• France's news in English

Jean-Marie Le Pen: France's far-right master provocateur

AFP · 9 Apr 2015, 11:25

Published: 09 Apr 2015 11:25 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

He labels gas chambers a "detail of history", believes Nazi occupation of France was not all bad, wants to join with Russia to save the "white world" and says he understands why some fight democracy.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, a former paratrooper whose inflammatory speeches have made him the figurehead of France's far right for more than four decades, has not once veered away from the role he loves best -- master provocateur.

Even after handing the reins of the National Front he co-founded to his daughter Marine in 2011, the 86-year-old has continued to come out with shock statements that have cast a shadow on her attempts to steer the party into the mainstream -- to the point of no return.

On Wednesday, after yet more sorties on gas chambers, immigration and attacks on his daughter, Marine decided enough was enough and openly split with her father whom she said was committing "political suicide".

Accusing the FN's honorary president of making "crass provocations that appear aimed at harming me", she said she would oppose his standing in December's regional elections in what was described as a "total and definitive" split between father and daughter.

Le Pen giving a speech in 1973. Photo: AFP

'Life and death' politics

The end of the road for the former Foreign Legionnaire?  

Not necessarily. If anything, the man who became an orphan in his teens, fought in the brutal wars of Indochina and Algeria and survived an attack on his home, is a born fighter.

"Le Pen never harbours regrets. He has this idea that if someone attacks you, you respond three times as strongly," says Nicolas Lebourg, a French far-right expert.

"He thinks that politics is a matter of life and death."

A gifted orator, Le Pen has long railed against the establishment parties of the left and right, accusing them of leading the country to the brink of disaster, but his signature issue has always been immigration.

Undeterred by the slow beginnings of the National Front in 1972, he gradually managed to bring the party into the forefront of politics.

So much so that Le Pen reached the second round of presidential elections in 2002, stunning France and prompting days of anti-racism rallies that eventually saw his unloved centre-right rival Jacques Chirac voted back into office.

Born in the port village of La Trinite-sur-Mer in the north-western Brittany region, Le Pen is the son of a seamstress and a fisherman.

As a teenager, he became a ward of the state after his father's boat hit a mine.

A loud-mouthed brawler, he became a law student who loved activism, and went to fight in Indochina.

On his return, he was elected to parliament aged just 27 before leaving again, this time for Algeria where he was later accused of torture -- a claim he strenuously denied.

A fervent anti-Communist, he became active in far-right circles and eventually took the head of the brand new National Front in 1972.

Le Pen practices windsurfing in September 1985 on a New Caledonian beach near Noumea. Photo: AFP 

Ebola can 'solve' immigration

Story continues below…

Le Pen ran for the presidency for the first time in 1974 -- and for the last time in 2007 when he campaigned to cut off social benefits to foreigners and deport illegal immigrants, a stance he had defended for decades.

He has maintained that his views, once dismissed as extremist, are now part of mainstream politics.

And his thirst for controversy shows no sign of abating.

From asserting that gas chambers were a "detail of the history of the Second World War", to saying the Ebola virus could "solve" the issue of immigration within three months.

From maintaining France has to get along with Russia to save the "white world" to believing in the "inequality of races."

From saying that Nazi occupation of France "was not particularly inhumane" to stating he understands why some fight against democracy.

"You provoke him. He does what he's always done, he hits back as if he hasn't heard," said Lebourg.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
French MPs vote to make Airbnb 'professionals' pay tax
Photo: AFP

Do you make a lot of money through Airbnb in France? You'll have to pay a share to the taxman in future.

France and Britain accused of abandoning Calais minors
Photo: AFP

Scores of young migrants are forced to sleep rough for a second night.

France given wake up call as it bids for Brexit business
The business district 'La Defense' in Paris. Photo: AFP

France clearly has some work to do if it really wants to pinch business from the UK post-Brexit.

Mouth fun? French words you just can't translate literally
Do you know the French word for throat-support? Photo: AFP

Word of warning: Don't translate French literally.

How France plans to help its stressed-out police force
Yellow smoke rises around French police officers in Paris holding a banner reading "Solidarity with our colleagues, police angry". All photos: AFP

Could these measures stop the cops from protesting?

'3,000 migrants dispersed' after 'Jungle' clearance
Photo: AFP

While thousands of migrants have been bussed out around France, new ones are arriving all the time and thousands of others have simply been dispersed aid agencies say.

Fifteen of the most bizarre laws in France
Photo: Matthew Powell/Flickr

A must read for anyone who wants to stay on the right side of the law in France.

Medieval town in south of France upholds ban on UFOs
The town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Photo: Aa77zz/Flickr

Aliens take note.

American tourist dies at French Riviera sex club
The Riviera resort of Cannes. Photo: AFP

American tourist reportedly fell five floors after being pushed outside the underground sex club in Cannes.

Paris: 'Flying' water taxis to be tested on River Seine
Photo: SeaBubbles

An in Seine idea surely? But tests will go ahead.

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available