Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s crypto-fascist National Front party, could be required to pay a $90,000 fine and spend up to three years in prison for tweets she sent in 2015 that showed images of executions by ISIS, according to the Associated Press:
French prosecutors filed preliminary charges Thursday against far-right leader Marine Le Pen for tweeting brutal images of Islamic State violence, in a new blow to a woman long seen as the face of Europe’s anti-immigrant populism...
Le Pen’s December 2015 tweets showed executions by IS extremists, including the killing of American reporter James Foley. She posted them in the wake of the November 2015 IS attacks on Paris, as she accused the government of not doing enough to protect France.
The Guardian defines the exact charge as circulating “violent messages that incite terrorism or pornography or seriously harm human dignity, and that can be viewed by a minor.” Le Pen has not commented on the charges but her lawyer reportedly confirmed their existence to the AP.
Le Pen sent the tweets in response to the French author Gilles Kepel, who claimed there were similarities between Le Pen’s party and the Islamic State. Le Pen responded by tweeting images of the journalist James Foley’s beheaded body, a man being driven over by a tank, and a man being burned alive in a cage. She captioned the photo of Foley with, “Daesh is this,” using another term for ISIS.
Le Pen is known for her anti-Islamic views, in the past, she has compared Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation and proposed a ban of all religious symbols in public places, particularly the Muslim veil. There’s a small amount of irony involved in Le Pen’s Twitter defense. After all, she was using violent and terrifying images to advance her political agenda, just as ISIS does.
Le Pen’s rise came as a shock to France, and Europe in general, stoking fears that nationalism would sweep the continent that remembers the Nazis all too well. The election of Donald Trump in the United States gave her candidacy in 2017 an extra layer of plausibility since the two share many points of view in common. In fact, Le Pen and her party might be more popular with Trump supporters than with the people of France these days. Her niece, Marion Le Pen, was a speaker at the most recent CPAC conference. When the conservative columnist Mona Charen was speaking on a separate panel at the conference, she condemned its invitation to Le Pen, saying, “Her grandfather is racist and a Nazi. She claims that she stands for him. And the fact that CPAC invited her is a disgrace.” The Republican crowd booed Charen and she had to be escorted out by security.
It may be easy to feel a certain amount of catharsis in Le Pen being held accountable for her actions, but I think most Americans would agree that this is going too far. Last December, President Obama said, “The notion that we are gonna be able to corral, that we’re gonna be able to contain, what’s said and what’s not on the internet is unachievable and contrary to the values of an open society that both the United States and Great Britain and most of the advanced world adheres to.” He advocated against “a world in which the state is making the decisions about who says what.”
The debate about online censorship in the US is often about private companies’ right to determine what’s acceptable on their platforms. Most major social media platforms have come under attack for various forms of censorship in recent years. Ridiculous and inadvertent filtering mistakes have led to situations like Facebook banning a photo of the Venus of Willendorf. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is currently embroiled in a dispute with YouTube over his continued insistence on spreading false information. And Twitter’s recent purge of bots recently led conservatives to believe they were under attack when they noticed their follower counts dropping rapidly.
Le Pen’s case should serve as an example of just how free from censorship people in the US really are. Unfortunately, if she’s convicted, she’ll likely become a right-wing martyr and a symbol of where we’re headed if private companies don’t allow Nazis to constantly tweet death threats at teenagers.