Here in the Netherlands, Wilders, 48, rose from political obscurity during the past decade to become one of the most influential far-right politicians in Europe.
Wilders — who spent time in his youth on an Israeli kibbutz — is pro-Israel and staunchly anti-
Islam. Describing Islam as a religion of violence and hate that wants to “enslave” the West, he has called for the closure of Muslim schools, made a high-profile anti-Muslim film and wants forced registration of all Dutch citizens holding two passports.
In 2010, Wilders was put on trial on charges of inciting hate, though observers say the perceived liberal bias of judges and his eventual acquittal only elevated his popularity. It served him well at the ballot box, with his four-year-old party winning so many seats in elections later that year that the center-right government required his support to stay in power.
His attempts to portray himself as a victim of the liberal elite have made him a darling of the right in the United States, where he has secured space on the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page. This week, Wilders is set to promote a new book published in the United States, “Marked for Death: Islam’s War Against the West and Me.”
Yet he also defies easy political description. Wilders is a strong supporter of same-sex marriage. And he has been nothing if not a savvy reader of the political winds. Earlier this year, political observers say, he made the calculation to seize on Europe’s debt crisis. The move seemed politically well timed, as the economically strong and fiscally conservative Dutch suddenly found themselves in recession and struggling to enact budget cuts demanded by European agreements.
“He is master at capitalizing on fear,” said Jozias Van Aartsen, mayor of The Hague and an elder statesman in the Liberal Party, which Wilders broke with in 2004.
In February, Wilders’s party launched a Web site targeting Polish immigrants, who had come by the thousands as the Netherlands opened its door to more workers from poorer parts of the European Union in the mid-2000s. The site invited Dutch citizens to report Eastern Europeans for doing anything from “taking your parking spaces” to “taking your jobs.”
Malgorzata Karczewska, who runs a Polish-language news site in the Netherlands, said many Dutch seemed embarrassed by the move, but the Web site also brought latent animosity to the surface. One Polish immigrant, she said, repeatedly had her tires slashed. Others were insulted in public for speaking Polish. A week after the Freedom Party site was launched, Karczewska said, a waitress accused her of stealing cutlery while dining at a fine restaurant. “After 9/11, he made all Muslims the scapegoat in Holland,” she said. “Now, it’s the Poles.”
In March, Wilders accelerated his anti-Europe line, openly calling for the Netherlands to abandon the euro. Positioning himself as a champion of the working class, he refused to sign on to budget cuts demanded by European leaders, causing the Dutch government to fall and forcing Prime Minister Mark Rutte to tender his resignation last week.
Although scrambling Dutch parties reached a key budget deal Thursday, analysts warned that the nation still faces months of political turmoil and a possible loss of its cherished AAA credit rating.
Opinion polls suggest that Wilders may have taken at least a temporary hit by forcing the fall of the government, but observers say he is banking on domestic anxiety over the debt crisis to crest come Election Day in September.
“We are against Europe,” Wilders, unbowed, said last week. “We are against the euro.”
Correspondent Michael Birnbaum in Berlin and special correspondent Marit Van Kooij in Amsterdam contributed to this report.