Jean-Marie Le Pen (born June 20, 1928, La Trinité-sur-Mer, Brittany, France) is a French far-right nationalist politician, founder and president of the Front National (National Front) party. Le Pen has run for the French presidency five times, including in 2002, when in a surprise upset he came second, polling more votes in the first round than the main left candidate, Lionel Jospin, and a large number of the French population started rioting; burning cars, etc. Le Pen lost in the second round to Jacques Chirac. Le Pen again ran in the 2007 French presidential election and finished fourth. His 2007 campaign, at the age of 78, makes him the oldest candidate for presidential office in France.
Le Pen focuses on immigration to France, the European Union, traditional culture, law and order and France's high rate of unemployment. He advocates immigration restrictions, the death penalty, raising incentives for homemakers, and euroscepticism.
Le Pen was born in a small seaside village in Brittany, the son of a fisherman but then orphaned as an adolescent (pupille de la nation, brought up by the state), when his father's boat was blown up by a mine in 1942. He was raised as a Roman Catholic and studied at the Jesuit high school François Xavier in Vannes, then in the lycée of Lorient.
Aged 16, he was turned down (because of his age) by Colonel Henri de La Vaissière (then representant of the Communist Youth) when he attempted, in November 1944, to join the French Forces of the Interior (FFI). He then entered the faculty of law in Paris, and started to sell in the street the monarchist Action française 's newspaper, Aspects de la France. He was repeatedly convicted of assault (coups et blessures). He became president of the Association corporative des étudiants en droit, an association of law students whose main occupation was to engage in street brawls against the "Cocos" (communists). He was excluded from this organisation in 1951.
After receiving his law diploma, he enlisted in the Army in the Foreign Legion in Indochina, where he arrived after the 1954 Dien Bien Phu Battle (lost by France, and which prompted the President of the Council Pierre Mendès France to put an end to the war at the Geneva Conference). He was then sent to Suez (1956), but arrived only after the cease-fire. He was then sent to Algeria (1957) as an intelligence officer. He has been accused of having engaged in torture, but he denied it, although he admitted knowing of its use. After his time in the military, he studied political science and law at Paris II. His graduate thesis, submitted in 1971 by Jean-Marie Le Pen and Jean-Loup Vincent, was titled Le courant anarchiste en France depuis 1945 or "The anarchist movement in France since 1945".
His marriage (June 29, 1960 - March 18, 1987) to Pierrette Lalanne resulted in three daughters; their daughters have given him nine granddaughters. Their break-up was somewhat dramatic, with his ex-wife posing nude in the French edition of Playboy to ridicule him. Marie-Caroline, another of his daughters, would also break with Le Pen, following her husband to join Bruno Mégret, who split from the FN to found MNR, the rival Mouvement National Républicain (National Republican Movement). The youngest of Le Pen's daughters, Marine Le Pen, is a senior member of the Front National.
In 1977 Le Pen inherited a fortune from Hubert Lambert, son of the cement industrialist of the same name. Hubert Lambert was a political supporter of Le Pen, as well as being a monarchist, an alcoholic, and in poor health. Lambert's will provided 30 million francs (approximatively 5 million euros) to LePen, as well as his castle in Montretout, Saint-Cloud (the same castle had been owned by Madame de Pompadour until 1748)..
In the early 1980s, Le Pen's personal security was assured by KO International Company, a subsidiary of VHP Security, a private security firm, and an alleged front organisation for SAC, the Service d'Action Civique (Civic Action Service), a Gaullist organisation. SAC allegedly employed figures with organized crime backgrounds and from the far-right movement.
Le Pen started his political career as the head of the student union in Toulouse. In 1953, a year before the beginning of the Algerian War, he contacted President Vincent Auriol, who approved Le Pen's proposed volunteer disaster relief project after a flood in the Netherlands. Within two days, there were 40 volunteers from his university, a group that would later help victims of an earthquake in Italy. In Paris in 1956, he was elected to the National Assembly as a member of Pierre Poujade's UDCA populist party. Le Pen, 28 years old, was the youngest member of the Assembly.
In 1957, he became the General Secretary of the Front National des Combattants (National Front of Combatants), a veteran's organization, as well as the first French politician to nominate a Muslim candidate, Ahmed Djebbour, an Algerian, who was elected in 1957 as deputy of Paris. The next year, following his break with Poujade, Le Pen was re-elected to the National Assembly as a member of the Centre National des Indépendants et Paysans (CNIP) party, led by Antoine Pinay. Le Pen claimed that he had lost his left eye when he was savagely beaten during the 1958 election campaign. Testimonies suggest however that he was only wounded in the right eye and did not lose it. He lost the sight in his left eye years later, due to an illness (popular belief that he wears a glass eye is untrue). During the 1950s, Le Pen took a close interest in the Algerian war (1954-62) and the French defense budget.
