Jesse Jackson Had Dinner With France's Most Notorious Racist

The reverend claimed he knew nothing about Jean-Marie Le Pen before they met over the weekend.

Reverend Jesse Jackson has found himself at the center of political controversy in France after dining with Jean-Marie Le Pen, former leader of the country's extreme right-wing National Front party.

The civil rights activist, 74, was in France to mark the country's National Day of Remembrance of Slavery and its Abolition on Wednesday. He spent the afternoon alongside French President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls. 

News of the meal he and Le Pen shared surfaced after the French politician tweeted a photo of the two men along with an autograph from Jackson made out to Le Pen and his wife.

Jackson first attempted to diffuse the controversy by saying that he coincidentally ran into Le Pen at a restaurant. But Le Pen's camp pushed back. An aide to Le Pen told Agence France-Presse that Jackson was aware of who Le Pen was.

"There was no trap, and there was even an agreement with their mutual Moroccan friends that the dinner was not private," the aide said. "The photos were taken by a professional photographer."

Reached for comment by HuffPost France, Jackson conceded that the dinner had been pre-arranged. The former Democratic presidential candidate admitted to accepting an invitation to dinner on May 8 from "old friends" who had also invited Le Pen and his wife, he said. Jackson claimed that he wasn't warned about the former French presidential candidate's political pedigree. 

"The fact that he posted the picture on the day of the commemoration proves that he was trying to create a distraction," Jackson told HuffPost France on Wednesday evening, reiterating his opposition "to all forms of racism and anti-Semitism."

His opinions are "diametrically and fundamentally opposed" to Le Pen's, he added.

Had he been aware of Le Pen's positions, he would not have stayed at the dinner, Jackson told AFP earlier Wednesday. "I find the ideas of xenophobia and anti-Semitism repugnant and very unhelpful to making a peaceful world," he said. He also said that it was not a political meeting.

Here's how the Twitter interaction went down.

Le Pen tweeted this during the abolition ceremony:

The civil rights activist replied to the French politician:

At which point Le Pen tweeted yet another photo in response to allegations that the dinner had never happened:

In the photo, Jackson is seated in between Le Pen and his wife.

The right-wing firebrand was expelled from the National Front last summer after feuding with his daughter and successor, Marine Le Pen, over comments he made downplaying the Holocaust.

Last month, a French court fined him almost $35,000 for sticking by some of those claims, namely that Nazi gas chambers were merely a “detail” of World War II. An additional fine was slapped on for comments he made in 2013 referring to Roma people as "rash-inducing" and smelly.

He was even convicted in 2012 of contesting crimes against humanity for saying that the Nazi occupation was "not particularly inhumane."