Donald Trump poses many dangers, high among them the way he plays to the economic rage of workers losing their jobs to globalization and automation, the racial rancor of whites losing their privileged majority status, and the religious resentment of Evangelicals who fear losing their last, best chance to impose their religious views on “a Christian America.”
Trump pushes all their hot buttons. He also empowers the alt-right, Ku Kluxers, and others who openly preach White Supremacy, explicit Nazi ideology, and extreme measures against Muslims, Jews, and immigrants.
Trump and his chief strategist Steve Bannon continue to pander to these nasties on both sides of the Atlantic, nowhere more than in France, where Marine Le Pen has turned her father’s Jew-baiting Front National, or FN, into Europe’s leading anti-Muslim political force. Understanding all this properly offers an insight into where Trump and Bannon are heading.
Are Marine Le Pen and her FN truly neo-fascist, as I have described them over the past several years? A brilliant French academic says I’m dead wrong.
“Referring to fascism or Nazism with regard to the FN, commonplace in some militant circles, can only obscure understanding,” writes Joël Gombin, a 33-year-old political scientist who specializes in French elections and the far right. “The FN, as a party, has nothing to do today with (neo)fascism or (neo)Nazism.”
I disagree. My understanding begins with Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, a former paratrooper and intelligence officer whose unit brutally tortured and killed “Arab terrorists” in Algeria. In the late 1960s, he ran a record company that produced “The Third Reich: Voices and Songs of the German Revolution.” The album included such old favorites as “Vive Hitler” and “The Hymn of the Nazi Party.” On the record jacket, Le Pen characterized Hitler and the National Socialists in their rise to power as “a powerful mass movement, altogether popular and democratic, that triumphed through elections.”
Jean-Marie followed up on this idea in 1972, helping to bring together self-proclaimed fascists, Vichy collaborators, well-known war criminals, ultra-rightwing Catholics, and supporters of Algérie française and the terrorist Secret Army Organization, which had failed in its attempt to keep the French government of Gen. Charles de Gaulle from withdrawing from Algeria. These militants all saw themselves, in Gombin’s perfect phrase, as “the losers of history, the forsaken, those that the account written by the victors ― the Allies, the Gaullists, the communists ― had consigned to the dustbin of history.”
Merging their differences, they formed the Front National, receiving support from the Movimento social Italiano, or MSI, who remained followers of Mussolini.
FN became Jean-Marie’s base as he built a reputation for being soft on Nazi Germany and shamelessly provocative toward Jews. He publicly dismissed the Holocaust as “a mere detail in the history of the Second World War.” He publicly made puns about the Nazi gas ovens. He accused President Jacques Chirac of being “in the pay of Jewish organizations” and argued publicly that the Nazi occupation of France “was not especially inhumane.”
Having forgotten Voltaire’s historic commitment to free speech, French authorities used various laws against hate speech and Holocaust denial to repeatedly prosecute Le Pen, which only increased his popularity among certain sectors of the French population. This led to his greatest success, when in the 2002 presidential election he beat the Socialist Party prime minister Lionel Jospin to win a place in the second round against Chirac, who trounced him with massive support from the left.
Flash forward to 2012, when Marine Le Pen took over as FN’s president, and to 2015, when she expelled her father from the party for continuing to make provocative statements. In those years and down to the present, she has worked hard to “de-demonize” the FN, emphasizing new issues and changing the party in ways that break sharply with its past.
She tossed out the more radical fringes of the party. She supports gay rights and secularism. She calls herself a Gaullist and “a moderate,” and claims the FN is on neither the right nor the left. She scathingly attacks neoliberal economics and finance-dominated capitalism. She calls for a referendum to take France out of the European Union, or Frexit, as it’s called here. She criticizes Nazi Germany, calls the gas chambers a non-negotiable fact of history, and describes the Holocaust as “the summit of human barbarism.” She roundly condemns anti-Semitism, openly seeks Jewish support, and with her live-in lover Louis Aliot – who boasts of his North African Jewish grandfather ― has even made friends with Israel.
But, for all this, she retains a defining element of her father’s Front National and of Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany. She blames a “foreign” group for a large share of France’s problems. Only instead of pointing her finger at “the Jews,” she castigates “the Muslims” and even opposes letting schools provide Muslim students with an alternative to pork.
“It’s the same politics of scapegoating that it always has been,” explains Professor Nonna Mayer, an expert on the French far right at the prestigious Paris Institute for Political Studies, or Sciences Po. For me, this more than justifies calling her and her Front National neo-fascists, and Trump’s “friending” her on the international stage suggests that his anti-Muslim rhetoric will lead in an extremely dangerous direction.
Steve Weissman © 2016
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold."
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