Two extremist political leaders in France are facing charges for "reviving and maintaining a league dissolved pursuant to court order" — French legalese for trying to reestablish hate groups banned by the government.
One of the men is Yves Benedetti, the former leader of Oeuvre Française (French Work), a minor political group that was officially disbanded in July 2013 by a presidential decree. The other is Alexandre Gabriac, nicknamed the French media's "favorite fascist," the former head of Jeunesses Nationalistes (Nationalist Youth), a neo-Nazi group.
Benedetti — who describes himself on Twitter as the "President, against insurmountable odds, of Oeuvre Française, a movement banned by the socialist dictatorship" — has been flaunting the government ban and keeping the group active through its website, Jeune Nation.
French Work is a self-styled "nationalist movement," founded in 1968 by Pierre Sidos. Its mission is to keep "France for the French." The group's emblem is the Celtic cross. In July 2013, French interior minister Emmanuel Valls likened French Work to a private militia with paramilitary training camps.
The Nationalist Youth movement is an offshoot of French Work. It was founded in 2011 by Gabriac, a former member of the National Front party.
Following the death of Clément Méric, an 18-year-old leftist militant who was beaten to death by a skinhead gang in Paris in June 2013, French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for a ban on all far-right groups in the country, stating that he planned to "take an axe… to these fascist and Nazi movements that are harming the Republic."
The ban took effect the following month, in July 2013, and was justified by France's internal security code, which orders the dissolution of any group that incites racial hatred or glorifies France's collaboration with the Nazis during the Vichy regime.
Speaking outside the judge's office on Thursday, Benedetti told Jeune Nation that he "stuck to a declaration of principles." He said that, "French Work continues to exist because it is not up to a two-year-old government to ban a movement that has existed since 1968."
Benedetti joined the National Front party in 2005 as Bruno Gollnisch's right-hand man. Gollnisch, a stalwart of the National Front, is a controversial figure in French politics who was previously charged with inciting racial hatred. Benedetti was expelled from the National Front in 2011 after branding himself, "anti-zionist, antisemitic, and anti-Jew."
The 23-year-old Gabriac is also a former National Front member. He was thrown out in 2011 after posting pictures of himself on Facebook giving a Nazi salute.
In October 2014, a court in Lyon overturned the results of a municipal election in the town of Vénissieux after two right-wing councillors — including Benedetti — were elected. Benedetti and his running mates — including Gabriac — gathered 11.49 percent of votes in the first round of the election, and 10.26 percent in the second. But, according to reports published in French daily Le Figaro, 19 out of the 49 people listed as running with Benedetti and Gabriac were unaware they were on the ballot. After the suspected fraud, French courts banned Benedetti from running for public office for a year.
Follow Virgile Dall'Armellina on Twitter: @armellina