In the latest chapter of an explosive family rift marked by anti-Semitic provocations and political infighting, France's far-right veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen has been suspended from the National Front (FN) party that he co-founded in the 1970s, while also publicly disowning his daughter, National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen.
In a scathing attack on his daughter, Jean-Marie said he was ashamed to share a surname with Marine, and urged her to "get married as quickly as possible." The elder Le Pen also said he might seek legal action following his suspension.
FN's executive bureau suspended Jean-Marie from the party on Monday over incendiary comments he made in April calling Nazi gas chambers during the Holocaust merely a "detail" of history and claiming "the white world" was under threat.
As a result of the remarks — which many see as an attempt to sabotage Marine's efforts to soften the party's historically xenophobic and anti-Semitic image — Jean-Marie also risks being stripped of his role as honorary FN president, a decision that will be made within the next three months through a party-wide vote.
Speaking on French radio station Europe 1, Jean-Marie described the bureau's decision as "a felony," and said he would not be supporting his daughter's bid for the French presidency in 2017, on the grounds that it would be "scandalous" for a person with "her moral principles" to lead the country forward. He also accused his daughter of being worse than "the UMPS" — a sarcastic blending of the rightwing UMP and French Socialist (PS) party names — saying that "those adversaries fight you to your face, but she is stabbing me in the back."
Marine announced that she would seek disciplinary proceedings against her father in April over his comments to BFMTV — in which he made the remark gas chambers were a mere "detail" of WWII, a repeat of comments made years earlier — and to French far-right weekly Rivarol, in which 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.
After a very public cold war between father and daughter, the elder Le Pen seemed to have heeded Marine's call that he step down from politics, when he announced that he would not stand in regional elections later this year, and instead urged FN sympathizers to back his 25-year-old granddaughter, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.
"La force d'une famille, comme la force d'une armée, réside dans la loyauté de ses membres"
— Jean-Marie Le Pen (@lepenjm) April 10, 2015
But the family feud took another ugly turn on Friday at the FN's annual May 1 rally, when Jean-Marie made an unscheduled intrusion onto the podium, moments before Marine delivered her address. The crowd erupted in cheer when the elder Le Pen made his surprise appearance on the stage.
Marine, meanwhile, has described her estranged father's intrusion as "malicious" and "contemptuous." Speaking to Europe 1, iTélé and Le Monde on Sunday, she urged her father to stop speaking on behalf of the party, adding that the FN "should be "shielded from Jean-Marie's unacceptable remarks."
For Yves Camus, an associate researcher at France's Institute for International and Strategic Relationships and an expert on the country's far-right movement, the support from the crowd illustrates the growing rift between the FN leadership and the party base, whose response to the issue is more "emotional."
According to Camus, some of the FN leaders' harsh treatment of Jean-Marie does not sit well with the honorary president's supporters, who find his chastising "ungrateful."
La rupture politique avec JMLP est désormais totale et définitive. Sous l'impulsion de Marine Le Pen des décisions seront prises rapidement.
— Florian Philippot (@f_philippot) April 8, 2015
Politically, explained Camus, Marine has no choice but to distance herself from her father, whose comments "are responsible for marginalizing the party." And while some of Jean-Marie's supporters have been unflinching in their loyalty, many are starting to get tired of their former party leader's antics.
"They're grateful, but they're also annoyed, because they're conscious of the negative political impact of Jean-Marie Le Pen's presence within the party," he said, explaining that the younger generation of FN voters is particularly tired of the elder Le Pen's incendiary comments, "even though they themselves represent other forms of radicalism."
Follow Matthieu Jublin on Twitter : @MatthieuJublin
Image via Kenji-Baptiste OIKAWA/Wikimedia Commons