The morning after Marine Le Pen was caught using stirring language in an address to supporters that was copied straight from a speech given two weeks ago by François Fillon, a defeated rival, her campaign aides claimed that the uncredited “reprise” was not plagiarism but a form of tribute to the eliminated candidate’s ideas about French identity.
Florian Philippot, the deputy leader of Le Pen’s National Front, said in a radio interview that the candidate had recited whole passages, copied word for word from Fillon’s April 15 speech, at her May Day rally in Paris because she wanted to “launch a real debate” about what it means to be French.
The lifted passages — including poetic references to the borders of France that both the center-right Fillon and the far-right Le Pen pledged to reclaim from the European Union and fortify against Muslim immigrants — were edited into a side-by-side comparison by Ridicule TV, which is run by Fillon supporters. (It is not necessary to understand French to hear how precise the copying was.)
In a series of interviews on Tuesday morning, Le Pen aides echoed the words of her campaign manager, David Rachline, who said that the “borrowed” language was a way of nodding in the direction of Fillon’s voters, who “appreciated” and understood the reference.
That was certainly true for the nationalist writer Paul-Marie Coûteaux, who told the French newspaper Le Monde that the original speech was based on notes he had provided to Fillon. Coûteaux pronounced himself thrilled to hear his words used again by Le Pen, whose candidacy he now supports.
Following his elimination in the first round of France’s presidential elections last month, Fillon had urged his supporters to vote against Le Pen and for Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister, in order to block the extreme right from power.
Le Pen’s attempt to rally supporters of the defeated mainstream conservative candidate around her comes as her aides are also doing their utmost to suppress turnout in the run-off among the 7 million French leftists who voted for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a candidate of the far left who was also narrowly eliminated in the first round.
As Nicholas Vinocur reports for Politico, Le Pen campaign strategists no longer hope to win over many Mélenchon supporters after the defeated candidate explicitly urged his voters not to support the National Front. “Do not make the terrible mistake of putting a vote for the National Front into the ballot box,” Mélenchon said in a television interview on Sunday, “because you will be pushing the country toward an inferno that could lead anywhere.”
Still, inspired by efforts from the Trump campaign to drive down turnout among disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters, Le Pen aides told Vinocur that they are going all out to encourage Mélenchon’s anti-capitalist supporters to abstain or cast a blank protest ballot instead of voting for Macron, a former banker.
To counter that effort, Macron has taken every opportunity to remind voters that Le Pen, whose campaign posters do not feature her last name, is the leader of an extremist party founded by her anti-Semitic father that still harbors neo-Nazis. Further evidence of that emerged on Tuesday in the form of an investigation by the French news site Rue 89, which revealed that a young National Front photographer who often accompanies Le Pen on the campaign trail is an active member of Facebook groups dedicated to praising Nazi ideology and sharing images of “Aryan beauty” and anti-Semitic jokes.
As Nabil Wakim of Le Monde noted, Le Pen’s rally was enthusiastically covered by one visiting Trump supporter, the alt-right video blogger Lauren Southern, who also made it clear she shares the candidate’s antipathy for immigrants.
Following the rally, Southern filmed clashes between far-left protesters and the police and complained about having been harassed by the demonstrators. “It’s so weird here in Europe — why do they hate the press so much?” Southern asked later in a YouTube account of the unrest. “Why are they after us and not just the police?”
It was left to another video blogger on the scene, Luke Rudkowski, to explain to Southern that she might just have telegraphed her own political views to the protesters by showing up to film them wearing a helmet with a giant “Make America Great Again” sticker on it.