Far-right French candidate makes taboo term his mantra

PARIS (AP): Two words, taboo for many in France because they evoke a conspiracy theory embraced by white supremacists, have been haunting the French presidential campaign. “Great replacement” rolls off the tongue of presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, an outsider with views to the right of the far-right who has made the term the underpinning of his campaign. But when mainstream conservative presidential candidate Valerie Pecresse pronounced them at her first major rally last weekend, politicians and pundits screamed foul, saying she had crossed a red line.
The ”great replacement” is the false claim that the native populations of France and other Western countries are being overrun by non-white immigrants — notably Muslims — who are allegedly supplanting, and one day will erase, Christian civilization and its values. The claim, popularized by a French author, has inspired deadly attacks in recent years from New Zealand to El Paso, Texas.
Critics said Pecresse was normalizing a dangerous falsehood that immigration figures in France do not corroborate. Pecresse later denied she was venturing into Zemmour’s far-right territory, contending that her brief remark was misconstrued. Still, the flap focused attention on Zemmour’s campaign mantra and underscored the threat he represents to mainstream conservatives. “If I’m a candidate in the presidential election, it is firstly and above all to stop the ‘great replacement’ and to fight immigration,” Zemmour — whose upstart party is named Reconquest — told France 2 TV.
Numerous polls place Zemmour fourth among a bevy of candidates for France’s April 10 presidential vote behind poll leader President Emmanuel Macron — who has yet to formally declare his candidacy — and slightly behind far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and Pecresse. A presidential runoff will be held among the top two candidates on April 24 if no one wins outright. Zemmour, 63, controversial talk show pundit before entering the presidential race, has been convicted multiple times of inciting racist or religious hatred.
He has, for instance, drawn ire for falsely stating that Marshall Philippe Petain, who headed France’s collaborationist World War II Vichy government, saved Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps. Under Petain’s regime, some 76,000 French Jews were sent to camps; very few survived. The “great replacement” theory was formulated in 2011 by Renaud Camus, a writer and social media fan. But the notion dates back to writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, according to Jean-Yves Camus, a French expert on the far right who is not related to Renaud.