terça-feira, 31 de janeiro de 2017

The man who could make Marine Le Pen president of France

The long read
The man who could make Marine Le Pen president of France
Florian Philippot is the strategist behind the rebranding of the extreme right Front National as a populist, anti-elite movement. But don’t mistake him for a moderate
by Angelique Chrisafis

Tuesday 31 January 2017 06.00 GMT

On the night of the US election, Florian Philippot, the closest adviser to the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, was watching the results from his apartment on the Left Bank in Paris. Before dawn, when Donald Trump’s victory was not yet official but the liberal establishment was beginning to panic, he tweeted: “Their world is crumbling. Ours is being built.”

Around 8am, Philippot phoned Le Pen to discuss the good news. She was in a jubilant mood at the headquarters of her party – the nationalist, anti-immigration Front National – preparing to deliver a speech congratulating Trump. His victory, on promises of trade protectionism and the closing of borders, looked like a major boost to her presidential campaign. Meanwhile, a car arrived to take Philippot, the party’s vice-president, to the village of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, 250km from Paris, to lay a wreath at the tomb of France’s great postwar leader, General Charles de Gaulle.

Trump’s victory happened to coincide with the anniversary of the death of de Gaulle, who led the French resistance against Nazi Germany. Philippot idolises de Gaulle: his office, which adjoins Le Pen’s, is plastered with de Gaulle memorabilia – one of many things that sets him apart as an oddity in a party that has long regarded de Gaulle as a traitor for allowing the former French colony of Algeria its independence.

Philippot’s elite credentials should have been another strike against him within a party that proclaims its loathing of the establishment. A graduate of the exclusive Ecole Nationale d’Administration, which produces presidents and prime ministers, Philippot didn’t start out in the Front National in the traditional way – driving around the countryside sticking election posters to fences. Philippot is also gay, in a party whose co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen once called homosexuality “a biological and social anomaly”. And yet, at 35, he has become the voice of the party, its media star, and the first to claim Trump’s victory as a sign of a new world order.

After the wreath-laying at de Gaulle’s tomb, Philippot hosted a dinner for 100 party workers and supporters in a nearby restaurant. At the end of the meal, with crumpled paper napkins strewn across the table, he told his guests that Trump’s win proved that the people were “throwing off their chains”. France would be next, he said, promising that Marine Le Pen would win the French presidential election in May.

“Everything that yesterday was said to be impossible or improbable, has today become highly possible and highly probable,” he said. The polls showed that even if Le Pen reached the final run-off, she could never win, but that didn’t matter. Chants of “Marine président!” rang out around the room. Le Pen would “make France great again”, Philippot promised, and everyone stood up to sing the Marseillaise.

If Le Pen is now the closest she has ever been to the French presidency, it is in large part down to her working partnership with Philippot, whose judgment she trusts so completely that she rarely takes a decision without consulting him. “They have an intellectual bond; they are in complete agreement on basic principles,” said Bertrand Dutheil de La Rochère, an adviser to Le Pen who is also close to Philippot.

It is Philippot who is credited with executing Le Pen’s plan to sanitise the Front National’s image, tone down its rhetoric and widen its electoral support – banishing open expressions of anti-semitism, racism and xenophobia, even if those old obsessions still bubble away under the surface. Philippot’s single-minded mission to control the party line and root out dissenters has led his rivals inside the party to liken him to Robespierre, the ruthless French revolutionary leader.

So zealous was Philippot’s drive to transform the party’s image that he encouraged Le Pen to expel her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, from the party he co-founded in 1972. If the outspoken, racist, Holocaust-denying 83-year-old Papa Le Pen was a blight on the Front National’s electoral prospects, Philippot styled himself as its salvation. But as the Front National attempts to take the presidency, the adulation, fear and controversy that Philippot provokes have opened new rifts inside the party.

Since the Front National’s modest beginnings in the 1970s – when Jean-Marie Le Pen was chosen as the face of a fledgling nationalist party whose support ranged from neo-fascist street-fighters to ex-members of the wartime collaborationist Vichy regime – the organisation has been engaged in repeated efforts to repackage itself and broaden its appeal to voters. Philippot and Marine Le Pen’s bid to win power by turning economically to the left and courting a disgruntled lower middle class is just the latest of many rebranding exercises. But within the Le Pen family, cracks are showing. Le Pen’s niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the party’s 27-year-old MP in the hard-right southern heartlands of the Vaucluse, is a devout Catholic and a fervent social conservative who believes that the party must not soften its message.

The challenge for Marine Le Pen is the delicate balance of broadening the Front National’s appeal without losing its core ideals. The number one reason voters choose the Front National is still its anti-immigration, “anti-Islamisation” message – keeping France for the French. At Le Pen’s rallies, one chant from supporters drowns out all others: “On est chez nous!” – This is our country!

Philippot met Marine Le Pen in May 2009 on Paris’s far-right dinner-party circuit, where guests discussed national sovereignty and identity politics over home-cooked food and fine wine. At the time, the Front National was mired in one of its sporadic crises. It had haemorrhaged voters to the rightwing Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2007, was so in debt that it was forced to sell its party headquarters, and was forecast to get only 6% of the vote in the European elections the following month. Marine Le Pen hoped to take over the Front National and transform it from her father’s fringe protest vehicle into a group that could one day win power. But in a weakened party still defined by its image of racism and xenophobia, she needed technocrats and policy wonks to develop her ideas.

Philippot was 28, studious and shy, the son of teachers from a quiet suburb of the northern city of Lille. A junior civil servant in the interior ministry, he belonged to the establishment detested by the far-right. He had never voted Front National, but he says that from childhood, he had nursed a passion for French national sovereignty. His parents had encouraged an early fascination with politics by taking him to watch electoral counts and to the childhood home of General de Gaulle. Philippot also had a visceral loathing of the European Union. Aged 11, he burst into tears when France voted for the Maastricht Treaty that paved the way for the creation of a single European currency. “I was really young, but emotionally I’d understood that our coins, francs, were going to disappear and I found that really sad. It was a little irrational and emotional, it wasn’t very political, but I was interested in it. It was the first campaign I really followed,” he told me.

Leaving the eurozone and the European Union was an obsession. At the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, Philippot refused to do the customary internship at any of the European Union institutions, saying: “I consider them to be illegitimate and anti-democratic”, and instead spent four months at the French embassy in Copenhagen. Colleagues said he flinched whenever he saw a European flag flying on a public building in France.

Earlier, as a student at Paris’s top business school, HEC, he had backed the 2002 presidential campaign of Jean-Pierre Chevènement, the former Socialist minister who ran on an anti-EU ticket. Philippot has always denied he himself was ever leftwing. “I’ve never considered myself either of the left or of the right. I always considered that division dead with the end of the cold war,” he told me. He caught sight of Marine Le Pen on a TV politics show in 2007, inveighing against the European Union in the pugnacious style she honed as a lawyer, warning the government to “stop taking the people for fools”. Philippot agreed with everything she said. He had to meet her.

