AMSTERDAM—It was a very Trumpian moment years before Donald Trump was PEOTUS, or even close. In fact, he played no direct role in it. But it tells you a lot about why and how his message has such surprising reach in what we previously thought were the civilized nations of Europe.
Dutch populist leader Geert Wilders, a long-time favorite of the alt-right in America who actually stumped for Trump at the Republican Convention this year, was giving a speech in 2014 in The Hague filled with his usual all-encompassing denunciations of Islam (not “radical Islam,” but all Islam) when he decided to cut to the racist chase. He said he wanted to ask his audience questions that “define” his Party of Freedom (PVV).
The first was, “Do you want more, or less European Union?”
“Less!” answered the crowd.
And then, “Do you want more or less Moroccans…?”
“Less, less, less!” they roared back. To which Wilders responded, “We’ll “take care of that.”
People in the United States these days may be getting used to such rhetoric. But in the Netherlands, once savagely occupied by the Nazis, the kind of talk that echoes Hitler’s propagandist Joseph Goebbels, inciting discrimination and hatred, is against the law.
The three judges of the Dutch court in this case hold firm to the verdict: “You cannot appeal to the freedom of speech in order to insult groups or incite to discrimination. This also applies to a politician.”
For the leader of the populist PVV party the guilty verdict seems to carry little penalty, however.
The €5,000 fine asked for by the public prosecutor was not imposed.
Even so, Wilders says he will appeal the sentence, since a criminal record will make it more difficult for him to travel to the United States, where he has so many fans.
Wilders was quick to post videos on his Twitter account in English and Dutch responding to the verdict. The clips had been prepared in advance, are subtitled in English, and were posted almost as soon as the verdict was announced.
Wilders throughout the case has been calling the prosecution part of a campaign intended to silence him. “Today I was convicted in a political trial,” he tweeted, “which, shortly before the elections [for parliament in March], attempts to neutralize the leader of the largest and most popular opposition party. But they will not succeed.”
There’s no question that the trial became political. Wilders did his best to make it that way. And in many respects, it only burnished his political anti-establishment persona. He got lots of free publicity, which he exploited well to further his own political agenda.
“This conviction only makes me stronger,” he tweeted, and he could well be right about that.
Wilders doesn't pull his punches when he says in his video: “The Netherlands have become a sick country. And I have a message for the judges: … No one trusts you anymore, but fortunately truth and liberty are stronger than you. And so am I.”
POTEUS would be proud.