David ‘Vichy’ French Endorses Biden. Are We Seeing a Tragedy or a Farce?

By John Zmirak Published on March 12, 2024

There’s a tragedy I’d like to write, if I were fluent in French. It’s a story of patriotism gone far astray, of a man who passionately loved his country but ended up betraying it. Joseph Darnand was a combat hero who hated his nation’s enemies, the Germans, and fought bravely against them in two world wars. Between those wars, Darnand joined extreme nationalist organizations dedicated to strengthening France for the next inevitable war against the Germans — and battling the Communists who opposed military spending. When the Germans overran France in 1940, Darnand was captured in combat, and managed a risky escape.

But then his country collapsed in May 1940. The weak government which could have snuffed out Hitler for years while he was still rearming simply dissolved, and was replaced by the Vichy regime. It was made up of fellow right-wingers and hardline patriots who, like him, had hated the Germans. They told themselves and all other Frenchmen that they were the “shield” against the Nazis, that they would get the best deal for France in the “New Europe” which seemed to be taking shape after Hitler’s irreversible victory.

Not a Shield but a Scourge

Joseph Darnand (Wikimedia, Public Domain)

But Vichy did not prove to be a “shield” for France. Its leaders became more and more dependent on the Germans, and soon proved too weak to extract any real concessions for Frenchmen. Almost 2 million French prisoners of war still worked as slaves in German factories. Germany let France hold onto its ramshackle colonies, but yearly increased its demands from France. The Nazis wanted help against the Allies, and Vichy complied. The Nazis called for a persecution of Jews, and Vichy joined in with aplomb, deporting not just foreign Jewish refugees but proud French Jewish citizens to Nazi concentration camps.

In fact, Vichy elites came up with a story to tell themselves. They latched onto the Nazi myth of “Judeo-Bolshevism,” a dog whistle from the 1920s designed to smear all Jews as Communists, and dismiss Communists as puppets of “the Jews.” So the Vichy regime could claim that it wasn’t a servile German puppet, doing the Nazis’ dirty work in return for some shabby trappings of power. No, it was protecting France from the real threat, Judeo-Bolshevism.

To get a real sense of this, I recommend watching the powerful documentary, Eye of Vichy. It shows how the Vichy leaders compensated for and justified their humiliating obedience to the Germans by constantly amping up their scapegoating of the Jews.

Fighting the French on Behalf of the Germans to “Save” France

What of Joseph Darnand? He organized a private militia of French veterans of two wars against the Germans, and put it at the service of the Germans. They made it their duty to track down and report the French Resistance (many of them Communists, who only turned against Vichy when Hitler turned against Stalin in 1941). Eventually, Darnand was tasked with forming the Milice, a paramilitary force that got arms from the Nazi SS and savagely hunted down Resistance figures. Finally, Darnand was driven to swear a personal oath of allegiance to Hitler. He’d never stopped hating Germans, but he managed to convince himself that the “Judeo-Bolsheviks” were the real threat to France.

In 1945, Darnand fled to Germany along with other Vichy leaders, only to be captured by the Allies. He was put on trial for treason, convicted, and executed. His last words were “Long live France!”

Once a Hero of Sorts

Unfortunately, since I don’t read the primary language, I’m not qualified to write the twisted, beguiling tale of Joseph Darnand. So let me settle instead for telling the tale of David French. Whether these stories are ultimately tragedies or farces, I leave to the reader.

David French

Believe it or not, French was once a hero of the Christian right. Like Darnand, he came from humble beginnings. He distinguished himself not in combat, but at Harvard Law School. He served as senior counsel for the pivotal religious liberty group the Alliance Defending Freedom (a group now targeted for debanking by the Biden administration), and later played the same role at the American Center for Law and Justice. He also served as president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which for more than a decade led the fight against leftist speech codes and indoctrination on campus.

French once took a firm, public stance against same-sex marriage, signing the Nashville Declaration. He became a regular writer at the erstwhile conservative bulwark National Review. A fervent booster of America’s invasion of Iraq, French served as a military attorney in the pacified, closely patrolled Green Zone. He presented himself as an icon of “principled conservatism,” a phrase he would use a lot over the years. He claimed to stand for an evangelical Christian politic that respected our Constitution’s limits, balancing faith and freedom.

Collaborating Like There’s No Tomorrow

What happened to that David French? How is it that now he calls Drag Queen Story hour “one of the blessings of liberty” guaranteed by our Constitution — rather than a sick example of child abuse? How could civil libertarian French have urged on the savage persecution of peaceful January 6 protestors? Why has he endorsed Joe Biden’s reelection, calling on Nikki Haley’s voters to support a president who backs abortion up through birth, transgender mutilation of children, and de facto open borders? Why is French helping craft defeatist political catechisms for Christians funded by Planned Parenthood donors? Why star in a film like God & Country, which smears pro-lifers and religious liberty advocates as “Christian Nationalists” — a hateful dog-whistle term that is every bit as unfounded and malicious as “Judeo-Bolshevism”?

I once debated French online at The New York Times. In the course of that event, he deplored Donald Trump’s personal “character.” I countered that George W. Bush, whom French admired, had failed to stop a mass genocide of Christians in Iraq that took place on his watch. (I was friends with Iraqi Christians whose families were living in shipping containers — frozen out even from refugee camps controlled by the intolerant jihadis Bush empowered.)

French just seemed baffled by that. He said that I was speaking of a “policy” matter, which didn’t reflect on Bush’s character. (But apparently mean tweets and past infidelities do.)

From French Hero to SS Commander, by a Thousand Tiny Compromises

Is “Trump Derangement Syndrome” sufficient to explain such a cognitive and moral collapse? That’s how it started. The GOP elites whom French had admired and cultivated, who encouraged him to seriously consider a 2016 third-party presidential run, shared that derangement. They were so invested in their control of conservative institutions that they had to demonize the movement that threatened to usurp them. First enraged at Trump, they soon began genuinely to hate the populist voters who backed him, to believe in the Christian Nationalist slur — as Darnand believed in the phantom menace of “Judeo-Bolshevism.”

Once they’d cut themselves off from those voters and their interests and declared themselves “NeverTrumpers,” they now were fully committed, just as Vichy officials were when they called for German victory. Leftist Democrat victories, French and his faction now said, were preferable to the triumph of the unwashed hordes, the “Christian Nationalists” who supported Donald Trump.

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Those one-time conservatives had become collaborators. And the problem with being a collaborator, as the Vichy French discovered, is that the price just keeps soaring, and the rewards always diminish. Your former friends detest you, and your new allies hold you in contempt.

By the end of the war, the Vichy French were more fanatically pro-Hitler than most Germans outside the SS. Indeed, many of them outright joined the SS, as Darnand did. They were cornered and alone.

I don’t envy David French. I feel for him the same blend of puzzlement and pity evoked by Joseph Darnand. Ultimately, I’d like to screen French’s God & Country movie in a Manhattan double feature with Eye of Vichy.

 

John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or coauthor of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. His upcoming book is No Second Amendment, No First.

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