Philippot sought out Paul-Marie Coûteaux, a conservative MEP who had championed the cause of French sovereignty and independence from Europe, and introduced himself at a book-signing. Before long, he was helping Coûteaux with his website. Coûteaux knew that Marine Le Pen was looking for young talent, and invited them both to dinner.

Le Pen described their meeting as an intellectual love at first sight. Soon they were finishing each other’s sentences

Le Pen feared someone with Philippot’s civil service background would make for a very dull dinner companion. But over veal and olive casserole at Coûteaux’s antique-stuffed left bank apartment, she found him charming. Coûteaux, who eventually fell out with both Le Pen and Philippot, described their meeting as pure alchemy. Philippot had pored over Le Pen’s autobiography, gripped by her accounts of how, when she was eight, her home was hit with 20kg of explosives intended to kill her father, and how teachers at school called the Le Pen girls “daughters of a fascist”. He told her: “I admire what you do, I’d like to be useful to you.”

“Things immediately gelled between us, both on a human level and politically,” Philippot told me. “She is very direct, there’s no pretence.” Le Pen described their meeting as a kind of intellectual love at first sight. Soon they were finishing each other’s sentences.

“I think there was instantly a real ideological closeness between them,” said Jean-Yves Le Gallou, a veteran far-right thinker and civil servant who had quit the Front National in the 1990s and later worked with Philippot at the interior ministry. Le Gallou was the only colleague Philippot told of his meeting with Le Pen – and the only one who knew about his intense and secretive role as her advisor for two years while he was still a civil servant. Apart from the fact that it was against the law for him to keep his ministry job and work for a political party, he had to consider the FN’s toxic reputation.
In 2009, the twice-divorced Marine Le Pen was living outside Paris, with her three children and several bengal cats, in a converted stable block on her father’s estate. The Front National had always been run as a family affair – Jean Marie Le Pen’s three daughters grew up steeped in the party, married men who were linked to the party, and worked for the party. Marine, the youngest, most resembled her father in looks and character. Her current romantic partner, Louis Aliot, is a senior party figure.

Into this tight-knit clan, Florian Philippot arrived as a slightly awkward outsider – ambitious and opinionated. He was a regular fixture at Marine Le Pen’s home, invited for evening or weekend brainstorming sessions over tea and cake, or drinks. He had a particular ability to write fast, in-depth briefing notes and analysis, preparing what Le Pen would say in TV appearances and debates. In person, Philippot has the manner of an intellectual attack-dog – on guard, instinctively wary. Even when he’s going through the motions of politeness, he rarely lets his guard down. The only time he looks relaxed is when he’s sitting next to Le Pen.

Marine Le Pen and Philippot set about drawing up a new party line for when she would eventually take over from her father. Jean-Marie Le Pen had caused a political earthquake in 2002, when he made it through to the second round of the French presidential election. She remembered watching in dread as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in protest, and later voted for Jacques Chirac, in order to keep her father out of office. She could see his mistakes. She understood the need to distance herself from the antisemitism that had long been a feature of the Front National and knew how important it was to bring the party in from the margins. Her father hadn’t wanted real power. She did.

For Marine Le Pen, the model lay in northern France. Aged 30, she had been elected as a regional councillor in Henin Beaumont, a depressed, former coal-mining town. She recognised that France’s northern industrial belt, which had traditionally voted left, could turn to the Front National if the party stood not just against immigration, which remained its chief selling point, but for the victims of deindustrialisation and the financial crisis. Growing up in the north, albeit in a nice house near a golf course, Philippot also knew of the vast number of potential votes to be won among the working and lower middle-class – people with a job, maybe a house, people who were afraid of losing what they had worked hard to achieve and of slipping down the social scale.

Le Pen and Philippot drew up a programme focused on protectionism, a strong state, price control, retirement at 60 and increases to salaries and pensions. It was a manifesto that the Socialist president François Hollande would later liken to a “Communist tract of the 1970s”.

They made no concessions on immigration, but Le Pen changed the emphasis, focusing instead on what the party termed the “Islamisation” of French society. They kept the Front National’s central doctrine of giving preference to French citizens in jobs, housing and welfare. But Le Pen and Philippot rejected the label “extreme right” and sought to repackage the party as neither right nor left.

In a party that under Jean-Marie Le Pen had been all about gut intuition, Philippot introduced a new reliance on data and statistics. He was well versed in voting trends: his older brother Damien worked for Ifop, one of France’s biggest pollsters. (When Damien finally left his polling job last year, it emerged that he had been present behind the scenes of the Front National for years.)

Philippot’s ministry colleague Jean-Yves Le Gallou recalls, that in 2010, at the start of Philippot’s working relationship with Le Pen, she compared Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation. For this, Le Pen was tried for and cleared of inciting religious hatred. “I was very struck when he said to me at the time: ‘My brother and I have told Marine: ‘Don’t start that again, or we’ll quit,’” Le Gallou recalled. “He did seem to exercise a certain control over Marine’s language from that period.”

In January 2011, when Le Pen finally took over the leadership from her father, Philippot’s role was not yet public. That spring, at a press breakfast on a barge on the Seine, Le Pen finally pushed him into the limelight – although under a false name – introducing him to journalists as the bright young spark who had helped write the party’s economic programme.

Jean-Marie Le Pen’s home in western Paris. His daughter, Marine, lived for a while in a converted stable block in the grounds. Photograph: Matthieu Alexandre/AFP/Getty Images
For someone who now has such a high public profile, it was a lacklustre first showing. “He arrived sweating, he was really stressed,” recalled Abel Mestre, then the Front National correspondent for Le Monde. “He had a computer and slides and gave out CD-Rs. It was very academic, nebulous, no one understood. The economic journalists asked questions. He didn’t reply, she replied for him. It was a fiasco … At that stage everyone was wondering who her campaign director for her 2012 presidential bid would be. Journalists were saying, ‘Imagine if it’s that bloke from the breakfast, wouldn’t it be hilarious?’ And later she announced it was. We were stunned by the choice.”

When Philippot became director of Le Pen’s 2012 presidential campaign, he had only been a card-carrying member of the party for a couple of months. But after her strong showing in the first round, in which she won more than 6m votes and came third, Marine Le Pen was in no doubt about who had made the difference. She made Philippot the most powerful among her several party vice-presidents, in charge of strategy and communications. He was 31.

Philippot’s transformation was staggering. He went from a behind-the scenes intellectual to a highly public figure, dressed in a sharp navy suit and thin black tie. Since 2012, he has regularly appeared on politics shows and rolling news programmes, delivering his tightly controlled party message. From the start, he rarely passed up a chance to be on TV or radio, where he is fluent, defiant, never tripping up, withering and ferocious in his put-downs. Soon he was receiving 15 to 20 requests a day. “I had complained that our party wasn’t getting invited on television enough, so I could hardly then turn them down,” he told me. He is always in motion, constantly checking his phone.

