France’s far right Front National (FN) has been rising in the opinion polls of late – one showing that one in four French voters would back the party in next spring’s European elections.
As part of her bid to capitalise on disillusionment with Socialist President Francois Hollande’s broken promises to reverse austerity and deliver jobs and growth, FN leader Marine Le Pen has been trying hard to reposition the party, away from racism and Holocaust-denial into the political mainstream. She has even threatened to sue anyone using the term “extreme right”.
Yet in less than one month, three FN candidates for next March’s local elections have quit the party.
“The defections demonstrate the idea that behind the official discourse, the party has not changed since Marine Le Pen took the reins in January 2011,” according to French broadcaster Europe 1.
Nadia Portheault, a 26-year-old mother from an Algerian background and head of the party’s list in Saint -Alban, in the Haute -Garonne department in the south west, got the ball rolling on November 5, after hearing one party militant say: “You and your children are good for the oven… “.
Portheault said that the party was plagued with “racism and homophobia” and that “neo-Nazis” are among its members.
She originally wanted to run to become mayor of Saint-Alban, near Toulouse, in south-west France, using her maiden name of Djelida. But FN executives said such an Arab name would be a “disability” with one saying that immigrants from North Africa might end up in the Nazi gas chambers, like French Jews during the war.
Portheault and her husband, Thierry, said the brother of one activist boasted about his Swastika tattoo and hated “Arabs and gays”.
Now other candidates have slammed the door on the party, after seeing it from the inside.
Arnaud Clere, a militant in the country’s main right-wing party, UMP, in the Somme, announced in May 2013 his decision to ally with the FN for municipal elections in commune of Gamaches. Excluded from the UMP, he decided to join the small party Sovereignty Freedom and Independence which has been allied with the Front National since 2012. But six months later, the defector is having serious regrets. “I made the mistake to ally myself with a sectarian, anti- republican, dictatorial party.”
The second defector, Anna Rosso-Roig who was previously with the radical Left Front, announced Monday morning she was withdrawing his candidacy from the Marseille electoral list, as she not able to adhere to its “too radical political line”. During the 2012 legislative elections, the mother of two children confided that she “have been seduced by Marine Le Pen”, who she viewed then as “much more moderate than her father”, the founder of the party, Jean-Marie.
Arnaud Clere is now clear he’d been taken in too. He “made a mistake to think that the FN was a party one could frequent.” Clere adds: “When you see Marine Le Pen on television, you cannot imagine what [the party] looks like behind the scenes.”
Marine Le Pen’s strategy of de-toxifying the party is a “sham”, Europe 1 says. ‘Behind the controlled and policed speeches of Marine Le Pen, is racism and xenophobia, which is common in local meetings.’
Arnaud Cléré recounts a meeting last month with the head of the party’s list in Henin- Beaumont, where he saw swastikas tattooed on the arms of two participants. “When I listened to Marine Le Pen, I thought this kind of character did not exist in the National Front but unfortunately I have seen it with my own eyes,” he says. Anna Rosso -Roig recounts the humour of the Marseille’s candidate Stephane Ravier, who reportedly described rape as “love relationship that one of the two parties wishes. The other party could make an effort.”
In a book published in 2013, Bienvenue au Front-Journal d’une infiltrée, (Welcome to Front), journalist Claire Checcaglini, who infiltrated the party for several months, confided: “I found a lot of racist people who were relaxed about their racism.”
One FN electoral candidate, who too openly displayed the movement’s abhorrent politics when he declared of black justice minister Christiane Taubira that he would “rather see her in the trees than in the government” was suspended.
But Marine Le Pen hasn’t been trying that hard to hide the true nature of the party. Only last month she caused outrage with islamophobic comments in connection with the release of four French hostages held by al-Qaida for 37 months in Niger. A faux pas? No, just more evidence that the party remains thoroughly toxic, right to the top.