General Alliance Against Racism and for Respect of the French and Christian Identity (Saint-Michel Cinema Attack)

Radical Catholic extremists involved in a a fiery protest against cinematic blasphemy.

The General Alliance Against Racism and for Respect of the French and Christian Identity (Alliance générale contre le racisme et pour le respect de l’identité française et chrétienne; AGRIF) is a unique amalgamation of far-right politics and Catholic integralism, established with the aim of combating what it perceives as hate speech against Christians and the French populace. Founded in 1984 by Bernard Antony, a notable figure within the far-right Front National and a representative in the European Parliament, AGRIF stands as a testament to the intersection of religious fervor and nationalist sentiment within the political landscape of France.

The organization’s foundation was motivated by a desire to address anti-French and anti-Christian sentiments, leveraging the legal framework established by the Law on the Freedom of the Press of 29 July 1881 and its subsequent amendment in 1972, known as the Loi Pleven, which outlawed hate speech. This legal backbone enabled AGRIF to challenge perceived defamation in court, seeking to extend the protections typically afforded to vulnerable minorities to encompass the majority population of French Christians as well.

AGRIF’s legal battles have been a mix of victories and defeats. In its early years, the organization achieved recognition as an anti-racism entity by the French courts, a status that allowed it to bring forth cases against perceived defamation. Notably, AGRIF engaged in legal disputes against individuals and publications it accused of defaming Catholics, winning a landmark case in the Court of Cassation in the 1990s that set a precedent for the prosecution of hate speech targeting sub-groups within the Christian community.

However, AGRIF’s success in court has waned over the years, with the European Court of Human Rights often ruling against it in favor of free speech. This shift reflects a broader legal and cultural debate over the limits of hate speech protections and the balance between combating defamation and preserving freedom of expression.

Beyond the courtroom, AGRIF maintains a public presence through its quarterly bulletin, La Griffe, and connections with far-right media, illustrating its ongoing commitment to cultural and political advocacy within France. Despite facing criticism and controversy, especially from entities like the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, which labeled AGRIF as “anti-muslim,” the organization persists in its mission to defend what it sees as the besieged pillars of French and Christian identity.

Saint-Michel cinema attack

On the night of October 22, 1988, a dramatic act of violence shook the cultural landscape of Paris, France, marking a collision between radical religious beliefs and artistic expression. The Saint-Michel cinema, located in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, became the target of an integrist Catholic group’s ire for its screening of Martin Scorsese’s controversial film, The Last Temptation of Christ. The attackers employed an incendiary device, composed of potassium chlorate and sulphuric acid, igniting a blaze that injured fourteen individuals, severely burning four of them.

The attack did not result in any fatalities but inflicted substantial damage on the cinema, necessitating its closure for three years for restoration efforts. The Archbishop of Paris at the time, Jean-Marie Lustiger, although he had previously criticized the film for its content, condemned the violent act, labeling the perpetrators as “enemies of Christ”.

Investigations revealed the attack to be the handiwork of Christian fundamentalist groups with ties to far-right political elements, specifically Bernard Antony of the Front National (NF) and followers of the excommunicated Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. These groups, characterized by their rejection of modernity, the revolution, and the republic, saw the film’s depiction of Christ as blasphemous. Their campaign against the film extended beyond the Saint-Michel attack, including other forms of vandalism and aggression against cinemas showing the film.

Ultimately, at least nine individuals associated with the AGRIF, were apprehended. Five members of this group received suspended prison sentences ranging from 15 to 36 months and were collectively fined 450,000 francs in damages.