He was also a constant presence at Le Pen’s side, exchanging knowing looks and jokes with her, leaning in to whisper in her ear. He was likened to an old-fashioned courtier, but those who feared his ambition nicknamed him Philippot the First. “If a journalist didn’t write what he wanted, he would blacklist them and stop taking their calls,” said Abel Mestre from Le Monde.

In the 2014 European elections, the Front National topped the poll with 24% of the vote. Since then, it has claimed to be the “biggest party in France”. It had expanded its voter base with working-class voters, public-sector workers and young people – all gains attributed to Philippot.

He’s not someone who shows emotion, or affection. He’s quite austere, cold and distant, he only wants to speak to Marine
A senior party official

His successes within the party and the media, however, did not translate to the campaign trail. In 2012 Philippot failed to be elected as an MP in the north-eastern former mining town of Forbach, on the German border. He later lost a mayoral election in the same town, but did eventually take a seat in the European parliament in 2014, and a seat on the regional council for Grand Est the following year.

“In politics, to succeed you have to make yourself feared, and you have to make yourself loved,” Jean-Yves Le Gallou said. “I think he makes himself feared in the party, but I’m not sure he knows how to make himself loved.”

“He works with his door shut in a setting where everyone works with their door open,” said one senior party official. “He’s not someone who shows emotion, or affection. He’s quite austere, cold, and distant, he only wants to speak to Marine. But when you get beyond that, when he is prepared to go beyond that, he can be good company.”

Just before Christmas 2014, Philippot was outed by the celebrity magazine Closer, photographed on a city break to Vienna appearing to hold hands with a television journalist in his 30s. Philippot sued the magazine and won one of the biggest invasion-of-privacy payouts in recent years. The timing was awkward. In 2013, hundreds of thousands of people had staged street protests against the Socialist government’s legalisation of same-sex marriage. Marine Le Pen, on Philippot’s advice, had not gone out to demonstrate. Instead she let her more religious and conservative niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen make it her own personal cause.

Marine Le Pen has placed several gay men in senior roles. The gay vote for the Front National has leapt in recent years, since the party began to argue that immigration from Muslim countries was causing a rise in homophobia. But hardliners complain of a damaging “gay lobby” at the heart of the party. Philippot denied it was difficult to be gay in the Front National. He said the party was not homophobic. “Not at all, and I mean that,” he said. “We’re a party that doesn’t care about people’s preferences, their sexual practices or whatever … You’re a French citizen foremost. And the Front National is a very young party: the members, the voters, the candidates are young. This is a modern party.”

But the day after we met, Philippot went to a medieval pageant in his north eastern constituency and dressed up as a knight. True to his old form, Jean-Marie Le Pen tweeted a picture of Philippot in the costume with a homophobic slur on his so-called “gay” outfit.

Philippot did not respond at the time. But two weeks later, standing alone on the edge of a provincial party event, he told me with cold poise: “An insult dishonours the person who made it, particularly if it’s a homophobic joke worthy of a 12-year-old. He should be asking himself some questions.” Jean-Marie Le Pen didn’t stop. In December, he told Le Figaro: “Gays are like salt in soup, if there’s none at all, it’s a bit bland. If there’s too much, it’s undrinkable.”

Philippot and Marine Le Pen called their drive to make the party more palatable to voters “de-demonisation” – implying that it was the political and media elite who demonised the party, not the party itself that was at fault. This rebranding exercise was seriously compromised last year when Jean-Marie Le Pen, who still held an honorary role in the party, repeated his view that gas chambers used to kill Jews in the Holocaust were “merely a detail in the history” of the second world war. A bitter family feud ensued, and encouraged by Philippot, Marine Le Pen expelled her father from the Front National.

It was a painful decision, and now father and daughter no longer speak. But Philippot stands by it. Things “could have happened differently”, he said, if Jean-Marie Le Pen had “truly accepted the handover of power to his daughter.”

“I didn’t come into this party saying I’m going to go to war against Jean-Marie Le Pen … I never had any animosity towards him,” Philippot told me. “But he was increasingly out to provoke, and his behaviour became untenable.” Le Pen for his part said in a radio interview that he wished his daughter no longer bore his name, adding bitterly that she should “marry her live-in lover – or maybe she should marry Philippot”.

On a sunny Saturday last May, on the veranda of a roadside restaurant near the Swiss border, Philippot was holding his latest electoral weapon, Gordon the Whippet, on a red leather lead. Philippot was guest of honour at a weekend “patriotic luncheon” in Doubs, a semi-rural constituency in eastern France that was once a thriving centre of the French car industry. Amid fears of further job losses, the Front National’s share of the vote has steadily grown here in every recent election. Gordon the Whippet was playing an important part in Philippot’s latest drive to broaden party support, by appealing to France’s vast number of pet-owners and animal welfare campaigners, including his next target demographic – women and the elderly. Marine Le Pen had also been posting pictures of herself at home with her cats, cuddling kittens or hugging horses. (Philippot had become a regular visitor to Brigitte Bardot, the 1960s film star turned animal rights campaigner, and Front National supporter. After their first meeting at her Cote d’Azur villa, Bardot had posed for pictures embracing him.)

Inside the restaurant, the atmosphere was festive. Party workers poured wine and served guinea fowl to local supporters, including ex-soldiers, retired teachers, landlords, young mothers and small business owners. Michel, 60, an engineer from a village outside Besançon, on the Swiss border, complained that he had recently seen a woman in a Lidl car-park wearing a niqab, despite a law banning women from wearing full-face coverings in public. “My wife and I are getting older and we won’t be able to defend ourselves. Not only will they invade us, they will want to impose sharia law,” he said.

Philippot’s personal police guard stood watch near the door. Since the terrorist attacks on Paris in November 2015, in which 130 people died, he has been given round-the-clock protection. With the exception of Marine Le Pen, he is the only person in the Front National to be accorded this privilege.

After chocolate parfait, Philippot, in an open-necked white shirt, stood and spoke into a cordless microphone. While Marine Le Pen gives thunderous speeches at vast rallies, he is more of a motivational after-dinner speaker, galvanising the leafletters and canvassers. “Our country is in very grave danger,” Philippot said. He described an apocalyptic vision of France (“our elderly people going through bins outside supermarkets”), with patriots riding to the rescue. Whenever his country had gone through a period of doubt “or nearly disappeared”, he said, France was always able “to drive out the imposters in power and replace them with people who really loved our country.” The audience cheered.

Gordon the Whippet stood to attention at the most impassioned points, quivering with emotion. The dog was on loan from Philippot’s close friend and party ally, Sophie Montel, a veteran Front National MEP who lived in a nearby village. “Florian has imposed structure on a party that was always chaotic, disorganised, doing things at the last minute,” Montel told me.

