Bleached-blond Dutch MP Geert Wilders towered over his security team when he strode into Washington's National Press Club last Friday. Just the day before, the accused Islamophobe screened his controversial 17-minute internet movie, Fitna, and gave a speech on Capitol Hill, where sources told me that three members of Congress, Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ), Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), and staff representing at least another seven came to hear Wilders speak. Kyl, said the sources, skipped the movie itself. (None of the three Congressmen's offices returned calls for comment.) Later Friday afternoon, he would be speaking before a group of 500 fans at an unofficial event at the widely attended Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
All week long Wilders had been rubbing elbows with a veritable who's who of conservative organizations - promoting himself with the same speech (at least four times, by my count), showing his film, and raising money to cover his mounting legal woes. Wilders is being prosecuted in his native Netherlands for incitement to hate and, considered a public security threat, was banned earlier this month from entering the UK - a decision British foreign minister David Miliband defended by denouncing Fitna as "extreme anti-Muslim hate."
Because Wilder was too controversial to get a speaking slot at CPAC proper, anti-Muslim conservative blogger Pamela Geller - who continues to declare Obama a Muslim and accuses "President Be Hussein" of leading a Nazi revival - teamed up with Jihad Watch blogger Robert Spencer, and David Horowitz in personally shelling out the money to get Wilders in front of a crowed. Geller's blog, which has banner ads to donate to Wilders's legal defense, has been among the very few hubs of his feverish defense in the U.S..
Before the CPAC event, things heated up at the Press Club when I asked Wilders a question about contacts Gellar and Spencer - among others from the International Free Press Society (IFPS), co-sponsor of the Press Club event and apparent front for defending Wilders's "free speech" - had with far-right European parties that Wilders has been careful to distance himself from in the past.
My colleagues and I had uncovered some the connections between some of Wilders's most vocal (but less widely known) supporters and the Vlaams Belang (VB) party in Belgium. Geller and Spencer, among others, had attended a Counter Jihad 2007 conference connected to the VB, a Flemish nationalist party that fellow anti-Jihad crusader and American Enterprise Institute fellow Ayaan Hirsi Ali has credited with a "way of thinking [that] will lead straight to genocide."
Gellar and Spencer approached and pounced on me immediately after the event ended, quizzing me on my name (Ali Gharib), credentials, and information. They insisted that the VB had not, as I said in my question, co-sponsored the event, but merely appeared there. Which they were actually, I must admit, partially right about. But while VB is not listed as a sponsor, they are one of only eight organizations under the umbrella of Counter Jihad Europa, which did sponsor the conference, and IFPS vice president Paul Belien said that while "the VB did not organize the conference, it provided an important part of the logistics and the security of those attending." Belien is married to VB parliamentarian Alexandra Colen and represented Belgium alongside VB leader Filip Dewinter at the conference.
Spencer, to his credit, denied any ideological tie to VB (perhaps because even he recognizes their own racist far-right ties), and insisted that he had merely attended a conference they were at. But Geller was shouting in their defense throughout. What I had done by asking the question was step on a landmine of a blog-battle between Geller another conservative blog, Little Green Footballs. LGF's Charles Johnson has been steadfastly calling a spade a spade and decrying the anti-Jihad Jihad's alliances with far-right racist groups like the VB, which he calls "the fascists [Geller is] shilling for." After asking them several times, Geller and Spencer moved out of my way so I could keep conducting interviews, but they followed me around and continued to shout at me.
At IPS, Eli Clifton, Daniel Luban and me summed up the sticky situation for anti-Jihad warriors hoping to forge global ties:
[...T]he VB connection illustrates the difficulties involved in forging a transatlantic coalition against Islam. Many of the most influential critics of Islam in the U.S. are neoconservatives, such as Pipes and Gaffney, who are also strongly pro-Israel; by contrast, anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe is often manifested in far-right parties whose views are anathema to much of the U.S. population, particularly Jews.
Wilders's success and influence will likely depend on how well he can straddle the two camps, retaining his popular base of support in Europe while cultivating right-wing elites in the U.S.
Indeed, it appears that though Wilders once pledged to steer clear of racist parties with neo-fascist tendencies, those very bonds are being formed between groups like the VB and Jean-Marie LePen's National Front in France and the blatantly racist British National Party. Wilders, for his part, has said that he would consider forming a coalition with VB after the next round of European parliamentary elections, in which both Wilders and the VB are running (picked up by LGF via Ha'aretz).
Wilders may just, in fact, be catching up to some of his most vociferous anti-Muslim U.S. allies who, up until now, have outflanked even Wilders himself in terms of ties to the European far right.