France’s Le Pen tells Macron he risks ‘civil war’ after military letter

Marine Le Pen speaks to the press after a ceremony to mark the 76th anniversary of the end of World War II on May 8, 2021, in Henin-Beaumont, eastern France. (FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP / GETTY IMAGES)

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said France is at risk of a “civil war” as she prepares to tackle President Emmanuel Macron in 2022 election.

There are no signs of a coming conflict, but stoking tensions surrounding issues like economic inequality and a feeling the country is becoming less safe, serves Le Pen. She’s been campaigning for office since the start of the year, trying to frame herself as the law-and-order candidate.

There are no signs of a coming conflict, but stoking tensions surrounding issues like economic inequality and a feeling the country is becoming less safe, serves Le Pen

While Le Pen has spoken repeatedly about clamping down on migration and the need to be tougher on Islamism, her latest comments are perhaps the most contentious yet.

After a group of retired generals last month hinted at the threat of a military uprising, another open letter to the president on Sunday warned of “chaos and violence.” The first letter was signed — the latest one wasn’t, though it was attributed to unidentified serving officers by the right-wing weekly that published it, Valeurs Actuelles.

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Both times Le Pen backed the authors, while insisting she isn’t calling for insurrection and urging those who supported them to join her movement. Studies have documented high levels of far-right support among the army, twice higher than in the general population.

At a campaign event in western France on Monday, Le Pen said the latest letter offered “a lucid” assessment of the state of the country. “There’s always a risk of civil war,” she added.

Other French presidents have occasionally faced similar warnings from army officers over recent years but the threats never materialized. Officials from Macron’s administration dismissed the letters as political maneuvering.

In 2018, during protests by the Yellow Vest, a grassroots movement against a fuel tax that demands greater economic equality, and after a spat between Macron and the army Chief of Staff, some retired generals had already called for a military government.

Le Pen is running close to Macron in the polls, but the challenge for the 52-year-old nationalist in her third presidential campaign is to soften her profile enough to pick up more moderate voters while keeping her core electorate on her side.

The Republicans, the traditional right-wing party in France that has been squeezed between Macron and Le Pen, described it as a legitimate alarm bell

With less than a year to go before the first round of presidential voting and regional elections due next month, Le Pen is seeking to capitalize on concerns about security that Macron has failed to quell despite a high profile campaign to push back against Islamists responsible for a spate of violent attacks.

She tried to frame the first letter as referring mainly to the situation in the housing projects on the outskirts edge of many French cities which are typically racially diverse and economically deprived. She also argued that the government itself has expressed concern over insecurity and pointed out that one former Macron minister had talked about the risk of a widening gap between the projects and the rest of the country.

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The latest letter states that “the hatred of France and its history are becoming the norm” — an apparent reference to Macron’s efforts to acknowledge the abuses of France’s colonial past — and used coded language to criticize Muslim communities that don’t integrate with the rest of society.

“This is a far-right political column,” Prime Minister Jean Castex said, calling the signatories to lift their anonymity. The defense minister Florence Parly called the letter “political machinations” by the far-right. Interior minister Gerald Darmanin said it was “shoddy maneuvering” to boost Le Pen.

The Republicans, the traditional right-wing party in France that has been squeezed between Macron and Le Pen, described it as a legitimate alarm bell.

“If a civil war breaks out, the army will maintain order on its own soil, because it will be asked to do that,” the letter said, addressing Macron. It says its authors have served in Africa and Afghanistan “fighting Islamism, to which you are making concessions on our soil.”

By Monday evening around 200,000 people had signed the letter, according to Valeurs Actuelles.