Hovering around Philippot at the lunch were some of the sharp-suited, well-educated, on-message young staffers that he has recruited and placed across the party structure. An article about them in L’Obs magazine in May 2016 – titled “Help! Philippot has cloned himself” - had particularly pleased him, although the notion that he is creating his own devoted identikit army inside the party has irked his critics. Rather than throwing dinner parties, Philippot sometimes relaxes at theme-parks like Parc Astérix, or rallies his young troops with outings to laser tag. “He gives us a lot of work – he’s really demanding, but if you prove yourself, he trusts you very quickly,” said Thomas Laval, 23. One of Philippot’s proteges, Laval is a student and regional councillor in the north-east and co-president of a Front National party section that recently opened, amid much controversy, at the elite Sciences Po institute in Paris. In November, a student union sit-in blocked Philippot from appearing at a debate there. “Despite the language of technocrats like Florian Philippot, the Front National is still the Front National, a party that’s racist, anti-semitic and extreme-right,” Sacha Ghozlan, of the Union of Jewish students of France, told Le Monde at the protest.

In a party run along clan lines, Philippot quickly saw the importance of building his own trusted inner circle, bringing in his pollster brother, then his father – a former primary school headteacher, who is now a regional councillor in the north.

Although the “Philippot line” dominates the party and his strategy is the foundation of Marine Le Pen’s presidential bid, ideological differences between Philippot and Le Pen’s ambitious niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen still fester. She is anti-abortion and against same-sex marriage. Philippot believes those issues could scare off new voters and should be left alone.

He dismisses the friction between them as “little differences in leaning”, but there is still low-level sniping. Last year, Philippot dismissed Maréchal-Le Pen’s concerns about same-sex marriage as less important to party members than “cultivating bonsai trees”. Later, in a video filmed at his flat, he talked to the camera with a bonsai tree placed in full view on a table beside him.

In the eastern city of Metz, near the German border, at the end of May, rain poured into the cloistered courtyard of a 17th-century abbey. Local politicians were gathered in a council chamber in the basement, thrashing out the €2.5bn budget for the Grand Est region. Stretching from the vineyards of Champagne down through Alsace-Lorraine, the area, comprising 5.5 million people, is bigger than some European countries.

The French regional elections in 2015 were a turning point for the Front National. The party topped the first round with 28% of the vote. Mainstream parties warned the “antisemitic and racist” party would bring France to its knees. The left withdrew in key areas, joining with the right to stop the Front National winning control of any region.

Since his election as a regional councillor, Philippot now leads the biggest opposition party on the Grand Est council. But as the regional assembly – run by the centre-right Républicains party – discussed the crucial budget for high schools, transport and local investment, his seat in the chamber was empty. He was 300km away in a Paris TV studio, on one of France’s most popular morning politics shows.

The session began without him. It was a gift for his regional opponents, who call him a carpetbagging Paris opportunist with no real local ties.

“While we’re waiting for our extreme-right colleague, let me just say I’m so happy that this region isn’t run by the extreme right,” smiled the Socialist party deputy Pernelle Richardot. The Front National councillors, furious to be called “extreme-right,” erupted in rage and began angrily banging on their desks and shouting in protest.

Four hours later, fresh off the high-speed train from Paris, Philippot took his seat, as if nothing had been amiss. Within minutes, a councillor for the Républicains called the Front National “extreme right” once again. Philippot narrowed his eyes and leaned into his microphone: “I demand that the session be suspended so the elected member can take time to reflect on the seriousness of what he has just said.” Philippot stood up and stormed out, with his 45 councillors following in single file. “Ooh, he’s angry,” shouted a grinning councillor from the Socialist benches, rubbing his hands gleefully.

After nightfall, when the assembly session seemed like it would never end, a Front National councillor made a provocative suggestion – that the names of all people listed on the intelligence services’ confidential “S-files” of individuals believed to have been radicalised should be flagged to high schools who could check if any were on their staff.

“In a certain period of our history, we put yellow stars on people. You’re not far from that with your S files!” shouted a member of the Républicains. Metz, on the frontline of first and second world wars, is extremely sensitive to any reference to the Nazi occupation. Hearing his party likened to the Nazis, Philippot got up, and stormed out of the chamber, once again followed dutifully by his councillors.

“I do it systematically,” he explained in the corridor. “Each time they call us extreme right, I walk out. It’s insulting to us, and even more so to our voters.”

Yet these repeated protests did seem time-consuming. And failing to turn up in the morning had made him an easy target for his critics. “It’s the first time I haven’t been here,” he said and shrugged. “They need me, they’re lost without me.”

The night Britain voted on whether to leave the European Union, before the polls had even closed, Philippot hosted a Front National Brexit celebration dinner at a Parisian bistro. Marine Le Pen was there, smiling and laughing, eating fish and chips and waving French and British flags.

Philippot later said that there were two key moments in his life when he cried – when his mother died in 2009 and his tears of joy when Britain voted to leave the EU.

“To see something happening in a major European country, which is exactly what we’re proposing for France, we’re thrilled,” he told me the morning after the vote. Brexit was a vindication of his own strategy. To radical right parties across Europe, globalisation was failing and the nation state was back.

This month, Philippot addressed a meeting of party workers in l’Oise, in the northern Picardy heartlands where the Front National’s popularity is rising. “A majority of French people think like us,” he said. But more than half of French people still view the party as a danger to democracy and only one-third believe that it is capable of governing. Le Pen’s campaign, which begins in earnest in February, will depend heavily on Philippot’s claim that he can neutralise hostility and win over reticent parts of the electorate.

But for some, softening the Front National’s message will not help the party to win. “He has set out to pasteurise the discourse, but it wasn’t a pasteurised discourse that led to a the Brexit and Trump victories,” said the far-right thinker Jean-Yves Le Gallou. “It was the complete opposite.” •

Prince Charles warns Second World War's 'horrific lessons' are in danger of being forgotten / VIDEO below :HRH The Prince of Wales at World Jewish Relief Annual Dinner 2017

Prince Charles warns Second World War's 'horrific lessons' are in danger of being forgotten
The Prince of Wales remembered the 'indescribable persecution' endured by Holocaust survivor and former Olympic weightlifting champion Ben Helfgott

Maya Oppenheim @mayaoppenheim

Prince Charles has warned the lessons of the Second World War are in “increasing danger” of being forgotten.

Speaking at a fundraiser for the World Jewish Relief, the Prince of Wales remembered the “indescribable persecution” endured by Holocaust survivor and former Olympic weightlifting champion Ben Helfgott.

The Prince, who recently issued a veiled warning over the election of Donald Trump, said it was his grandmother’s sheltering of a Jewish family which inspired his work with a range of faiths.

“The work of World Jewish relief enables us to rally together to do what we can to support people practically, emotionally and spiritually,” the Royal, who is the newly appointed patron of the charity, told a crowd of hundreds.

