Facing Trial for Hate Speech, Islamophobic Dutch Politician Hopes to Ride Trump’s Tide

Geert Wilders, founder and leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom and currently on trial for hate speech, during day two of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 19, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)

Geert Wilders, founder and leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, during day two of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 19, 2016. (Photo: Damon Winter / The New York Times)

Dutch politician Geert Wilders — a poster boy for promoting Islamophobia in Europe and the United States — has been on trial for alleged hate speech against Moroccans since October 31. The Dutch court is expected to deliver its verdict tomorrow.

The trial concerns a 2014 political rally at which Wilders asked the audience whether they wanted “more or fewer Moroccans in this city [The Hague] and in the Netherlands.” When the crowd started chanting, “Fewer, fewer!” Wilders replied, “Well, we’ll arrange that, then.” As a result of his comments, thousands of citizens filed hate-speech complaints against Wilders. Dutch prosecutors then filed charges against him.

As the head of the far-right Dutch Party For Freedom (PVV), Wilders has crafted a pernicious message based on fear of the “threat” of Muslim immigration, an appeal to Dutch cultural chauvinism and Euroscepticism that resonates with many Dutch voters.

During the past several years, Wilders has also delivered numerous alarmist speeches in the United States, warning American audiences of what he sees as an increasing threat of Islamic influence and Sharia law in Europe and the US.

Wilders’ visits to the US reflect the mutually reinforcing relationship between the white supremacist far right in Europe and in the United States. Just as Wilders helped pave the way for Trump’s ascension by stoking Islamophobia in the US, Trump’s victory in the 2016 US election has helped to legitimize far-right white nationalist parties — like the one Wilders leads — in Europe.

Wilders’ Efforts to Stoke Islamophobia in the US

In 2009, Wilders appeared before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and stated, “Our Western culture based on Christianity, Judaism and humanism is in every aspect better than Islamic culture.” Later in 2009, he was honored at the Freedom of Speech Summit in South Florida, where he claimed the Qur’an was an inspirational tool for “jihadists all over the world to slaughter innocent people.” In 2010, Wilders was charged with inciting racial hatred against Muslims in the Netherlands. He was acquitted of those charges, but often references them to portray himself as a martyr of “politically correct” speech before audiences in the US.

In a 2011 speech at the Cornerstone Church in Nashville, Tennessee, Wilders claimed Europe “has changed beyond recognition” because of mass immigration, and he ranted against “cultural relativism” and the “ideology of multiculturalism.” Wilders said, “America is facing a stealth jihad, the Islamic attempt to introduce sharia law bit by bit.” Wilders played an influential role in convincing Tennessee lawmakers to develop legislation that banned Sharia law that year. In a 2012 speech before the Gatestone Institute, Wilders stated one of the most important things needed to “defeat Islam” was “to speak the truth, always and everywhere about Islam.” Wilders added, “Like the Americans, the people in the Netherlands and other European countries desperately need a First Amendment.”

In a 2015 op-ed in The New York Times, Wilders stated that the European migration crisis “is an existential crisis that is leading to the dilution of national identity and the loss of security at the moment when the European Union has also robbed member nations of their sovereignty and the right to conduct their own asylum policies.” Wilders also proposed various forms of direct democracy promoting “the opinions of ordinary people” as a counterforce to entrenched political elites, who, he claims, “have lost touch” with the citizenry.

In July 2016, Wilders was invited to the Republican National Convention, where he opined about the “evils” of open borders and “cultural relativism; the biggest disease in Europe today.” He continued, “We have no real leaders in the Western world any more, we have appeasers,” and he claimed if Islam is “to be planted” on a nation’s soil it will “harvest” Sharia law.

In September 2016 Wilders and Frauke Petry, the chair of Alternative für Deutschland met with Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa to share ideas on how to restrict immigration and the “increasing Islamic threat.” After their meeting, King sent a tweet to Wilders that stated, “Cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end.” Wilders, a frequent contributor to the white supremacist and US-based Breitbart News Network, wrote in September 2016 about the lack of assimilation by immigrants to the Netherlands, and how the Dutch are being “colonized” and “Islamized.” Wilders concluded with a harrowing prognosis concerning immigration in Europe: “Extinction is not an option! Freedom or Islam. You cannot have it both ways. There is no middle way.”

