- By Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
Russian election interference is all the rage these days — just ask the United States, France, or Germany. Now the Netherlands is grappling with some new unwelcome meddlers: Americans.
Several wealthy Americans bankrolled the campaign of Geert Wilders, the country’s far-right, anti-EU, and anti-immigrant candidate according to new campaign finance records the Dutch government released this week. One right-wing activist, David Horowitz, donated $150,000 to Wilders’s Party for Freedom (PVV) between 2015 and 2017.
It’s a drop in the bucket in American terms, but the money goes much further in a small western European country that relies heavily on public funds for elections. Horowitz’s 2015 donations to PVV — $120,000 — was the country’s largest individual political donation that year, the record shows.
“Receiving such large sums from individual donors is highly unusual in our political landscape,” Sijbren de Jong, an analyst with the Dutch-based Hague Center for Strategic Studies, told Foreign Policy.
The American involvement comes amid a spate of election meddling by Russia. The Netherlands, France, and Germany have all sounded the alarm bells over Kremlin plots to empower anti-establishment political movements and pump cleverly-disguised propaganda and misinformation into their upcoming elections. And the United States is still reeling from revelations the Kremlin influenced its own 2016 elections to try and tip the scales in favor of President Donald Trump.
The U.S. donations have stirred concerns in the Netherlands. “It’s foreign interference in our democracy,” Ronald van Raak, a member of parliament for Socialist party told the New York Times. “We would not have thought that people from other countries would have been interested in our politics,” van Raak said. “Maybe we underestimated ourselves,” he added.
Wilders is widely known as the “Dutch Donald Trump” for his bombastic rhetoric, anti-immigrant stances, and savvy use of social media. He was convicted of hate speech in December last year. He is running on an anti-Islam platform, advocating policies that include banning immigrants from Muslim countries, closing all the country’s mosques, withdrawing from the EU, and closing the Netherlands’ open borders policy.
The PVV is neck-and-neck in the polls with the establishment Liberal party for the country’s parliamentary elections on March 15. Despite strong poll numbers, it’s unlikely Wilders would win the prime ministership. The Dutch parliamentary system requires a majority 75 seats to form a government and traditional parties on the left and right have vowed not to form a government with the PVV. The PVV is expected to win between 24 and 28 parliamentary seats and 16 percent of the country’s vote.
Despite stirring controversy at home, Wilders found an ally in Horowitz, who has called him “the Paul Revere of Europe.” As Horowitz put it to Buzzfeed News last June, “He’s somebody with incredible courage,” making a “last ditch stand for democracy.”
Horowitz runs the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a California-based think tank dedicated to “combat[ing] the efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values and disarm this country as it attempts to defend itself in a time of terror.” The Center did not immediately respond to FP’s request for comment.
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