“Particularly at a time when the horrific lessons of the last war seem to be in increasing danger of being forgotten”.

The Royal suggested Helfgott’s experience of persecution served as a reminder for not overlooking history, saying: "To meet Ben, and others who, like him, have endured indescribable persecution, is to be reminded of the danger of forgetting the lessons of the past."

The Prince applauded the work the charity, which was established to support those fleeing Nazi-occupied Germany, did with impoverished Jews in Ukraine as well as those escaping the atrocities of Syria and Rwanda.

“It is about supporting local communities with what they feel they need and not about imposing solutions from outside."

"World Jewish Relief shows us how vital it is to learn lessons from the horrors of the past," he later added.

Rafi Cooper, the charity's Director of Communications, told The Independent: "His Royal Highness provides a timely reminder that we need to reach within and beyond our own community, regardless of faith - a message that our Jewish values and history teach us is essential to avoid the horrors of the past being repeated."

The Prince's reference to "the horrific lessons of the last war" are reported to have been viewed by some in the room as a “thinly-veiled criticism” of Mr Trump. The President has prompted global condemnation for his immigration ban in recent days. Last week, the billionaire property developer signed an executive order suspending the entire US refugee admissions system for 120 days, halting the Syrian refugee programme indefinitely, and banning entry for people from seven majority-Muslim countries.

At the end of last year, the Prince issued a warning over the “rise of populism” in a seemingly cloaked reference to the election of Mr Trump and the rise of the far-right in Europe. Although he did not mention any politicians by name, he said there were “deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s” and “evil” religious persecution was occurring across the world.

Calling the Holocaust ‘sad’ is the first step towards denying it ever happened / Kaine likens Trump Remembrance Day statement to Holocaust denial

Calling the Holocaust ‘sad’ is the first step towards denying it ever happened
Jonathan Freedland
On Holocaust Memorial Day, the White House issued a statement that did not mention Jews or antisemitism – but this was no oversight by the new administration

Monday 30 January 2017 16.51 GMT

As anyone who has seen Denial, the new film about the 2000 libel trial brought by David Irving against the historian Deborah Lipstadt, will know, Holocaust denial can take many forms. In the face of all the evidence, there are those who say that six million Jews were not murdered by the Nazis; or that the gas chambers never existed; or that Adolf Hitler had nothing to do with it. There is another strand, too; one denying that Jews were specifically targeted for extermination. Even though the Nazis infamously referred to their mass killings of Jews as “the final solution to the Jewish problem”, this form of Holocaust denial seeks to negate that core fact – to suggest that the second world war saw lots of people get killed, and that Jews suffered just like everyone else; no more and no less.

Such a view has long been marginal, especially in the west, but on Friday it gained a new and powerful advocate: the Trump administration. To mark Holocaust Memorial Day, the White House issued a statement that did not mention Jews or antisemitism at all.

At first, many assumed it had been an error; an oversight by a new team that has not exactly impressed with its competence. But at the weekend, Trump spokewoman Hope Hicks confirmed that the wording had been deliberate: “We are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered,” she said. On Sunday, Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, stuck to that position, saying that the White House regarded “everyone’s suffering in the Holocaust” as “sad” and obviously that included “all of the Jewish people affected” – again implying that Jews were merely caught up in a generalised attack on all people, rather than targeted for annihilation.

One point needs to be stressed. The many Jewish groups – including ones previously well-disposed to Trump, such as the Republican Jewish Coalition – that have condemned the White House do so not because they mistakenly, or arrogantly, believe Jews were the only victims of the Nazi horror. Of course not. The Nazis were broad in their hatred, targeting Roma, gay people and disabled people, as well as socialists, communists and many others. But any full account of that period begins with the recognition that Jews were singled out for total eradication. Why would the Trump White House be resistant to acknowledging that uncontroversial fact?

There has long been a strain of thinking on the far right that says Jews and African-Americans have engaged in “special pleading” over the Holocaust and slavery for too long, and that it’s time to push back. (Naturally, white supremacist groups warmly welcomed Trump’s Holocaust statement.) Until a few months ago, such thinking flourished only on the wilder shores of the “alt-right”. But now the far-right has found a home in the White House, in the form of Breitbart publisher turned senior presidential counsellor Steve Bannon.

But there is a simpler explanation, too. This, remember, is the administration that believes in “alternative facts”, headed by a president who thinks nothing of denying the existence of visible, demonstrable evidence. That it should take a first step toward Holocaust denial is fully in character.

Kaine likens Trump Remembrance Day statement to Holocaust denial
Senator condemns White House failure to mention Jews in statement on day of executive order instituting travel ban on Muslim-majority countries

Martin Pengelly and Ben Jacobs
Sunday 29 January 2017 20.56 GMT

Senator Tim Kaine said on Sunday that it was “not a coincidence” that the White House did not mention Jews or Judaism on Holocaust Remembrance Day yet Donald Trump signed an executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“The final solution was about the slaughter of Jews,” said Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate in her defeat by Trump in November, in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. “We have to remember this. This is what Holocaust denial is.

“It’s either to deny that it happened, or many Holocaust deniers acknowledge, ‘Oh, yeah, people were killed. But it was a lot of innocent people. Jews weren’t targeted.’ The fact that they did that and imposed this religious test against Muslims in the executive orders on the same day – this is not a coincidence.”

Kaine spoke after White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, appearing on the same show, stood by the original statement.

“I don’t regret the words,” Priebus said, adding: “I mean, everyone’s suffering in the Holocaust, including, obviously, all of the Jewish people.”

On Friday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the White House said: “It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”

Pressed on the omission on Saturday, after criticism from the Anti-Defamation League and Anne Frank Center, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks told CNN: “Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered.”

She added: “It was our honor to issue a statement in remembrance of this important day.”

Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and during its ascent and the second world war the Nazi regime singled out Jewish people for persecution. Hicks also sent CNN a Huffington Post story about the millions of people who died for their ethnicity, sexual orientation, or political or religious beliefs.

Past presidents have marked Holocaust Remembrance Day with explicit mention of Judaism and antisemitism. In a speech on Friday, Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer said it was “not only dangerous but even immoral” to remove Jews from the history of the Holocaust.

Kaine also linked the Trump administration’s break with precedent to Trump counselor Steve Bannon, the former publisher of Breitbart, a news site adopted by the so-called “alt-right”.

“I think all of these things are happening together,” Kaine said, “when you have the chief political adviser in the White House, Steve Bannon, who is connected with a news organisation that traffics in white supremacy and antisemitism, and they put out a Holocaust statement that omits any mention of Jews.”

In July, before Bannon’s arrival as campaign chief executive, Trump tweeted an image of Clinton superimposed over a pile of banknotes and a six-pointed star. He denied the image was antisemitic, saying the symbol was “a sheriff’s star” and blaming the media for the controversy, but also deleted the original tweet and replaced the star with a circle.