Le Pen then directed the 1965 presidential campaign of far-right candidate Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour, who obtained 5.19% of the votes. He insisted on the rehabilitation of the Collaborationists, declaring that:
"Was General de Gaulle more brave than the Marshall Pétain in the occupied zone? This isn't sure. It was much easier to resist in London than to resist in France."
In 1962, he lost his seat at the Assembly. He created the Serp (Société d’études et de relations publiques) firm, a company involved in the music industry, which produced both chorals of the CGT trade-union or songs of the Popular Front and Nazi marches. The firm was condemned in 1968 for "praise of war crime and complicity" after the diffusion of songs from the Third Reich.
In 1972, Le Pen founded the Front National (FN) party, along with former OAS member Jacques Bompard, former Collaborationist Roland Gaucher and others nostalgics of Vichy France, neo-nazi pagans, Catholic fundamentalists, etc. Le Pen presented himself for the first time in the 1974 presidential election, obtaining 0.74%. In 1976, his Parisian flat (he lived at that time in his castle of Montretout in Saint-Cloud) was dynamited. The affair never was elucidated. Le Pen then didn't manage to obtain the 500 signatures from "grand electors" (grands électeurs, mayors, etc.) necessary to present himself to the 1981 presidential election, won by the candidate of the Socialist Party (PS), François Mitterrand.
Criticizing immigration and taking advantage of the economic crisis striking France, and the world, since the 1973 oil crisis, Le Pen's party managed to increase its votes in the 1980s, starting in the municipal elections of 1983. His popularity has been greatest in the south of France. The FN obtained 10 percent at the 1984 European elections. 34 FN deputies entered the Assembly after the 1986 elections, which were won by the right wing, bringing Jacques Chirac to Matignon in the first cohabitation (that is, of the combination of a right-wing Prime minister, Chirac, with a socialist President, Mitterrand).
In 1984 and 1999, Le Pen won a seat in the European Parliament. In 1988 he lost a reelection bid for the Parliament of France in the 8th District of Bouches-du-Rhône. He was defeated in the second round by Socialist Marius Masse In 1992 and 1998 he was elected to the regional council of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.
Le Pen ran in the French presidential elections in 1974, 1988, 1995, 2002 and 2007. He did not run for office in 1981, having failed to gather the necessary 500 signatures of elected officials. In the presidential elections of 2002, Le Pen obtained 16.86 percent of the votes in the first round of voting. This was enough to qualify him for the second round, as a result of the poor showing by the Socialist candidate and incumbent prime-minister Lionel Jospin and the scattering of votes among 15 other candidates. This was a major political event, both nationally and internationally, as it was the first time someone with such extremist views had qualified for the second round of the French presidential elections. There was a widespread stirring of national public opinion, and more than one million people in France took part in street rallies; slogans such as "vote for the crook, not the fascist" were heard in an expression of fierce opposition to Le Pen's ideas. Le Pen was then soundly defeated in the second round, when incumbent president Jacques Chirac obtained 82 percent of the votes, thus securing the biggest majority in the history of the Fifth Republic.
In the 2004 regional elections, Le Pen intended to run for office in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region but was prevented from doing so because he did not meet the conditions for being a voter in that region: he neither lived there, nor was registered as a taxpayer there. Le Pen complained of a government plot to prevent him from running. Some argue that this event was merely a scheme of Le Pen's to avoid defeat in the election.
In recent years, Le Pen has tried to soften his image, with mixed success. He has maneuvered his daughter Marine into a prominent position, a move that angered many inside the National Front, who worry about the emergence of a possible Le Pen family dynasty.
Le Pen remains a polarizing figure in France and opinions regarding him tend to be quite strong. A 2002 IPSOS poll showed that while 22 percent of the electorate have a good or very good opinion of Le Pen, and 13 percent an unfavorable opinion, 61 percent have a very unfavorable opinion.
Le Pen and the National Front are described by much of the media and nearly all commentators as far right. Le Pen himself and the rest of his party disagree with this label; Earlier on in his political career, Le Pen described his position as "Neither left nor right, but French" (Ni droite, ni gauche, français). He later described his position as right-wing and opposed to the "socialo-communists" and other right-wing parties, which he deems are not real right-wing parties. At other times, for example during the 2002 election campaign, he declared himself "economically right-wing, socially left-wing, and nationally French". He further contends that most of the French political and media class are corrupt and out of touch with the real needs of the common people, and conspire to exclude Le Pen and his party from mainstream politics. Le Pen criticizes the other political parties as the "establishment" and lumped all major parties (PC, PS, UDF, RPR) into the "Gang of Four" (la bande des quatre – an allusion to the Gang of Four during China's Cultural Revolution).
