The U.S. Alt-Right Takes A Role In The French Election
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The far-right in France has been working hard to swing the election toward its candidate, Marine Le Pen, after her opponent independent-centrist Emmanuel Macron's campaign emails were hacked. The white nationalist, alt-right in the United States got into the act, too.
To learn more, we've reached out to Ben Nimmo. He is with the Atlantic Council's digital forensic research lab. He's been studying the far-right's work against Macron and others. He joins us from the United Kingdom via Skype. Thanks so much for joining us.
BEN NIMMO: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, first of all, do we know who is behind the hack?
NIMMO: No, we don't. There's been a lot of Twitter traffic suggesting that it was a Russian group variously known as APT 28 or Fancy Bear or Cozy Bear. But I haven't seen rock-hard evidence that would say this was definitely a Russian operation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why would American white nationalists dive into that fight?
NIMMO: Something we've been seeing for the past six months or so is an increasing attempt by white nationalists both in the U.S. and in Europe to work together more. And for example, last week, a white nationalist in the U.K. pushed out a video suggesting your fellow thinkers how they could create means to attack Macron. And it very interestingly made the point - there's no point trying to impress the French people with Le Pen at this stage. What you need to do is make Macron look bad.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What did we see after this hack of Macron's campaign emails? How were the alt-right in the United States involved?
NIMMO: This really came to the public eye when a gentleman called Jack Posobiec in D.C. tweeted about it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And he is?
NIMMO: He's a known alt-right advocate and activist in the United States. He was a very strong supporter of Donald Trump during his presidential campaign. He moves very much in that circle of white-nationalist voices. And his hashtag #Macronleaks was shared widely by fellow thinkers in the United States. And then about 90 minutes later, it was picked up by a cluster of accounts in France, which are French language ultranationalist accounts, supporters of Le Pen whom I've been observing for several months.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what happened after?
NIMMO: What we've seen during the course of Saturday - so the day before the election - is that progressively more French language tweets have come through. So the balance has shifted more from English language to French.
But progressively more and more of the best performing tweets have actually been opposed to Le Pen and opposed to the white nationalist in the U.S. and, in some cases, have been openly mocking them. So for example, I saw a tweet earlier today, which was retweeted about 600 times, talking about the irony of American nationalists trying to influence the French in English.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think because this has been so highly publicized what happened in the United States - the attempts also in the Dutch elections - that possibly this will not have such a big impact because the public might be inured to this kind of tactic?
NIMMO: My suspicion is that this Twitter storm around Macron leaks will do less well. And I don't think at this stage that it looks like it has the power to fundamentally change the election. One factor in that is, consistently, over the last three or four months, the opinion polls have said that if the second round of the French presidential election is between Macron and Le Pen, Macron will win by about 60-40.
And on top of that, if the goal of these leaks was to energize and galvanize French nationalists, it's worth bearing in mind that two of the consistent threads of French nationalism for at least the last 50 years have been resentment of American world domination and resentment of the encroachment of the English language into French.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so you have white nationalists in the United States tweeting in English and getting involved in the French elections, which might not go over well with the exact people that they're trying to influence, is what you're saying?
NIMMO: That's exactly right.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ben Nimmo of the Atlantic Council, thanks so much for being with us today.
NIMMO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.