In August, Bannon denied a claim by his ex-wife that he made antisemitic remarks regarding his children’s school. In November, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota accused the Trump campaign of putting out an ad that used antisemitic tropes.

Fred Brown, a spokesman for the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the group believes Trump “holds in his heart the memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust, and is committed not just to their memory, but ensuring it never happens again”.

“The lack of a direct statement about the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust was an unfortunate omission,” Brown said. “History unambiguously shows the purpose of the Nazi’s final solution was the extermination of the Jews of Europe. We hope, going forward, he conveys those feelings when speaking about the Holocaust.”

Trump’s use of the slogan “America First”, on the trail and in his inaugural address, has also attracted criticism from Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, which has noted the phrase’s origins with an isolationist and antisemitic 1940s movement that sought to avoid conflict with Nazi Germany.

Trump’s son-in-law, White House adviser Jared Kushner, is Jewish and his wife, Ivanka Trump, converted to Judaism when they married.

The executive order halting the admission of refugees and banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries included an expression of intent to favour in the future religious minorities from those countries.

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network broadcast on Saturday, Trump said he would prioritise Christians.

“It’s a religious test,” Kaine said on Sunday. “It imposes a different burden on Muslims than others. And the irony is not lost on me that it was issued the same day as the White House issued their Holocaust Remembrance Day proclamation that, unlike any previous administration, removed all reference to Jews.

“So you put a religious test on Muslims and you try to scrub reference to Jews in the Holocaust remembrance. This was horribly, horribly mishandled.”

Como perpetuar o recibo verde? A esquerda explica

Cronista da moda sujeito à erosão do tempo e dos seus próprios contorcionismos retóricos …
Poder -se- á perguntar se os leitores apreciam a utilização permanente de uma plataforma e espaço tào importantes, para duelos subjectivos, maneiristas e egocêntricos, mas sem verdadeiro conteúdo.
Assim, ele contribuirá progressivamente para a erosão da imagem do Público, como jornal de referência.
Para além da “esquerda” e da “direita” existe a ética, o bom senso e também o bom gosto.
Como perpetuar o recibo verde? A esquerda explica
José Soeiro pode passear-se pelo Parlamento sem fato nem gravata, mas escreve como um betinho da Foz.

31 de Janeiro de 2017, 7:24

O deputado José Soeiro escreveu há dias um texto no Expresso acusando-me de “intrujices descaradas” a propósito do meu artigo sobre o salário mínimo. O texto chama-se “Tavares e o patrão-padeiro”. O Tavares sou eu; o patrão-padeiro é o dono da Padaria Portuguesa, Nuno Carvalho. Antes de ir à substância da questão, permitam-me este ponto prévio: é extremamente curiosa – e muito sintomática – a forma como José Soeiro apelida Nuno Carvalho de “padeiro” e de “pasteleiro” ao longo do seu artigo. É o mesmo tique que leva a nossa esquerda a chamar com frequência “merceeiro” a Alexandre Soares dos Santos. Para quem é tão sensível ao uso da linguagem, isto só pode ser um lapso freudiano que esclarece a verdadeira natureza do Bloco e o seu real apreço pelos trabalhadores, utilizando invariavelmente o nome de profissões populares em sentido pejorativo, para gozar e desmerecer patrões. José Soeiro pode passear-se pelo Parlamento sem fato nem gravata, mas escreve como um betinho da Foz.

Esta diferença entre aquilo que se diz e aquilo que se faz, entre as políticas que se defendem à boca cheia e as suas reais consequências para a economia e para os mais desprotegidos, é o ponto central do meu texto. Soeiro escreve esta barbaridade: “João Miguel Tavares acha que pagar férias e segurança social é uma extravagância dispensável e uma maçada para as empresas.” E escreve-o não porque eu tenha dito alguma vez tal coisa, mas porque é preciso caricaturar a posição do adversário para não ter que defender com argumentos racionais as suas próprias posições. Até há pouco, ideias como a que está a ser implementada em Portugal, de subir o salário mínimo 25% em cinco anos, contra a opinião da quase totalidade dos economistas (“aumento do salário mínimo sem aumento da produtividade causa desemprego” deve ser uma das poucas máximas mais ou menos unânimes entre especialistas), depois de uma intervenção da troika, com o país no fio da navalha, e o desemprego jovem acima dos 26%, essas ideias, dizia eu, eram até há pouco exclusivas de uma extrema esquerda lunática que sabia protestar mas não queria governar. Agora que deixou de ser assim, importa sublinhar que este aumento tem duas consequências: dificulta a vida às empresas e, em nome da protecção dos trabalhadores no quadro, aumenta de forma dramática o fosso para os trabalhadores precários.

Quem está a recibo verde só ganha quando trabalha, não tem subsídio de férias nem de Natal, não tem subsídio de refeição, é taxado em 29,6% para a Segurança Social (contra 11% de um trabalhador no quadro) e se tiver um rendimento acima dos 10.000€ anuais ainda tem de reter 25% do IRS à cabeça. Acresce um pequeno detalhe: pode ser despedido a qualquer momento. Isto significa que quem ganha 1000 euros mensais a recibo verde está, sem qualquer protecção, a receber menos do que o salário mínimo. São estes – ainda mais do que os desempregados – os verdadeiros espoliados da economia portuguesa. Eugénio Rosa, para citar alguém que Soeiro é capaz de apreciar, fez simulações que indicavam que um trabalhador a recibo verde que ganhasse 1000 euros mensais tinha quase 44% do seu rendimento cortado. Isto é uma vergonha. Sim, eu sei que o Bloco diz que quer combater a precariedade. Mas só em teoria. Na prática, Soeiro e sus compañeros limitam-se a alimentar a escandalosa, e aparentemente eterna, dualidade do mercado laboral português: quem está no quadro tem tudo; quem está fora não tem nada.

Quebec Mosque shooting suspect was a fan of Donald Trump and Marine le Pen

Quebec Mosque shooting suspect was a fan of Donald Trump and Marine le Pen
Alexandre Bissonnette was described by one former classmate as a 'nerdy outcast'

Kevin Dougherty 4 hours ago

The French-Canadian student charged in connection with a shooting spree that killed six people at a Quebec City mosque was a supporter Donald Trump and far-right French politician Marine Le Pen.

Described by one former classmate as a "nerdy outcast." Alexandre Bissonnette, is the sole suspect in the shooting.

The 27-year-old was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder with a restricted weapon. Police said he acted alone.

Bissonnette's online profiles show a wide variety of interests.

On his Facebook page, he indicated he liked Le Pen, US President Donald Trump, the separatist Parti Quebecois as well as Canada's left-wing New Democratic Party, the Israeli Defense Forces, heavy metal band Megadeth and pop star Katy Perry.

