Geert Wilders, the leader of the Netherland's populist Party for Freedom (PVV) party, has sparked angry recriminations from fellow politicians after posting a digitally altered image that falsely claimed to show a political rival at a rally with Islamists.
But the anti-immigration leader, whose party is leading in some polls ahead of nationwide elections in March, has refused to back down from his tweet — and dubbed his rival a "drama queen" for complaining.
At first glance, the image Wilders posted to Twitter on Monday morning appears to show Dutch politician Alexander Pechtold standing at a rally beneath a sign that said "Shariah for the Netherlands." In his tweet, embedded above, Wilders seemed to suggest that the photograph showed Pechtold, leader of progressive Democrats 66 (D66) party, at a demonstration with "Hamas terrorists," referring to the Palestinian Islamic movement.
It didn't take long for social media users to spot that the picture had been digitally altered and did not show Pechtold at all, however. Instead, the photograph showed a demonstration against Wilders in London from October 2009. Dutch news outlets noted that Pechtold had not been anywhere near the protests at the time.
Wilders faced criticism for his decision to share the altered image. Writing on Facebook, Pectold said that usually he would laugh at such an image, but as he had received death threats from PVV supporters in the past he worried that Wilders was inciting his supporters.
Other politicians also criticized Wilders for sharing "fake news." The Labour Party's Lodewijk Asscher, currently deputy prime minister of the Netherlands, told the PVV leader that he should delete his Twitter account.
Despite the criticism, Wilders hasn't backed down. Hours after the controversy exploded, the tweet remains up.
Wilders has hit back at his critics instead, retweeting a fellow PVV politician who noted that the altered version of the image featuring Pechtold had been available on the Internet long before he shared it this week. In another tweet, he accused Pechtold of being a "drama queen" and acting hypocritically as he really had attended a recent demonstration in The Hague against President Trump's travel ban that had also been attended by supporters of Hamas.
The Netherlands are due to hold a parliamentary vote March 15 in which both the PVV and the D66 will be competing along with 26 other political parties. Wilders has been a long-standing figure on the European far right, best known for his anti-immigrant and anti-Islam views; In October, Wilders was convicted of insulting an ethnic group and inciting discrimination after he led chants against Moroccans.
Despite little moderation to his rhetoric — the PVV is campaigning this year with a slogan of "Stop Islam" — polls show Wilders is in a strong position ahead of the March election. Most polls show the PVV as the most popular party in the Netherlands, though experts note that the electorate is unusually fractured this year, which could mean a broad coalition is needed to form a government.
Wilders's tweet Monday appears to have been prompted by a suggestion from D66 politician Simone Kukenheim, who had said this weekend that if Wilders were to become prime minister, Amsterdam, the Netherlands' famously liberal city, could become a "republic" that rebelled against the central Dutch government.
D66 is polling at around half the support of PVV.
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