In the summer of 2016, Wilders released the platform of the PVV Party that he hopes will catapult the PVV into the ruling coalition in the March 2017 Dutch Parliamentary election. The PVV proposes to “de-islamize the Netherlands” by closing the Netherlands borders and not allowing any future immigrants from Muslim countries to enter the country; shut down centers for asylum seekers; forbid the wearing of the veil at public functions; close all Mosques and Muslim schools and ban the Qur’an.

The PVV also threatens to implement “preventative incarceration of radical Muslims.” The platform stresses, “The Netherlands will reclaim its independence” and leave the European Union, install direct democracy and binding referenda, lower rents, cut appropriations for foreign aid, increase spending for defense and police, and lower income taxes.

In a September poll, the PVV had fallen in the polls and was in a dead heat with the ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). However, a November 30, 2016, meta-poll shows the PVV gaining between 27 and 31 seats (18 percent to 21 percent of the vote) in the 150-seat Dutch parliament to the VVD’s 24 to 28 seats.

It is possible Wilders’ increase in the polls may be related to his current trial over hate speech. Wilders has conveyed the message that he is carrying on a valiant struggle for free speech and that he represents the voice of ordinary Dutch citizens who are not being listened to by governing elites.

On November 23, Wilders gave a final statement before the court. In his statement he claimed he was a victim of an overzealous “witch hunt” by political elites and told the judges to “not forget that, when you judge me, you are not just passing judgment on a single man, but on millions of men and women in the Netherlands.”

Wilders and Trump — Shared Politics

The term “post-fascism” — as specifically defined by political philosopher G.M. Tamás — is useful in describing the politics that unites Wilders and US President-elect Donald Trump.

Tamásuses the term “post-fascism” to describe a growing political movement that utilizes institutionalized electoral procedures and support for the global capitalist order to undermine citizenship rights of targeted groups in democratic societies. Post-fascist politicians consolidate their power through populist appeals to channel the social malaise, resentment and disillusionment of voters who feel abandoned by the political establishment. They advocate an extreme form of white supremacist identity politics in which closing national borders to protect the “purity” of “cultural heritage,” withdrawing from transnational institutions and agreements to protect national sovereignty, and rejecting the politics of austerity become central aspects of the political agenda. Post-fascist political parties rely on autocratic-style executive power, draconian laws to restrict immigration and racist political discourse, including anti-Semitic and Islamophobic rhetoric.

Post-fascist movements have utilized social media as an effective tool to provide cross-national electoral strategizing and the development of a coherent and increasingly unified populist message. Social media outlets like Twitter, Reddit, YouTube and Facebook have provided a digital commons for extremist political ideology and an echo chamber for those who are susceptible to its racist, anti-immigrant and pro-nationalist messages.

Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential election may turn out to be a seminal event in legitimizing post-fascist political movements in Europe. His campaign pledge to restrict Muslim immigration in the US resonates with post-fascist parties in Europe.

Trump’s “America First” sloganeering and populist rhetoric echoes that of Wilder’s PVV platform. Like Wilder, Trump has capitalized on being an antiestablishment politician who has rebelled against entrenched political elites who he claims are out of touch with common people. His selection of Steve Bannon of Breitbart News as a key White House strategist certified that Trump’s anti-minority and anti-immigrant campaign messages would be part of his vision as president. As The Daily Beast reported, Bannon is now situated to expand the Breitbart brand into the heart of European politics. It is likely that the post-fascist movement will benefit from this expansion, strengthening existing links between right-wing extremists in the United States and Europe.

It may not be a coincidence that Wilders’ turnaround in the polls occurred not long after Trump’s electoral victory. Wilders was ecstatic about Trump’s victory.

A day after the US election, Wilders was interviewed by RT News and stated, “I believe the historical event of yesterday will have an enormous effect on European politics … look at America, what America can do, we can do as well.”

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