The international media often cites Le Pen as a symbol of French xenophobia. He is also occasionally criticized in French and foreign pop songs. Le Pen has drawn many comparisons to Adolf Hitler's early political career in the international media.
Le Pen has been accused both at home and abroad of xenophobia and anti-Semitism. These openly verbal criticisms are considered to be unfounded by his supporters, but at several times Le Pen has been convicted for such remarks.
His supporters stressed on the other hand that his close team includes people of various ethnic or religious origins, Jews like Jean-Pierre Cohen, of North African origin as Farid Smahi, or Caribbean as Huguette Fatna. They also argue that part of the Jewish community in France would come close to its ideas, feeling a pressure of anti-Semitism in France whose responsibility would mostly attributed to Muslim immigration as Jean-Marie Le Pen considers responsible for many problems in France and in Europe. In fact, Jean-Marie Le Pen would have gradually lost his left eye following a traumatic cataract, resulting from a fight during an election on March 28, 1958, where he defended Djebbour Ahmed, a French Algerian.
Le Pen has made several provocative statements concerning the Holocaust, which amount to historical revisionism. Thus, on September 13, 1987 he said: "I ask myself several questions. I'm not saying the gas chambers didn't exist. I haven't seen them myself. I haven't particularly studied the question. But I believe it's just a detail in the history of World War II." He was condemned to pay 1.2 million Francs (183,200 Euros). In 1997, the European Parliament, of which Le Pen was then a member, removed his parliamentary immunity so that Le Pen could be tried by a German court for comments he made at a December 1996 press conference before the German Republikaner party. Le Pen stated there that: "If you take a 1,000-page book on World War II, the concentration camps take up only two pages and the gas chambers 10 to 15 lines. This is what one calls a detail." Le Pen had made a similar statement in France in 1987, which also caused him to be condemned in virtue of the Gayssot Act on negationism. In June 1999, a Munich court found this statement to be "minimizing the Holocaust, which caused the deaths of six million Jews," and convicted and fined Le Pen for his remarks.
Le Pen allegedly practiced torture during the Algerian War (1954-62), when he was a lieutenant in the French Army. Although he denied it, he lost a trial when he attacked Le Monde newspaper on charges of defamation, following accusations by the newspaper that he had used torture. Le Monde has produced in May 2003 the dagger he allegedly used to commit war crimes as court evidence.
Although war crimes committed during the Algerian War are amnestied in France, this was publicised by the newspapers Le Canard Enchaîné and Libération, Le Monde and by Michel Rocard (ex-Prime Minister) on TV (TF1 1993). Le Pen sued the papers and Michel Rocard. This affair ended in 2000 when the "Cour de cassation" (French supreme jurisdiction) concluded that it was legitimate to publish these assertions. However, because of the amnesty and the statute of limitations, there can be no criminal proceedings against Le Pen for the crimes he is alleged to have committed in Algeria. In 1995, Le Pen unsuccessfully sued Jean Dufour, regional counselor of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (French Communist Party) for the same reason.
Le Pen has also been criticized for ties to suspect individuals, such as:
As Le Pen, like many other European nationalists in recent years, has made statements highly critical of American foreign policy and culture, he has received notice from American conservatives. Controversial author Ann Coulter called him an anti-American adulterer but said his anti-immigration, anti-Muslim message "finally hit a nerve with voters" after years of irrelevance. Paleoconservative commentator Pat Buchanan contends that even though Le Pen "made radical and foolish statements," the EU violated his right to freedom of speech. He wrote:
As it is often the criminal himself who is first to cry, "Thief!" so it is usually those who scream, "Fascist!" loudest who are the quickest to resort to anti-democratic tactics. Today, the greatest threat to the freedom and independence of the nations of Europe comes not from Le Pen and that 17% of French men and women who voted for him. It comes from an intolerant European Establishment that will accept no rollback of its powers or privileges, nor any reversal of policies it deems "progressive".He has also been fiercely criticized by the far-right Jewish group Jewish Task Force.
After the Irish "No" vote, Le Pen addressed French President Nicolas Sarkozy, accusing him of furthering the agenda of a cabal of international finance and "free market fanatics."