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Dutch Extremist Thierry Baudet and the Globalization of the 'Reptilian' Conspiracist Far Right

Thierry Baudet was once considered an up-and-coming talent in Netherlands politics. Youthful and charismatic, he was named Dutch politician of the year in 2017 and expressed a desire to become prime minister. Fast forward to 2024, however, and that prospect seems further away than ever. Where did things go wrong for Baudet and his Forum for Democracy? And why is he still considered influential?

Thierry Baudet (screenshot Nieuwsuur on YouTube, 03/11/2023)

Thierry Baudet was born into a well-to-do family in 1983,  educated at the best educational institutions and appeared destined for a brilliant career.  After a degree in history at Amsterdam University he moved to Leiden University, obtaining his doctorate under Paul Cliteur, the patriarch of many conservative publicists, and Roger Scruton, the prominent conservative philosopher. Baudet aspired to a career in academic and cultural circles, but did not get much further than a column in NRC, a national daily. Frustrated in his ambitions, he turned against what he saw as the corrupt establishment, a product of neo-Marxist indoctrination. Baudet declared himself against the hegemony of the left, and said a cultural offensive had to be waged through "metapolitics".

In 2015 Baudet and Henk Otten founded the think tank Forum for Democracy. However Baudet later fell out with Otten (a recurring pattern). There was initially no intention to turn it into a political party, but after the success of the 2016 campaign for a referendum on a treaty with Ukraine, Baudet and Otten thought it opportune to take the step. The referendum had been a close call, because although 61% of the votes were against the treaty, only 32% of the voters turned up, narrowly higher than the quorum required of 30%. The party was partly funded by Geert Wilders' radical right Partij Voor de Vrijheid (Freedom Party), which had paid a sum of €100,000 for a study on the usefulness of referendums, later published by Baudet under the title Break the party cartel. With part of that money, Baudet financed his young party's electoral campaign.

One of the reasons to set up a political party, Baudet explained, was the victory of Donald Trump in 2016. Baudet wanted to bring Trump’s message to the Dutch and even the European audience. Baudet stated this at a rally of the ReAwaken America Tour in October 2023, which he regards as part of an international “anti-globalist” alliance. The ReAwaken America Tour is a far-right and Christian nationalist movement in the United States launched in 2021 by millionaire Clay Clark and former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn. At its rallies a variety of right-wing and far-right conspiracy theories have been promoted, including COVID-19 misinformation, election denialism, QAnon and doomsday prophecies. Flynn and Clark regularly send out antisemitic dog whistles from the stage, referring to opponents as “godless globalists”, a term that has long been conspiracists’ code to refer to prominent Jews, particularly philanthropist George Soros.

The start of Baudet’s political party was promising. Forum for Democracy grew steadily and was the big winner in the 2019 provincial council elections, which are also elections for the Senate. It won a whopping 15.9% of the vote, making FVD the largest party and giving it a strong representation in the Senate, with 12 out of 75 seats. The party was seen as the "decent alternative to the PVV" (Wilders’ Freedom Party). It was a political landslide in the usually calm and stable Netherlands. The road to the premiership seemed open to Baudet.

The first problems within the party became apparent when Otten was expelled from the leadership and Senate faction not long after the victory in the provincial elections. Although the party cited fraud with government funding as the cause, the increasingly extremist course the party took under Baudet appeared to be the real cause. Otten said: “People are spooked by Baudet's direction. More people are fed up with that boreal talk (boreal being a world that is only used by the radical right) and those weird comments about women. You can already see that in the European elections results a little later. But he won't listen that we should do things differently.” In his speech after the elections Baudet had said: “Like all the other countries of our boreal world, we are being destroyed by the very people who should be protecting us. We are being undermined by our universities, our journalists. By the people who receive our art grants and design our buildings. And above all, we are undermined by our governors.”

More and more radical

But it was only because of the COVID-19 pandemic that problems began to skyrocket. Although Baudet was initially one of the fiercest supporters of lockdowns, he soon changed his mind. His statements became more and more radical. Besides the European Union and NATO, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Economic Forum (WEF) were increasingly becoming the target of his diatribes in the Lower House. The party disintegrated in November 2020 when articles appeared in the press about WhatsApp groups of the youth wing spreading homophobic, racist and antisemitic messages. At a meeting of prominent members of the party, Baudet expressed outrage that disciplinary action had been taken against these youth members before, shouting, "Almost everyone I know is an antisemite." Moreover, he attributed the origin of the coronavirus to Jewish philanthropist Soros (a well-known antisemitic fantasy) and talked about Hillary Clinton and pedophiles allegedly seeking world domination, similar to Pizzagate and QAnon. People who relativise the Holocaust have higher IQs, according to Baudet, and their higher IQ is the reason they relativise the Holocaust. Baudet later denied having made these statements, but others in attendance confirmed it. The party split and Baudet resigned as chairman, a decision he reversed the next day. He regained power after a referendum was held among the party's members, 76% of whom thought he should be allowed to stay on as leader.

The youngsters in the party published a magazine that sympathetically discussed the ideas of Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin and Italian esoteric fascist Julius Evola. Baudet, incidentally, met Dugin himself in 2018 at a meeting at the Westerkerk in Amsterdam. And he held a Twitter space with Dugin in July 2023.

