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Journalist, essayist, editor and politician
Essays, TV, Radio
He considered the priesthood for a time, but eventually opted to study philosophy. He founded the NGO Reporters Without Borders and worked as its secretary general until 2008. More recently, he has worked with TV channels such as RTL and then with I-Tele as a columnist.
After starting on the left, Menard gradually embraced right-wing ideas. Although he does not belong to the National Front (now National Rally), the party supported him during the Beziers municipal elections in March 2014.
Since then, he has been the center of a string of controversies, and shared reactionary ideas and openly anti-immigration viewpoints.
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The controversial mayor of Beziers, a town of 71,000 people in southern France, is known for his outspoken opposition to migrants whom he compares to invaders, saying they must be stopped at all costs.
Along with xenophobia and rampant Islamophobia, Robert Menard’s conservative ideology emphasizes France’s Christian heritage.
Menard was born in 1953 in Oran, Algeria, to French parents. When he was nine, the family returned to France and he continued his education in a Catholic school. He considered entering the priesthood for a time, but eventually opted to study philosophy.
He was one of the founders of Reporters Without Borders, and worked as the NGO’s secretary general until 2008. More recently, he has written opinion articles for French media outlets such as RTL and I-Tele.
Since being elected mayor of Beziers in 2014, Menard has been at the center of several controversies, and has shared reactionary ideas and openly anti-immigration and Islamophobic views.
After the 2015 terrorist attacks on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, he made explicitly Islamophobic declarations. Under the title “They Hate Us,” Menard published a column in which he claimed that Muslims simply detested the West.
“Islam is insoluble in democracy,” he wrote.
Menard concluded that what motivates Muslims who voice their anger in the streets “is a loathing of the West as a whole.”
He added: “More and more they reject our values. They reject the very foundations of our society — from freedom of expression to respect for women and even religious freedom.”
Menard represents a new face of extremism, an uninhibited racism that is unafraid to be called Islamophobic.
In the conclusion to his column on Muslims, he defended French actress and film producer Veronique Genest, who declared: “If to be Islamophobic is to be afraid, then I am Islamophobic, like many French people.”
Menard said that he is “attentive” to Renaud Camus, the French philosopher behind the “great replacement” theory championed by many white supremacists and terrorists, including the Christchurch massacre perpetrator.
Menard continues to voice his concerns over what he describes as an “imbalance” resulting from uncontrolled immigration.
He described the town of Beziers as being “occupied by North Africans, gypsies and the poor.”
In his speeches, he claims Western democracy is under threat as a result of drastic demographic change and the arrival of large numbers of Africans — as evidenced by comments collected by the conservative magazine Causeur: “With the population change we are witnessing today, demography will eventually rule. A bit like those African countries where the majority ethnic groups impose everything on the minorities. I don’t want that for France. If, tomorrow, in a number of cities like Beziers, the French of immigrant origin voted as overwhelmingly as the rest of the population, that would radically change the political situation. And I do not want that.”
In his 2016 book “Abecedaire De La France Qui Ne Veut Pas Mourir” (“ABC of France that Does Not Want to Die”), Menard adopted the role of self-proclaimed whistleblower and warned of the “undeniable changes” taking place in the country.
He has called for a French moral awakening, and for the country to save its identity and heritage. Menard blames France’s expected death on the globalized elites who encourage mass immigration as well as Islamists who are increasingly gaining ground in the West.
His populist tendencies became clear in his first mayoral term, which was punctuated by controversial measures and declarations that drew national attention.
Defying French laws on secularism, Menard had a Nativity crib installed in the lobby of the Beziers town hall in 2017, declaring: “The city hall crib is the France we love.”
He was fined but repeated his breach the following year by installing the crib on the town hall forecourt.
An anti-migrant campaign also brought Menard into the national spotlight after posters depicting “migrants who arrive in the city center” appeared around Beziers.
The campaign was condemned by the government and the anti-racism group SOS Racisme. The posters read: “This is it, they are coming — the migrants in our city center.” The accompanying photo, showing the backs of men in front of the city’s Saint-Nazaire cathedral, carried the warning: “The state imposes them on us.”
Like many figures on the French far right, Menard defines himself not as a thinker or theorist but as a man of action — an elected official fighting on behalf of his constituents. In this way he justifies the use of force to establish authority in the city.
Several right-wing and far-right figures, including Marine Le Pen, have distanced themselves from the aggressive anti-migrant poster campaigns and muscular actions against migrants orchestrated by Menard.
When Causeur journalists queried Menard’s visit to apartments illegally occupied by migrants and asked him if he personally resented the newcomers, he answered: “The migrants have been driven here by organized networks, real mafias. They have broken into public housing, smashed the doors with a crowbar.
“In the face of such situations, I use all the means at my disposal. And I do not hesitate to use posters that shock our great souls. But it is the reality that is harsh. I don’t care if people make faces in Paris. In Beziers, the vast majority of my fellow citizens agree with me. They finally have, they say, a mayor who says what they feel.”