Since she took over from Jean Marie in January, Marine Le Pen has been busily sanitizing the National Front – and she has been pretty good at it so far.
The 42-year old has sought to distance the party from anti-Semitism and holocaust denial of her 83 year old father – who stated Hitler’s gas chambers as a “detail” – describing racism as something for “people with small brains”. Marine has even tried to present the party as a friend of gays and women, who, like Jews “have to be careful about Muslims”.
Polls, giving her ratings varying from 16-21%, suggest the rebranding exercise has been working. She could even get through to the second round in the Presidential poll, due next year. This has happened only once before, under her father’s leadership in 2002.
Marine Le Pen has got President Nicolas Sarkozy worried. In what was seen as a direct response to her success, in March he moved to fire his diversity minister. He has also declared multi-culturalism “a failure” and announced a “debate on islam”.
But the National Front’s makeover may be coming unstuck. The trigger: the horrendous massacre in Norway on 23 July by fascist Anders Behring Breivik.
First, one of Marine Le Pen’s close political advisors, Laurent Ozon, started tweeting messages justifying the slaughter in Oslo as an inevitable result of immigration. “An explanation of the Oslo Drama : immigration explosion : X6 [increased six fold] between 1970 et 2009,” one of them said.
Then one of the National Front candidates for the March local elections, Jacques Coutela, published a blog that described Breivik as an “icon” and “leading defender of the west”, and concluded: “The reason for the terrorist action by the Norwegian nationalist : combat the muslim invasion, that’s what they are hiding from you.”
Now Le Pen senior, National Front honorary chairman, has weighed in. He wrote in his weekly comment on the organisation’s website that the “naivety” of the Norwegian Government , and its people, about the effects of immigration, as well as the flawed police response, was “more serious” than the killings of 78 innocents, which was an “accidental” act of a “madman”.
Apart from an initial short statement condemning the massacre, the minimalist reaction from the National Front HQ to these subsequent remarks from within its ranks has been widely interpreted as official backing for them. The councillor has merely been suspended, without a word of public comment. The party official was simply ticked off for going down a “false path”. And as yet, there has been stone silence from Marine Le Pen over Jean Marie’s remarks, who, given the chance by reporters to explain himself, gave no ground at all.
For campaigners in SOS Racism, Marine Le Pen’s silence showed her efforts to project an “image of respectability” for the organisation left intact a continuing ”hate for foreigners and disdain for life” in the National Front. Her leadership has simply been a case of “whitewashing the front of the house while continuing to prepare the old soup of hate and stigmatisation in the kitchens.”
Coutela, who says his blog contained words copied from elsewhere on the internet, is being pursued for “inciting racial hatred” by another Paris-based organisation, the Movement Against Racism.
Martine Aubry, a former Socialist minister who is a front runner in the socialist primaries for next year’s presidential election, condemned the “injustifiable” and “hateful” remarks for “relativising Breivik’s savage crimes” . They revealed a “gigantic operation of manipulation aimed at de-toxifying the National Front.”