France's far-right National Front (FN) is set to take legal action against the country's most prominent black politician over disparaging comments she made in response to being compared to a monkey.
The row began last week when a prospective FN candidate for municipal elections next year said on television that she would prefer to see Justice Minister Christiane Taubira “in a tree swinging from the branches rather than in government.“
The party immediately dropped the candidate, but Taubira, who is from French Guiana, on Saturday responded with a fierce salvo against the “deadly and murderous thought” of the FN.
“It's blacks in tree branches, Arabs in the sea, homosexuals in the Seine, Jews in the oven and so on,” she said.
The FN, an anti-immigration, eurosceptic party, in turn responded by saying it would sue Taubira for defamation, to “uphold the rules of democratic and republican debate and the honour of millions of French who vote for the party.”
In a statement, it also asked whether Taubira could stay on as minister.
The CRAN – a French umbrella group of associations that fight discrimination against black people – reacted to the row on Monday by saying “the world has turned upside down.”
“Christiane Taubira is insulted by an FN candidate, and in the end it's the minister who is taken to court by the National Front,” Louis-Georges Tin, head of the organisation, said in a statement.
During a documentary entitled “The new faces of the National Front?”, Leclere was confronted with the image, but defended publishing it, repeatedly insisting Taubira was “une sauvage”, which can translate as “wild animal” or “savage”.
“Honestly, she’s a wild animal, coming on TV with that devil’s smile,” said Leclere.
“I’d prefer to see her swinging from a tree than in government,” she added, denying that she or the photo were racist, claiming “I have friends who are black.”
'We are not of the extreme right'
The party, once universally-regarded as anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic, has undergone a project of “dédiabolisation” (“un-demonising”) since Le Pen took over as leader from her father Jean-Marie in 2011.
Indeed, Le Pen recently went so far as to deny the party was “of the extreme right,” and threatened legal action against journalists who labelled them as such. The plausibility of Le Pen's claim, however, will take a hit from today's racism debacle.
“This is completely scandalous,” Aline Le Bail-Kremer from anti-racism group SOS Racisme told The Local last Friday.
“Marine Le Pen has been giving us all a good lecture on how her party isn't extremist, or racist, or anti-Semitic or homophobic. But once again, we see this from their members,” she added.
Last month another National Front election candidate was suspended after posting a picture of a burning Israeli flag on his Facebook profile.
Here's a short video of Leclere being confronted with the image by a France 2 journalist. The exchange is in French, but the then National Front candidate can be seen enthusiastically admitting she posted it, before launching into something of a tirade, calling Taubira a “wild animal”, and condemning her “devil's smile.”