"I wrote him off as a xenophobe. I didn't even think of him as totally racist, but he was enthralled by a borderline racist nationalist movement," Vincent Boissoneault, a fellow Laval University student, told The Globe and Mail newspaper. He said they frequently clashed over Bissonnette's opinions about refugees and support for Le Pen and Trump.

The University Laval confirmed on Monday that Bissonnette was a social science student there.

Bissonnette was a cerebral "nerdy outcast," said former high school classmate Simon de Billy, adding the suspect and his twin brother were inseparable.

"He was an avid reader, knew a lot about history and about current issues, current politics, those kinds of topics," de Billy said. "He was just a bit of a loner, always with his twin brother, didn't have any friends.

"He wasn't physically strong or imposing, and probably got a bit of a hard time, was probably not taken seriously. ... He would be kind of made fun of, the butt of the jokes.

Steve Bannon's role in inner circle of Trump team raises fears of security crisis

Steve Bannon's role in inner circle of Trump team raises fears of security crisis
Donald Trump’s chief strategist and ideologue will be party to all discussions on the White House National Security Council unlike military and intelligence chiefs

Julian Borger in Washington and Spencer Ackerman in New York
Tuesday 31 January 2017 07.34 GMT

The formal inclusion of Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist and ideologue in the small circle of top officials who decide US national security policy, sparked alarm among former officials who described it as an unprecedented politicisation of decisions that could mean the difference between peace and war.

Bannon, a former executive of the rightwing Breitbart news site, will be a permanent fixture of the “principals committee” of the National Security Council (NSC), the White House announced, but said that the director of national intelligence and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff would only attend if the “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed”.

“This is stone cold crazy. After a week of crazy,” Susan Rice, the Obama administration’s national security adviser, said in a tweet, asking sarcastically: “Who needs military advice or intel to make policy on ISIL, Syria, Afghanistan, DPRK [North Korea]?”

David Rothkopf, author of a history of the NSC, said the turbulence of Trump’s foreign policy, intricately connected to the deliberative processes that led to it, was already creating a crisis with international reverberations.

“We have an escalation of chaos as a consequence of White House decision-making, made without consultation with the federal bureaucracy, that has no precedent in modern history and now has people taking to the streets in numbers and ways that is evocative of the 1960s,” Rothkopf said.

“It is not an overstatement to say we have a brewing crisis.”

Placing Bannon on the NSC, with his lack of national security experience, was a “radical” step, Rothkopf said, as the former Breitbart media chairman had shown himself to hold “racist, misogynist and Islamophobic” views. His seat on the NSC principals committee was “essentially putting a thumb on the scale of deliberation in the direction of that kind of thinking”.

Trump, Rothkopf said, was building a security apparatus “with the wrong people at the table and the wrong person at the head of the table” – Trump himself.

Foreign governments, seeing the diminished influence of the established pillars of national security decision-making in the US, were likely to begin dealing with Bannon and his cohort directly to secure their influence with Trump, he continued.

The White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, insisted that the composition of the National Security Council’s principals committee under the Trump administration was no different than it had been under Bush or Obama and waved sheaves of paper to prove his point as television screens showed highlighted text on either side of him.

He said the chairman of the joint chiefs and the director of national intelligence were welcome to attend, but did not have to if the issues under discussion were not directly part of their brief.

The announcement of Bannon’s national security role came at the end of the Trump administration’s first week in office, during which Bannon was increasingly seen as the most powerful figure in the White House after the president himself, spurring on the issuance of a string of executive orders culminating in the radical immigration ban on travellers and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries.

As more details emerged about the chaotic launch of Trump’s flagship immigration ban, it emerged the White House office of management and budget, responsible for coordinating executive action with the rest of the government, was told not to put the ban through the normal review process with the justice, state, homeland security and defense departments, so it was as surprised as everyone else about the announcement.

The newly confirmed homeland security secretary, John Kelly, was airborne when it took effect on Friday and only discovered the president was signing the order on Friday because an aide he was talking to by phone saw the signature ceremony on television, according to the New York Times.

Although the defense secretary, James Mattis, was standing at Trump’s shoulder at the Pentagon when the order was signed, the defense department was also not consulted on its contents beforehand.

Trump’s choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who is expected to be confirmed in the Senate this week, was also not consulted, according to a source he spoke to at the annual Alfalfa Club dinner in Washington, an event which brings the country’s mega-rich together with top politicians. Tillerson, as a former oil executive, is both.

Tillerson, who will be America’s top diplomat, appeared unruffled by the executive order and by a purge of top career officials at the state department, the source said, but made it clear he had not been consulted on either issue.

He will inherit a department in turmoil, in the wake of the dismissals of top administrative staff and a growing mutiny over the refugee ban among diplomats, who were circulating a draft cable dissenting from the executive order on Monday.

Steve Bannon: his appointment to the NSC was ‘a radical departure from any National Security Council in history’, according to Senator John McCain. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
The elevation of Bannon, who ran a media organisation that offered itself as a platform for the far right and promoted fake news during the election, has alarmed European capitals as he is a fervent opponent of the European Union. It has also provoked unease about how the new administration will take decisions on intelligence and national security issues, among former officials with experience of the way the NSC functions at the heart of Washington.

“What is striking about it is it is such an explicit rejection of the well-entrenched principle that when it comes to matters of national security that politics doesn’t have any place in the room,” said James Steinberg, former deputy national security adviser in the Clinton administration. “It is a flat rejection of what has been a shared view of Republican and Democratic administrations.”

National security professionals considered Bannon’s placement on the NSC an indicator that the institutional disarray following Trump’s immigration halt would be replicated in future policy decrees.

The leadership of the influential Senate armed services committee appeared stunned and appalled by the Trump White House elevating Bannon and diminishing the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the director of national intelligence.

The Senate armed services committee chairman, John McCain, who as recently as Thursday lavished praise on Trump’s security team at a Republican retreat, said Bannon’s appointment was “a radical departure from any National Security Council in history”.

His Democratic colleague, Jack Reed, called it “outrageous and potentially dangerous” and said Trump was turning the NSC into “an entity that is without a non-partisan military voice”.

With the senior, non-partisan US military officer or the US intelligence chief absent for critical deliberations, presidents are more likely to stumble into unforced errors with significant global repercussions, said Kori Schake, a defense analyst at the Hoover Institution who has advised McCain and co-edited a book with the defense secretary, Mattis.

“Any president should want their intel and military advisers in on the decisions for the same reason you want a lawyer present: they keep you from making mistakes,” Schake said.

“A president would not, for example, want to find out after issuing an executive order banning immigration from countries fighting alongside us that those countries would reciprocally ban Americans, to great detriment for the war effort.

“Evidently the president’s political advisers lacked the judiciousness to see that coming; the experience it takes to make it to the top of the intelligence or military leadership would easily have been able to call that in advance.”

Stephen Hadley, national security adviser in the last Bush administration, argued that the new administration’s guidelines for the new National Security Council were “not very dissimilar from other orders that other administrations have adopted”.

