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Marine Le Pen Expels Her Father From National Front, Party He Founded

A fight to clean up the National Front has turned into an acrimonious father-daughter battle.

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He has called the Nazis’ use of gas chambers during World War II a mere “detail” of history and insisted that France’s collaborationist wartime leader, Philippe Pétain, later convicted of treason, is not a traitor. For this, Jean-Marie Le Pen, 87, has become a scourge for the party he founded, the National Front, and his daughter, Marine Le Pen, who leads it.

On Thursday, the National Front expelled Jean-Marie from the party, the latest twist in Marine’s effort to break with the party’s anti-Semitic past and broaden its appeal beyond a corner of right-wing French politics. The party has tried and failed to expel Jean-Marie before, and on Thursday the octogenarian icon of France’s far-right said he would challenge the latest decision in court. “I am outraged; I feel like I’ve been ambushed,” he said on television after the decision was issued. His lawyer, Frederic Joachim, went even further: The move, Joachim said, was a “political assassination.”

The National Front has seen its popularity steadily increase in the wake of Islamist terrorist attacks within France, growing public fears about illegal migration into the country, and mounting skepticism about whether Paris should remain in the European Union. Some polls now show that Marine Le Pen would likely have enough support to force a runoff in the 2017 presidential election, though probably not enough to beat a more mainstream candidate.

That all depends, however, on Le Pen’s ability to expand the party’s base beyond nationalists whose beliefs often veer into xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and, more recently, fiercely anti-Muslim sentiments. Le Pen, who assumed control of the National Front in 2011, has already succeeded in putting a new face on the party, literally, by steadily replacing images of her father’s often snarling visage with photos of her smiling one. Winning enough support to mount a serious campaign for the presidency, though, requires a fuller break with the party’s past — and has now sparked a nasty fight between father and daughter.

Le Pen has taken her father to court three times since the spring in an effort to force him out of the party, but she lost each time. Le Pen stepped up her efforts to oust her father — or at least make clear that he no longer speaks for the party — after he reiterated his comments about the Nazi gas chambers this past spring and pointedly refused to scale back his public role. That led to the party suspending him, a decision that was overturned by a French court, which ordered that an extraordinary general meeting be held to determine his future in that party.

That body issued its decision Thursday. In a statement, the party’s top leaders said they had “deliberated and decided … the exclusion of Mr. Jean-Marie Le Pen as member of the National Front.” 

Photo credit: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace, its conflicts, and controversies. @eliasgroll

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