Dutch Trump Even Scares His Own Brother
North of what will possibly be Marine le Pen’s France, another right wing populist is making a serious bid to rule the Netherlands.
AMSTERDAM—A security breach is the latest controversy looming around hate-speaking Dutch Islamophobe leader Geert Wilders on the campaign trail as parliamentary elections approach March 15. Thus far, he is the leading candidate, even though other parties may unite to keep him out of the government.
Last week, the Dutch security service, DBB, who are tasked among other things with protecting Wilders, discovered a leak. A member of the DBB staff, identified only as Faris K., was suspected of passing security information to the Dutch-Moroccan criminal network known as the Mocro-Mob, which is responsible for a string of notorious liquidations. Indeed, infighting among Mocro factions has resulted in the death of over 20 men of Moroccan descent. The most notorious incident in the killing spree was the beheading of a small-time thug in March 2016, whose head was placed in the street facing an Amsterdam shisha lounge as a warning to two men who were to testify the next day.
The DBB says there is no threat. Faris K. was questioned, then released. But Wilders has canceled all campaign appearances—which may really be out of security concerns, or may be a shrewd political maneuver, or both. Publicity about the menace posed by such a sordid bunch of thugs from Muslim backgrounds could serve Wilders better than his previous campaign theme, which emphasized his connections to U.S. President Donald Trump. Wilders even stumped for Trump at the Republican convention last summer.
It is all “much ado about nothing,” according to Faris K.’s lawyer speaking on Dutch TV. “I can reassure Wilders, my client is just a big talker.” The attorney Peter Plasman said Faris K. had been bragging about his job protecting Wilders to impress two girls he fancied. “A storm in a glass of water,” the Dutch version of a tempest in a teacup, is what comes to mind with every fresh headline about the turmoil that surrounds the peroxide blonde Wilders.
But in the most recent polls Wilders appears to be losing some of his momentum. They show his party may get one to five fewer potential seats than in previous surveys and there’s widespread speculation this is because of the “the Trump effect.” Many people in the Netherlands are shocked by the performance so far of the new U.S. president.
In any case, in this the electoral home stretch, Wilders appears to want to disappear. He has not only suspended his Party for Freedom (PVV) campaign in public pending further investigation into the Faris K. affair, he has been cancelling nationally broadcast debates left and right.
The first time he did this ostensibly because there were too many political parties invited to the TV talk. The second time because RTL TV had published an interview with his brother Paul Wilders, one of Geert’s toughest critics.
When asked about the commotion, Paul Wilders told The Daily Beast: “Ah, all that to-do about a little interview with RTL was to be expected; I estimated a 50 percent chance that Geert would use it to get out of a disagreeable debate he was expected to attend.”
Paul, who is ten years older than Geert, is known for his impatience with his younger brother’s political views. “He governs his domain like an emperor, whoever contradicts him seriously is done with, family or not,” Paul says, blaming Geert’s isolation. “If you have been an emperor for so long … without a social life, then you start living accordingly. It is a sad thing to see happen. I wish him better than that.”
“I love my brother, but despise his ideas,” Paul Wilders told The Daily Beast. “This is not a familial issue, it is an ideological one. Geert may not be able to make that distinction, but I do.”
Five years ago Paul Wilders gave me an interview about how his brother evolved from a politically moderate person into the fierce anti-immigration, anti-Islam, and anti-European Union firebrand he is now. In that interview, in January 2012, Paul Wilders said: “He has always loved attention and power. Power was the ultimate goal. He loves to control things. He has excluded his sense of doubt…” He doesn’t question his own actions.
In the last five years, Paul Wilders has seen his brother’s belief in the ideas he was promoting solidify: “By now I think he really believes Islam is evil. That is the development I have been observing in him since our last talk five years ago. There is no way back for him, he can only get more and more extreme. At least until the elections.”
Geert Wilders had planned to visit Volendam on Saturday. In the Netherlands, you can’t get more Dutch than Volendam. The town is famous for its traditional dress and folklore. It’s filled with what people abroad traditionally associate with Holland: lace bonnets, wooden shoes, and tulips. It is where the tourists go; the Dutch… not so much.
Wilders has a strong approval rate in Volendam, a town known (despite the tourism) for its dislike of outsiders. It has no use for the more cosmopolitan parts of the country, where it’s viewed as something of a joke. When “Volendammers” talk about outsiders they call them “coats,” in what you wear outside and “coatwork,” the kind of job a local won’t do.
In Volendam, most inhabitant are related to only seven families, which makes it a fertile testing ground for scientific research about inbreeding.
Before his surprise cancellations, Wilders had chosen this place to test the waters for his campaign; a town with only 22.000 inhabitants that hardly reflects a broad constituency. But then Wilders’s campaign has been fairly idiosyncratic from the start.
For one thing, he uses a puzzling amount of English when he communicates. Like Trump, Wilders is a Twitter fiend, and since the kickoff of his political campaign on the Feb. 18, his tweets have been permeated with Trumpspeak. On his Twitter account, sporting almost 800,000 followers, he often posts in Dutch and English. It almost begs the question how much of Wilders’s focus is international rather than Dutch.
An extensive analysis of his Twitter feed, published over the weekend by the Dutch daily NRC, shows one third of his tweets are in English since January of this year. He may be aiming for a firmer support base abroad by mirroring Trump’s rhetoric; an international position could give him the active power he is unlikely to get within the Dutch political system.
Paul Wilders, who still follows his brother’s political moves closely, thinks that was the case with Geert’s one public appearance, in Spijkernisse.
“I am certain he wanted to see the international press, especially because his adoration for Trump has started to backfire [among the Dutch],” says Paul. “Looking back I think, he’s aware his emulation of Trump could work against him. As long as he will associate himself with Trump there will be a part of his following he stands to lose. They would want him to distance himself, because they think Trump is an idiot.”
Wilders’s PVV party is still likely to win the largest number of seats in parliament. The latest polls predict the PVV will get around 26 to 29 seats. In a parliament that holds 150 seats, that means his party would have to form a majority of 76 seats in a coalition with other parties if it wants to govern. With fewer than 50 to 55 seats of its own that would be unlikely.
As such numbers indicated, the political landscape in the Netherlands is extremely splintered this election year. Many small parties have been added to the already long list of existing parties. Forming a coalition within that context is difficult. Governing and having an impact without a great deal of compromise, nearly impossible.
“The consensus system in the Netherlands does not allow for sole rulers the way it does in the U.S.,” Paul Wilders explains. “Say the PVV would become the biggest club, with Geert as its prime minister even, the result would be predictable. He can’t afford to make too many compromises. So, he will be the first to shout: ‘They don’t want me, they want me out, it is their fault.’ This is the pattern. It will never last. Then the whole theater will recommence.”
And in that play, Wilders likes to cast himself in the lead as a victim of circumstance, a role sometimes referred to as the “Calimero-effect” after a popular children’s cartoon about a little blackbird who’s always in hot water.
Like most other political parties, the second biggest party in the polls, the VVD (the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), decided to distance itself from Wilders. The liberal party is currently in a government headed by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who stated with unequivocal clarity the odds of it forming a coalition with the PVV: “0 percent, Geert, ZERO percent” Rutte tweeted. “It.Will.Not.Happen.”
Wilders meanwhile remains adamant that Rutte will change his mind when all the votes are counted. By then, perhaps Wilders will have come out of hiding.