HENIN-BEAUMONT, France — Welcome to Camp Le Pen.
It was here — in a small, industrial town in northeastern France — that Marine Le Pen chose to hold her watch party Sunday for the first round of the French presidential election. The symbolism could not have been clearer: In a country where government, media and industry are all concentrated in one city — Paris — this was, well, the anti-Paris.
“It's time to free the French people from arrogant elites who want to dictate their conduct,” Le Pen, who grew up in a mansion on the outskirts of Paris, in what is one of the most affluent districts in all of France, told her audience.
In keeping with this theme, the setting was not ornate, and the refreshments on offer — regional delicacies and crustless sandwiches — were far from opulent. It was the sort of spread you might find at an eighth-grade graduation or a church banquet: casual, comfortable and certainly nothing fancy. Although there was champagne after the preliminary results were announced, when Le Pen, along with independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, was named a victor of the election's first round, not a drop of alcohol was in sight for most of the evening.
Just Coke in a bottle, sparkling water and juice, things that are (mostly) still free on airplanes. “Arrogant elites,” it follows, presumably drink wine.
“I am the candidate of the people,” Le Pen said, claiming her victory. “I launch a call to all patriots, wherever they may come from.”
One of these patriots — wrapped in one tricolor French flag, brandishing another — was Jordan Lethoor, a 19-year-old from a neighboring town who checked his cellphone during our conversation about his support for Marine Le Pen and who did not deflect when I asked him why his phone's background depicted a swastika.
Lethoor said the symbol had to do with a computer game he liked.
“It's true, it's a Nazi symbol,” he said. “But I'm not for the Nazis. Adolf Hitler, he killed people like you, and he also killed people like me.”
Lethoor said he was aware of the swastika's meaning, and also that Marine Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, once described the Nazi concentration camps as a “detail of history.”
“I don't at all agree with Jean-Marie Le Pen,” he said.
Others in the crowd emphasized how Marine Le Pen operates in a reality that others in French politics cannot see.
“I am voting Marine because she is real, because she is French above all. I see a future with her,” said Martine Le Roy, 62, a retiree in Henin-Beaumont.
A woman who would only give her name as Christelle, 45, also from the area, said much the same.
“I find that her program actually corresponds to what our country is today. She's active on the level of wanting to protect the power of her own people.”