet: Éric Zemmour.

He is a journalist and writer, immensely popular with right-wing voters, and contentious for anti-Islam statements. Zemmour (63) hasn‘t even run for him yet, but already young people across France are campaigning for him.

Genération Z

Cris Pajon (21) puts a thick brush in a bucket full of glue. He lubricates a power box full, pulls out a coiled poster and sticks it to the cabinet. Zemmour, président, insists. He’s got to be it! Pajon says smiling.

Just a few months ago, I joined Génération Z, the youth movement of political commentator Zemmour. I think Zemmour is the only one who can get all voters back to the polls that have dropped out over the past few decades, because they no longer have faith in politics.

Pajon, together with about ten other young people, is on the streets of Orleans for an evening to hang posters of their new political idol. And they‘re not the only ones. In cities and departments across France, local committees of Génération Z have been set up in recent weeks. They are all young people who join Zemmour. And they all go out on the streets regularly in the evening to stick posters.

Those sticky actions are not on their own. Éric Zemmour has become the political hero of many French people unexpectedly in recent weeks.

A poll released last month showed that no age group is as enthusiastic about Zemmour as the young. Of 18 to 25-year-olds, 10 percent say they want to vote for him sure and 18 percent maybe.

This is also striking because French young people seemed to lose interest in politics. More and more, they didn’t vote. In the last presidential election, in 2017, 25 percent of voters stayed at home. This was the highest rate of non-voters since 1969, and 33 percent of young people (18 to 35) stayed at home in 2017.

Zemmour taps a target audience that had already been written off by other politicians. He is radical and provocative, mobilizing people who would not normally take action, who stopped voting, said political scientist Benjamin Morel to daily Les Echos.

But his following is broader. Polls show that in addition to the non-voters, it is the right-wing voters who are now walking away with him. The largest group of Zemmour supporters come from the people who voted for the right-wing populist Marine Le Pen in the 2017 elections, calculated research firm Ifop.

But an almost as large group comes from the moderately right-wing party Les Républicains, which provided former presidents such as Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac.

Criticism

At the same time, Zemmour‘s provocations also bring him a lot of criticism. In 2010, he said in a television broadcast that employers have the right to refuse black and Arab applicants. In 2016, he said on TV that Muslims should choose between France and Islam. And last year, during a TV interview, he talked about single underage asylum seekers: It’s thieves, murderers and rapists.

The hashtag BoycottZemmour is now popular on Twitter. The judge already sentenced him on a number of occasions for hateful remarks towards Muslims and migrants. Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti recently called Zemmour a racist convicted of inciting racial hatred.

According to Zemmour, his statements make him so popular. I say what a lot of people think. That‘s why I’m rising in the polls.

‘Not just about Islam’

Éric Zemmour isn‘t radical at all. He says what many others dare not to name, says Valentin Blelly (29), who runs along with Génération Z in Orleans. For example, he is for assimilation: foreigners have to adapt. But if they don’t, and if they‘re criminal, yes, you have to put them out of the country.

Eva Berroyer (20) also participates in the pasting of posters. It’s not at all that Zemmour only talks about Islam or immigrants. He has written many books, covering everything: education, culture, the history of France. And that‘s why he manages to commit to all sorts of voters, says Berroyer.

But France is historically a Catholic country. And there’s a lot of people coming here with a different religion right now. That topic puts Zemmour on the agenda.