French far-right commentator Eric Zemmour's first official presidential campaign rally ended in violence Sunday as his supporters clashed with anti-racism activists.
Five activists of the non-governmental organization (NGO) SOS Racisme were injured during the brawl, which began after they stood up to highlight the words “No to Racism” on their T-shirts and chanted anti-racism slogans at the rally held in the Villepinte commune of the Seine-Saint-Denis suburb in northern Paris.
The organization said its activists were present for a peaceful action but were instead met with violence and insults.
A video circulating on social media showed pro-Zemmour supporters and members of his security team violently assaulting the activists, including women, throwing chairs and hurling abuse.
Zemmour himself came under attack as he was walking through the crowd towards the stage to begin his speech when an audience member tried to grab him by his neck. The police arrested the man on charges of “premeditated violence” and another 50 people for disturbing public order, unauthorized assembly and carrying weapons, BFMTV news reported.
Zemmour, who has twice been indicted by French courts for inciting racial hatred, defended that he and his supporters were “obviously not racist.”
“You may have heard that I was a fascist, that I was a racist, that I was a misogynist,” he told the crowd, refuting the charges against him as “ridiculous.” Addressing the audience, he said "all we want is to defend our heritage, we defend our country.”
Zemmour unveiled the name of his campaign movement as “Reconquest,” aimed at “reconquering” France. He asserted that he was “ready to helm the country,” as his observations after months of travelling across France confirmed “two fears that haunt the French: the fear of the great downgrading...and that of the great replacement.”
Known for advocating the far-right theory of the “great replacement” and anti-immigrant views, he claimed that if he comes to power, he will exercise “zero immigration policy.” He also said he would want France to exit from the US-led military alliance of NATO.
Taking cues from former US President Donald Trump, Zemmour-- himself a former journalist and news columnist -- lashed out against the media. He described journalists as “propaganda technicians” and portrayed members of the press as the enemy of the people who are working hand in glove with the ruling government of the day to decide the agenda.
“If they hate me, it's because they hate you. If they despise me, it's because they despise you," he said.
“The pack is now launched on my tail. My adversaries want my political death, the journalists want my social death, and the jihadists want my death at all [costs],” he added.
His speech and the violence at the rally were denounced across political party lines.
Elections for the French presidency are slated for April 2022.