French far-right National Front (FN) party leader Marine Le Pen has announced she will seek disciplinary proceedings against her father, FN founder and honorary chairman Jean-Marie Le Pen. The elder Le Pen made a string of incendiary remarks to various French publications this week, including reiterating his claim that World War II gas chambers were a mere "detail of history" and issuing a call to defend "the white world."
Speaking on the French television news channel TF1 on Thursday, Marine Le Pen alluded to "ancient and profound disagreements" with her father, and confirmed suspicions that she would oppose his presumed candidacy to the presidency of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur (PACA) region in elections in December.
Party officials had been debating whether or not to formally exclude the 86-year-old Le Pen following a week of damaging declarations to the press.
Over the last few decades, the elder Le Pen has not only run for president many times but also been convicted for racial hatred and anti-Semitism during a political career marked by an intolerant and outrageous brand of provocation.
This latest chapter in the family feud pitting Le Pen against Le Pen has accentuated the ideological rift within a party that is desperately trying to shed the xenophobic and intolerant image of its early years.
No two people better embody the party's struggle than Marine, whose tireless efforts to mainstream the party through grassroots campaigning have established the FN as a legitimate political group, and Jean-Marie, whose penchant for controversy and outbursts of intolerance have been described as "political suicide" by his daughter.
In a statement released Wednesday, Marine Le Pen said that her father had left her no choice but to consult with party leaders on how to "protect the National Front's best interests" from its former leader's "scorched earth policy." In Thursday's televised interview, she described her father's latest comments as "a form of personal delirium," and wondered why the man who founded the party in 1972 "persisted in trying to weaken the party."
Speaking Thursday at a public gathering in the northern town of Gouvieux, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy said he didn't know "whether to cry laughing or cry from sadness" at the unfolding family drama.
In an interview on BFMTV on April 2, three days after the FN's bittersweet victory in local elections — despite historic gains, the party failed to secure a district — Le Pen senior was asked whether he regretted earlier comments he had made about the Holocaust.
"What I said was what I think," he answered, "that the gas chambers were a detail of the war — unless you accept that the war was a detail of the gas chambers." Le Pen was convicted and fined in 1987 for making similar comments on French radio RTL.
In 2005, Le Pen claimed, "No one is interested in a nice Front," goading his critics by saying, "Before the 'detail' there were 2.2 millions of voters; after, 4.4 million."
Speaking on Thursday, Marine Le Pen said that, despite her father's "great experience," the party's former No. 1 lacked "the necessary wisdom" to represent the FN, which had grown "tired" of his gaffes.
The disciplinary council could decide to remove Jean-Marie Le Pen from the party, but for now, Marine has simply urged him to step down from politics. He will be called to appear in front of the party's "executive office" as part of the "disciplinary proceedings" against him, specifically for his comments in the current issue of Rivarol.
The old vs. the new guard
Following Jean-Marie Le Pen's interview on BFMTV, Marine had distanced herself publicly from her father, saying she was "in profound disagreement with the form and substance" of his remarks. Instead of ending the feud, the daughter's measured diplomacy only egged her father on.
"I am not the type of man who changes his mind or crawls," he replied, widening the ideological gap between them.
Days later, in an interview with French far-right weekly Rivarol — which Marine described Thursday as "a vile rag" — Jean-Marie Le Pen revisited a number of his trademark topics, including his leniency for Marshal Pétain, the French general who oversaw France's collaboration with Nazi Germany, and his anti-immigration agenda.
In the interview, which was published on Thursday but leaked on Tuesday, Le Pen also describes a political alliance with Russia as imperative in order to "save Northern Europe and the white world."
Rivarol, like Le Pen, is no stranger to controversy; in 2014 the magazine was handed a 2,000 Euro fine and a conviction for "inciting hatred against Jews."
Le Pen also laid into French Prime Minister Manuel Valls — who was born in Barcelona, Spain, and became a naturalized French citizen in 1982 — declaring, "Valls has been French for 30 years, I've been French for 1,000 years."
Questioning the prime minister's loyalty to France, Le Pen asked, "Did this immigrant have a complete change of heart?"
He continued his diatribe with an attack on democracy, telling the interviewer, "I understand completely that people question democracy, and fight it." The National Front, he argued, is a right-wing political party, despite his daughter's claims that the party is "neither left-wing nor right-wing."
Historian Valérie Igounet, who has written extensively about the French far right, told VICE News that Jean-Marie Le Pen's latest outbursts reveal a nostalgia for the FN of the 1970s. "In the interview, he mentions the 'socialist-communist' hunt — an expression that hasn't been heard for decades," said the historian.
"Marine Le Pen represents a far-right party in 2015. The FN in 1972 [the year it was founded] has changed," Igounet explained, describing the generational rift as a "latent war that has erupted very publicly."
This "latent war" has been unfolding for years in the pages of Rivarol — a magazine that has taken a stand against Marine Le Pen in the past — and in Le Pen senior's successive blunders over the years.
Last year, Marine had accused her father of committing "a political mistake" after he said he would include Jewish French singer Patrick Bruel "in the next oven batch." "Fournée," the French word for oven batch, was interpreted by critics as meaning Nazi concentration camp crematories.
"They're both stubborn"
Speaking on TF1 on Thursday, Marine Le Pen said that, "Before being a daughter and a father, we are political leaders." Referencing her decision to oppose her father's candidacy, she argued that Jean-Marie Le Pen was no longer "in a position to be 'the best locomotive' to pull the list in the PACA [region]."
FN vice-president Florian Philippot said the best possible outcome would be for the FN's honorary chairman to "retire or resign" from the party he founded 40 years ago.
Film director Serge Moati, who has made several documentaries about the FN over the year and has known the family for 25 years, told VICE News that her father's anti-Semitic comments last summer had come at a bad time for Marine, who had just failed to form a caucus in the new European parliament, having been shunned by the right-wing Eurosceptic UKIP party for being "anti-Semitic."
Moati explained that the political rift within the party is indistinguishable from the Le Pen family crisis. "It's as though his daughter, his creature, were slipping through his fingers," said Moati. "It's archaic and at the same time it's political, because when she became president of FN thanks to her father, she surrounded herself with people who disagree with her father's vision of the party, particularly on questions of economic policy."
But Moati believes that Jean-Marie Le Pen will not go down without a fight. "The story hasn't ended yet," said the filmmaker. "Both of them are stubborn. Her credibility as a presidential candidate is at stake, so she has to be ruthless […] she has to oppose his candidacy in PACA."
As for removing Le Pen from his symbolic post as honorary chairman of the party, Moati believes Marine's troubles have only just started. "She has to fully take on the role of [presidential] candidate and distance herself from her father," he said. "He won't make it easy for her."
Responding Thursday to his potential eviction from the party, Jean-Marie Le Pen described the idea as "crazy" and said such a move had the potential to cause the party to "implode."
"Marine Le Pen may want me dead, that's possible," he added, "but she must not count on my co-operation."
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Image via Wikimedia Commons / Blandine Le Cain