Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

France's recent ordeal at the hands of jihadists might have been expected to provide an electoral boost to the FN. Instead, the crisis seems to have increased tensions at the top of Europe's most powerful far-right movement

The three-day jihadist rampage in Paris has claimed an unlikely collateral victim – the façade of unity and moderation in the far-right Front National.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and other attacks, the FN president, Marine Le Pen, has been confronted in recent days with undisguised Islamophobia in the highest reaches of her supposedly “de-demonised”  party.

Three senior figures – her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, her increasingly powerful niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, and her international adviser, Aymeric Chauprade – have openly challenged Ms Le Pen’s guarded response to the terrorist attacks.

The complex relationships within the Le Pen family recall the plot of King Lear. A newly powerful daughter is seeking to curb an unruly father who has surrendered responsibility but clings to authority. The comparison has become even closer in recent days.

The FN’s 86-year-old founder and patriarch was slightly injured in a serious fire at his home on Monday. He has been forced to move back into the family mansion in Saint Cloud, south of Paris, a house now occupied by his youngest daughter Marine – with whom he is said to be barely on speaking terms.

'Untouchable': Front National president Marine Le Pen (Getty)

The jihadist mayhem in Paris might have been expected to provide an electoral boost to the FN. Instead, – so far at least – the crisis seems to have widened the deep family and political rifts within Europe’s most powerful far-right movement. In an attempt to evade what she sees as the electoral trap of extremism or overt racism, Ms Le Pen has blamed radical Islam, immigration and open EU borders but she has not attacked Islam or France’s 4,700,000 Muslims.

Mr Chauprade, head of the FN group in the European parliament, directly challenged this cautious approach. He posted a video online which claimed that up to 1,000,000 French Muslims represented a “fifth column” of “potential terrorists”. He said that France was “at war with Muslims, possibly not with all Muslims, but with Muslims”.

Marine Le Pen disassociated herself from the video and dismissed Mr Chauprade as her foreign adviser and group leader in Strasbourg. Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, one of only two FN deputies in the National Assembly, tweeted a link to the video after it had been rejected by her aunt. Ms Maréchal-Le Pen, though only 25, is increasingly seen as a hard-line rival to Marine, under the influence of the grumpily unreconstructed Jean-Marie.

Marion insisted that she had sent the tweet as a “personal” gesture rather than a challenge to the party line. She was nonetheless slapped down very publicly by auntie.

A source close to the FN president – quite possibly Marine Le Pen herself – told the right-wing newspaper Le Figaro that Marion was “still vulnerable” (in other words a young girl, who was easily influenced). “She is being used by hardliners who are trying to use personal quarrels to change party policy,” the source said.

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen and her grandfather, Jean-Marie Le Pen, pictured in 2013 (Getty)

For “personal quarrels”, read the increasingly wide chasm between Marine Le Pen and her father. Jean-Marie Le Pen also tweeted an approving link to the “fifth column” video. He told Le Monde that he found its contents “entirely intelligent”.

In recent months, Jean-Marie Le Pen has angered his daughter by making a joking reference to the Holocaust. Marine has infuriated her father, and other hardliners, by bringing a gay-rights activist into her wider far-right movement, Le Rassemblement Bleu Marine.

Much of the ill-feeling centres on the influence of the party’s de facto No 2, Florian Philippot, who was recently outed as gay. Far-right websites complain of a “gay mafia” surrounding the FN leader.

“The Front National is not a totalitarian or Stalinist party where everyone is obliged to say exactly the same as Marine Le Pen or Philippot,” Jean-Marie Le Pen said last week. 

He has also repeated remarks giving credence to conspiracy theories about the Charlie Hebdo and other attacks. Mr Le Pen suggested that they might be the work of a Western intelligence agency. These comments provoked Florian Philippot to make his most insulting attack on FN’s founder so far. He suggested that Jean-Marie must have taken a “little vodka” before giving the interview. He also said that the old man was “harmless”.


Mr Le Pen retorted in another tweet: “Presumption. I take no advice from Philippot on my politics or my diet.” A party official commented: “Jean-Marie will tolerate being called many things but he will not tolerate being called harmless.”

The claim that the FN has “evolved” under Marine Le Pen into an odourless, non-racist, nationalist party has often been exposed as a façade. Most outbreaks of old thinking have occurred, however, among relatively obscure local officials and candidates. Marine’s efforts to reposition the party have now been challenged by her father, her niece and her chief foreign adviser.

While she continues to ride relatively high in the opinion polls and make gains in elections, Ms Le Pen is untouchable, party officials say. Much will depend on how well the FN fares in a parliamentary by-election this weekend and at local elections in March.