The first time Geert Wilders was put on trial for inciting hatred, his popularity only grew. He had called for the Koran to be banned in the Netherlands and said “criminal” Moroccans should be deported. His acquittal in the 2011 trial became a rallying point for his brand of free speech, which is most often deployed to attack Muslims.
In the years since the trial, support for Wilders and his Party for Freedom has soared. He is neck-and-neck in the polls with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. General elections will take place next March.
But now, Wilders is being put on trial for hate speech — again. On Friday, a judge ruled that a trial that began in 2014 but was suspended can proceed. Wilders had argued that he was being singled out for statements that were inherently political, but the judge interpreted the Netherlands' hate speech laws to include political statements. Wilders will be tried on the “suspicion of insulting a group of people based on race and inciting discrimination and hatred,” said the judge.
Wilders, in response, had this to say:
“Prosecuted for what millions think. #politicalprocess #goaway,” he wrote.
The new charges also have to do with voicing anti-Moroccan sentiment in particular. Wilders asked a crowd of supporters at a rally, “Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this city?” The crowd then chanted “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” Wilders said, “I’ll take care of that.” More than 6,400 complaints were filed based on that incident.
If Wilders's popularity is any indication, he is probably right that he is voicing what millions of Dutch people think. Anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric is sweeping Europe's politics as both foreign- and Europe-born Muslim populations grow across the continent. Wilders also endorsed Donald Trump for U.S. president and attended the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.
His three-week trial will recommence Oct. 31. Wilders has framed it as an assault on free speech and an example of politicized courts targeting opinions they don't agree with. Whichever way the verdict goes, the trial is likely to bolster the support Wilders already has. And if he is convicted, he will certainly make himself out to be a martyr for freedom of speech.