Source: Marc Speelman/X, 03/13/2022.

Baudet had previously fallen into disrepute by visiting Jean-Marie Le Pen twice as a student. He offered Le Pen his dissertation The Significance of Borders on the second visit in 2012. The Dutchman also wanted to organise a lecture tour for Le Pen, who he felt was demonised in public debate, but no organisation was willing to organise it. Baudet was a close friend of Julien Rochedy, who was the leader of the youth section of the National Front. Baudet also wanted to organise a lecture series for Filip de Winter, front man of the far right Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang, but there was no interest in that either. Both were considered beyond the pale of democratic discourse. Baudet did speak himself in 2015 at the IJzerwake, the gathering of Flemish separatists. Both the National Front (now National Rally) and the Vlaams Blok (now Vlaams Belang) are the political offspring of Nazi collaborationists during WWII.

Baudet rejects what he called “the justice of the victors”. According to him the Nazi criminals could never have been judged according to laws that did not exist when they committed their acts. He said at a rally: “I also regard the Nuremberg tribunal as illegitimate. You should not try people retroactively.” This echoes a well-known talking point of Neonazis after WWII.

Baudet got along fine for a lengthy period with Giorgia Meloni's post-fascists, the Fratelli d'Italia. For instance, he was a guest at the summer festival Atreju in 2019, together with Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain's ultra-right party Vox. More recently,  the relationship has cooled somewhat because of the pro-Ukrainian stance of Meloni and her government. Recently in Budapest, Baudet was a guest of Mi Hazánk (Our Homeland), a right-wing breakaway from the Hungarian party Jobbik, itself already an extreme nationalist and xenophobic party.

Definitely a reptilian, antisemitic conspiracy theorist

Although Baudet had denied his attachment to conspiracy-mongering for a long time, in an interview from October 2022  he admitted: “I am definitely a conspiracy theorist. I believe that we are being governed by a global conspiracy of evil reptiles”. The declaration hewed closely to the theories of David Icke. Baudet said in the same interview that he admired the Russian President: “I am a fan of Vladimir Putin. I think he is the Dark Knight. He is the hero we need.” And in accordance with his beliefs, his party always voted in favor of Russian interests. Of course Baudet later said he used the word “reptiles” as a metaphor. A recurrent pattern in his media strategy is to make an outrageous remark, then claim to be a victim of a “trial by media” by saying it was just a joke or a metaphor.

Baudet is also very close to John Laughland, a supporter of Putin and his war machine. The Dutch secret service warned Baudet already in 2020 that he might be approached by Russian agents, but he ignored the alerts. The collaboration with Laughland goes back to at least 2007 when he wrote his thesis “with him and at his place”, according to Baudet (curiously, the thesis mentions nothing about a co-author). Laughland has long been considered FVD's party ideologue, but an official affiliation did not come until 2022 with his appointment as director of the party's international branch: Forum for Democracy International.

In December 2021, two Jewish organisations and four Holocaust survivors filed summary proceedings against Baudet over a number of statements on social media in which he compared Covid-19 measures to the Holocaust. Baudet tweeted, among other things, "The unvaccinated are the new Jews, those who look away are the new Nazis and members of the NSB" (the Dutch collaborationist party during WWII), he posted. Baudet also shared a picture of a child who would not be allowed to go to a St Nicholas party, a traditional Dutch children’s celebration, along with a picture from a ghetto of a boy wearing a Jewish star before his deportation.

According to the judge, Baudet was not directly guilty of Holocaust denial, but he was guilty of creating a breeding ground for antisemitism. He was ordered to delete the tweets. This ruling also stood on appeal, under a May 2023 ruling. The conclusion in a study made by the fact-checking Nieuwscheckers in 2022 was that politicians from FVD regularly retweet antisemitic accounts. They actively promote players from a social media network in which antisemitism is already commonplace. This ranges from conspiracy theories about Soros to hate speech about Jewish people drinking children’s blood, or the infamous Blood Libel.

In January 2024 Baudet launched his campaign for a Flemish section of his party. He took up an old theme of nationalists in the Low Countries–the reunification of all Dutch speaking people in one state. He also lamented the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, which he said had led only to misery. He stated at this rally: “In 10 years, there will be no white people living in South Africa. That, of course, is terrible. It was the most prosperous country on earth. We were doing a great job there. Or there has to be another war of independence of some kind, but if that doesn't happen we will all be driven out of there. Then that part of the world too will no longer be able to enjoy the light of our existence.”

Conspiracism, antisemitism, racism and anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry are part and parcel of the political culture of Thierry Baudet and his political organisation. He actively promotes ideas that have long been deemed unacceptable and even banned from democratic discourse. This strategy has led to an electoral impasse of his movement, but there are signs he is aiming again for less domestic political influence and more "metapolitical" goals in Europe’s culture wars and across the globe.

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Pepijn van Erp & Peter Zegers
Pepijn van Erp & Peter Zegers
Pepijn van Erp is a mathematician and long-standing board member of the Dutch Skeptics Foundation Skepsis. His main interests are in the field of conspiracy theories and science fraud. Peter Zegers is a bookseller and publicist living in Amsterdam. He publishes articles on conspiracism and related topics on his blog and in various magazines.
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