I began my May 1 paying hommage to Joan of Arc, together with several thousand National Front supporters. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the atmosphere was charged as the recently defeated Jean Marie Le Pen arrived, sporting lilly-of-the-valley in his button hole, for the Front’s annual ceremony. The crowd was a noxious mix of war veterans sporting rows of medals set off by berets and flags, old ladies in pearls and heavy mascara, and skinheads. The heavies from Front’s own security service, the DPS, glared menacingly at the crowd which they were iin charge of controlling as they marched to the Opera.
Still, I was quite enjoying myself — until I was manhandled by Alain Vizier, Le Pen’s director of communications. Directed by members of the DPS inside the cordon protecting Le Pen’s cortege, I was happily chatting with some of the veterans such as Michel Bayuet, a regional councillor for the Yvelines suburb, who had two youths ejected from the march for refusing to remove the headscarves that were obscuring part of their faces.
‘It’s a provocation,’ the charming grand-father told me. ‘They are skinheads. They come to our meetings only to cause trouble.’
Then I spied Vizier, who I had met at a dinner a few months back, smiled at him and made my way over to say hello.
‘Get out of here,’ he yelled at me. ‘You have been here for half an hour. Get out, get out.’
‘Ok I am going,’ I said rather taken aback. ‘ I just wanted to ask you how many people are on the march.’
‘Get out,’ he said.
‘You can’t tell me how many people are here?’
‘Au revoir,’ he said, gabbing my arm and pushing me away from him. ‘You work for which media? American I presume?’
I nodded. He was hurting my arm. ‘That doesn’t surprise me.’
Shocked, I started to write down his insults as I made my way out of the cortege. Once outside I stood for a few seconds, scribbling furiously. He ran over to me, thrusting his card in my face. ‘Voila. So you know who I am.’
‘I know who you are,’ I replied. ‘We had dinner together.’
He pushed his card down the front of my shirt and returned to his place in front of Jean-Marie.
I had seen more courtesy from the skinheads.
‘He must be jumpy about the result,’ journalists who usually follow Le Pen told me. ‘He’s not normally like that.’
Le Pen supporters mostly blamed Sarkozy for stealing a million voters from Le Pen, reducing his score to 10 percent in last Sunday’s elections. Some blamed Marine for softening the party line, appealing beyond the traditional party base to the children of immigrants.
‘He’s better paying attention to people who are French by blood rather than people who are French through immigration,’ said Gaetan Heneman, 21, a labourer from Dunkirk who had travelled to Paris on his own for the ceremony.
‘A nice National Front voter doesn’t interest anyone,’ an elderly gentleman told me.
Marine, the butt of most of this criticism, brushed off the nay-sayers who she claimed ‘are the chewing gum that has been stuck to our heels for years.’
Loyalty to Le Pen remained high. The crowd waited eagerly for instruction in how to vote for the second round.
‘We are not sheep, we are faithful,’ said one young man from the Midi Pyrenees. ‘We will do what he tells us to do.’
His advice was largely anticipated. ‘We want Le Pen not Sarkozy. Jean-Marie not Segolene,’ the crowds chanted.
Le Pen gave them what they wanted, urging his supporters to ‘abstain massively’ from Sunday’s vote.
`Le Pen holds the key to the election,’ said Jean-Marc Lech, co-Chairman of polling company Ipsos. ‘Nothing would be worse for Sarkozy if the le Pen voters don’t go out to vote.’ He said the Le Pen voters who decamped to Sarkozy were the wealthy, leaving Jean-Marie with a more obedient core of support.