He said that George W Bush had vetoed the participation of his own closest political adviser to the NSC principals committee, but that the Obama administration had not observed such a distinction between politics and national security. “Karl Rove at one point wanted to participate in the NSC meetings and I ran it by President Bush, who said no. He did not want to suggest in any way that national security decisions are made on domestic politics, which is something that I respect,” Hadley told the Guardian.

“David Axelrod, [who] was President Obama’s political person in the first term, I am told attended a number of NSC meetings. This is something where there is no rule written in stone. Presidents basically make the decisions on who they want at their meetings. You can make a stronger case for Bannon because he is not just political adviser ... So I can see why the president would want him at the NSC meetings.”

segunda-feira, 30 de janeiro de 2017

Saudi Arabia and Egypt are excluded from Trump's ban. Why?

Saudi Arabia and Egypt are excluded from Trump's ban. Why?
Aryeh Neier
The American public needs to know the real reasons behind the arbitrary list of countries

Monday 30 January 2017 15.59 GMT

When President Trump issued executive orders limiting immigration on Friday, it appears there was at least one important omission. He has failed to instruct the National Park Service to put a hood over the Statue of Liberty, the world’s most renowned symbol of freedom.

It is not the only omission. In identifying Muslim-majority countries from which refugees and visas will be blocked because of concerns about terrorism, Trump left out Saudi Arabia. Yet most of those who hijacked airliners to attack New York and Washington DC on 9/11, the deadliest terrorist episode in history, were Saudis.

Does Trump shy away from offending Saudi Arabia because he has business dealings with wealthy Saudis? Or because he expects them to curry favor by patronizing his new hotel in Washington? We don’t know. By refusing to release his tax returns and by refusing to divest himself of his businesses, he raises such questions.

Another country left off the list is Egypt. Yet the leader of the 9/11 hijackers was Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian. Was Egypt omitted because Trump is developing a warm relationship with the country’s brutal dictator, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi? Again, we don’t know.

Of course, excluding all Saudis and Egyptians from entering the US is a bad idea. Applicants for refugee status or visas should be considered individually. Yet failing to exclude them highlights the arbitrariness of barring all those from some countries whose nationals have had no part in terrorism in the US.

During his campaign, Trump focused particularly on excluding Syrian refugees, calling them “the ultimate Trojan horse”. It must be acknowledged that despite the extreme suffering they have endured, the US was not especially welcoming of Syrian refugees before Trump took office.

The United Nations high commissioner for refugees has registered more than 4,800,000 Syrian refugees. The great majority are in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. The Obama administration proposed to admit 25,000 Syrian refugees to the US in the year beginning 1 October.

Trump has now halted that process. Meanwhile Canada has announced that it resettled 39,617 Syrian refugees by 2 January 2017. The process has gone very well. Many thousands of Canadians are voluntarily helping the refugees and contributing financially to enable them to adjust successfully to their new environment.

Before accepting the Syrian refugees, Canada vetted them with care. So far, there have been no security issues. The vetting by the US before Syrian refugees are accepted for resettlement has been similar, and has taken up to two years. As in the case of Canada, the US has had no security incidents involving Syrian refugees.

Yet now, except for a provision that appears intended to exempt the Syrian refugees who are Christians, and therefore of special concern to Christian right supporters of Trump, they are to be blocked from entering the US. This highlights the attempt to engage in religious discrimination. (Actually, if the exemption is applied as written to members of minority religions who have been most severely persecuted, the principal beneficiaries should be Yazidis from Syria and Baha’i from Iran. That may not be Trump’s intent and it may not be followed in practice.)

In the period following the devastating 9/11 attacks, the US committed a number of acts that damaged the country’s global standing. They include the invasion of Iraq that was justified by the false claim that Saddam Hussein possessed an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that endangered the US; the water-boarding, wall-slamming and other abuses of detainees from many countries at CIA “black sites”; the extremely prolonged detentions without charges or trial at Guantánamo; the poor administration of occupied Iraq that allowed the country to descend into chaos and helped to spawn terrorist movements in the region; and the torture and sexual humiliation of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib.

Now, by excluding all refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries and by denying all visas to nationals of those countries, Trump is further detracting from the prestige of the US as a country where people are treated fairly regardless of race, religion or national origin. If he thinks this will enhance safety, he is sadly mistaken.

Even if he could keep out all those he thinks might threaten the US, he will heighten the danger to many millions of Americans who live, work and travel outside its borders. America, and Americans, would be safer if the country is seen by the world to live up to the ideals represented by the Statue of Liberty.

Trump fires Sally Yates after acting attorney general contradicted travel ban

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer praises the actions of acting attorney general Sally Yates who was fired by Donald Trump for her opposition to the executive order restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority nations. ‘It was a profile in courage, it was a brave act and a right act,’ he says. Schumer urges the president to think through his polices and consult departmental chiefs. ‘How can you run a country like this?’ he says, adding: ‘We cannot have a Twitter presidency’

Trump fires Sally Yates after acting attorney general contradicted travel ban
White House says Obama appointee ‘betrayed’ state department with letter instructing officials not to enforce president’s executive order

David Smith and Ben Jacobs in Washington and Spencer Ackerman in New York
Tuesday 31 January 2017 05.53 GMT

Donald Trump has fired the acting US attorney general after she told justice department lawyers not to defend his executive order banning entry for people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The White House said on Monday that Sally Yates had “betrayed” the department by refusing to enforce a legal order that was “designed to protect the citizens of the United States”.

Trump drafted in Dana Boente, US attorney for the eastern district of Virginia, to replace Yates as acting attorney general. The president’s official appointee, anti-immigration hardliner Senator Jeff Sessions, is yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

As the country’s top law enforcement official, Yates, who was appointed by Barack Obama, had control over the justice department’s immigration litigation office, which has handled the federal complaints filed against Trump’s order since his bombshell policy was announced on Friday.

“I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right,” Yates wrote in a letter to justice department lawyers. “At present I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.”

The action earned praise from immigration activists and Democrats but within three hours Yates was gone.

A statement from the White House press secretary’s office said: “Ms Yates is an Obama administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.

“It is time to get serious about protecting our country. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.”

Trump had “relieved Ms Yates of her duties” and Boente would take over until Sessions’s confirmation by the Senate “where he is being wrongly held up by Democrat senators for strictly political reasons”.

Sessions, a longtime Trump ally, has drawn vocal opposition from liberal groups.

The White House statement quoted Boente as saying: “I am honored to serve President Trump in this role until Senator Sessions is confirmed. I will defend and enforce the laws of our country to ensure that our people and our nation are protected.”

The president’s swift action was praised by his supporters. Newt Gingrich drew parallels with reality TV show The Apprentice. “Trump practiced ‘you’re fired’ for years,” the former House Speaker tweeted. “Today he applied it to an insubordinate acting [attorney] general. Congratulations.”