The Sunday Telegraph

Rise in French youth turning to far-Right ‘influencer­s’

‘Patriot’ who attacked Emmanuel Macron had had his extreme views honed on social media

- By Anna Pujol-Mazzini in Paris

BEFORE Damien Tarel struck the left cheek of French president Emmanuel Macron to a resounding thwack last Tuesday, he shouted “Montjoie Saint Denis!”, a battle-cry of France’s 12th century royal armies.

After his arrest, the 28-year-old unemployed martial arts and medieval swordsmans­hip enthusiast told police he held “ultra-Right” political beliefs, but claimed he was not affiliated to any party or militant group.

Online, however, the self-described “patriot” followed scores of extremeRig­ht accounts, which form part of a new wave of social media influencer­s that are gaining in popularity with young people across France.

Just days before regional elections and ahead of a 2022 presidenti­al election that is expected to pit Mr Macron against far-Right leader Marine Le Pen, there is a fear the online stars, who publish brazenly racist, sexist, sometimes violent videos and push fake news, could help swing the vote.

They are suspected of fuelling the beliefs of the man who was jailed for four months over his attack on the president. “There are about 10 people who have a lot of audience, but they have a panoply of rather broad and varied ideologies. They do agree on many subjects like the decadence of France, and contempt against the elite,” said Romain Fargier, a researcher on the role of YouTube in French politics at the University of Montpellie­r.

“There is a whole new French Right whose goal is to spread their ideas through content and culture. They mainly target young people, those under 34 years old,” he told French radio.

One of the men Tarel followed is Ugo Gil Jimenez. Days before the incident, the 35-year-old YouTube star who calls himself “Papacito” had posted a violent video tutorial in which he showed viewers how to shoot Left-wing voters and explained how to legally buy weapons in France. The vlogger, clad with a black beret, military slacks and sunglasses, repeatedly shot and stabbed a mannequin wearing a T-shirt that read “communist” until its head dropped, in a video seen over 100,000 times before the platform took it down. The video re-emerged later on other accounts.

Tarel also followed Henry de Lesquen, who has been sentenced for denying the Holocaust and hate speech, and Julien Rochedy, a former senior figure of Le Pen’s National Rally.

On Thursday, Tarel, now in prison, told the court during his fast-tracked trial he himself questioned the existence of the Holocaust. “I visit illegal websites on the Second World War which question the existence of the gas chambers,” he said.

Papacito and others, such as TikToker Estelle Redpill, boast tens of thousands of followers, and have establishe­d audiences on platforms that mainstream politician­s are trying to leverage ahead of next year’s poll.

Ms Le Pen leads Mr Macron in some polls, but faces an uphill battle to beat him in a likely second round runoff.

Last month, 43-year-old President Macron faced off against two of the country’s most famous vloggers, McFly and Carlito, in an anecdote contest, a PR coup aimed at charming French youth which clocked up over 14million views.

While none of the ultra-conservati­ve stars has called on followers to vote for Ms Le Pen, several have come out in favour of a potential bid by divisive farRight pundit Eric Zemmour, who has been convicted for hate speech several times and accused of sexual abuse.

“There has been a certain contempt on the part of politician­s towards these YouTubers. But, although Papacito did not announce his support for Marine Le Pen, he affirmed that he would not hesitate to vote for Eric Zemmour if he ran for the presidenti­al elections,” Mr Fargier said.

‘There are about 10 people who agree on subjects like the decadence of France and contempt for the elite’

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