I still remember it vividly. In 2006 – two years after Theo van Gogh, her collaborator on a film about Islam’s mistreatment of women, was butchered in Amsterdam by a jihadist who left a note saying she was next – Ayaan Hirsi Ali became the subject of a scandal. A 60 Minutes-type series on Dutch TV alleged that Hirsi Ali – who’d come to the Netherlands in 1992 as a political refugee, quit Islam after 9/11, and been a member of parliament since 2003 – had entered false data on her asylum application.
This was old news. Four years earlier, in her own first book and in magazine interviews, she’d admitted that, fleeing her family to avoid a forced marriage, she’d altered certain inconsequential details (such as her birthdate) to protect herself. None of this had mattered to anyone. But once Dutch TV had spent a full hour using this information as a cudgel, Hirsi Ali – who, while widely admired for her staunch support of abused Muslim women, ruffled feathers with her outspoken criticism of Islam – was in danger of losing her career, her Dutch citizenship, and her very life. By the end of 2006, having pretty much been pushed out of parliament, she relocated to Washington, D.C.
As I say, I remember it vividly. But until the other day I’d forgotten the name of that fateful TV series. It’s called Zembla, and it turns out that Hirsi Ali hasn’t been its only high-profile political target. In 2017, Zembla broadcast a three–part “report” on Donald Trump’s supposed relationship with the Russian Mafia. It was a pathetic effort, attempting to besmirch Trump through guilt by even the most tenuous association with people who may or may not once have done something untoward. Going through several years of Zembla’s online archives, I didn’t see a single critical look at a Dutch establishment politician or, for that matter, of a Democratic politician in the U.S. or any left-wing, globalist European politician.
Which brings us to a charismatic young Dutch politician – of the decidedly non-establishment sort – named Thierry Baudet. First some background. Two decades ago, Dutch sociologist Pim Fortuyn explained his opposition to Islamic immigration as follows: “I have no desire to go through the emancipation of women and homosexuals all over again.” Slandered by political and media elites as a “far-right extremist,” Fortuyn was in fact an openly gay classical liberal, witty and sophisticated, who didn’t want to see Dutch freedom and tolerance destroyed by Islam. Many voters shared his concern. After he launched his own political party, Lijst Pim Fortuyn, it quickly won widespread support, and when he was assassinated on May 6, 2002, nine days out from a parliamentary election, he was probably on the verge of becoming prime minister – and, perhaps, of transforming the history of Western Europe in the twenty-first century.
In 2004, as noted, came the murder of another prominent – and reviled – Islam critic, writer and filmmaker Theo van Gogh. That same year, Geert Wilders founded the Freedom Party (PVV); in the sixteen years since then, he’s lived at secret addresses with armed bodyguards; been put on trial for violating hate-speech laws; spoken around the globe, becoming an international symbol of resistance to Islamization; and managed to accomplish at least some modest immigration reforms. Yet the repeated failure of the Dutch electorate to hand Wilders the power to do for the Netherlands what Fortuyn seemed to be on the verge of doing all those years ago has been, at least to this observer, supremely maddening.
Enter Thierry Baudet. Born in 1983, he’s said that his politics were shaped by two events that occurred during his first year of college: 9/11 and Fortuyn’s murder. In 2016 he formed a new party, Forum for Democracy (FvD), whose positions overlap extensively with those of the PVV. In addition to assailing mass Muslim immigration, Baudet opposes the EU, the euro, open borders, and “climate-change hysteria.” And he’s a Trump fan. But his style diverges markedly from Trump’s – and Wilders’s. While the buoyant, bigger-than-life Wilders is something of a Dutch version of Trump, Baudet, with his penchant for arcane historical references and Latin apothegms, comes off as a sort of millennial Fortuyn. Like Fortuyn, he’s been called “flamboyant” (although, unlike Fortuyn, he’s apparently quite the ladies’ man).
Baudet’s party won big in the provincial elections of March 20, 2019, two days after three people were killed on an Utrecht tram in an apparent act of Islamic terrorism. When the votes were counted, it turned out that FvD had won more votes than any other party. At his victory celebration, Baudet pronounced that “[w]e are standing in the rubble of what was once the most beautiful civilization in the world,” and that the Netherlands was “being destroyed by the people who are supposed to be protecting us,” with several governments in a row under prime minister Mark Rutte having left “our borders wide open, letting in hundreds of thousands of people with cultures completely different from ours.” When the newly selected provincial representatives voted on May 27 to choose the members of the Dutch upper house, the Senate (Eerste Kamer), FvD secured twelve seats out of 75, tying it with Rutte’s VVD. Meanwhile, in the far more powerful House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer), Wilders’s PVV still held twenty out of 150 seats to FvD’s two.
In the year since, Wilders and Baudet have worked together. The next election for the Tweede Kamer will take place on March 17, 2021, if not earlier. Will it be another big win for critics of Islam?
Not if the Dutch media can help it. Baudet was long since overdue for a good old-fashioned Dutch media mudslinging, and it came on this past April 16 in the form of an “investigative report” on Dutch TV entitled “Baudet and the Kremlin.” The premise of this hour-long mugging was that Baudet is a puppet of Vladimir Putin. Guess which series this program was a part of? Yes – Zembla, the same series that bought down Hirsi Ali and that broadcast that three-part Trump calumny. It was this episode on Baudet that brought Zembla back onto my radar screen, and it was only after I started reading up on the series that I was reminded that these were, in fact, the same creeps who’d brought down Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Like its episodes on her and on Trump, the Zembla installment about Baudet was a model of sheer unfounded vilification. It tacitly equated opposition to Dutch membership in the EU with support for Putin. and it maintained that one after another of the so-called “far-right” parties of western Europe are covertly allied with, or even working for, Putin (as, of course, is Trump). One of the main “sources” for Zembla’s claim that Baudet is a Putin tool was Henk Otten, a former official in the FvD, who was treated by Zembla as an oracle rather than a disgruntled rival. l
Another Zembla “source” on Baudet was Baudet himself. Having been given access by Otten to Baudet’s messages on the WhatsApp platform, Zembla tried to use them against him. After combing through years of his messages, the show’s producers focused on those that indicated his connections to a British writer named John Laughland and a Ukrainian writer named Vladimir Kornilov. Laughland has written for the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, and many other major newspapers, but Zembla zeroed in on his association with the Paris-based Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, which, it claimed, “appears to have strong ties to the Kremlin.” Which means, naturally, according to the program’s logic, that Baudet may also have “strong ties to the Kremlin.” As for Kornilov, Zembla pretended to take seriously a few WhatsApp messages in which Baudet made jokes (complete, in at least one case, with a “wink” emoji) to the effect that he, Baudet, was on Putin’s payroll and that Kornilov was the bagman.
A third “source” for Zembla’s “report” on Baudet was one Michael Carpenter, who told Zembla that FvD had been on his “radar” for years because of its “virulent” pro-Kremlin “propaganda.” Who’s Carpenter? Zembla identified him as a former Pentagon and White House operative who’s “one of the highest-ranking American officials tasked with cases related to Russia.” The implication was that Carpenter is an objective expert on international relations. What went unmentioned in the broadcast were the specifics of Carpenter’s White House post as well as his present job. First, in the White House, he was a foreign-policy flunky for Joe Biden – back when Biden’s foreign-policy activities consisted largely of peddling influence to shady characters in China and Ukraine in exchange for multimillion-dollar paydays for his son, Hunter. Second, Carpenter is today Managing Director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, which is based in Washington, connected to the University of Pennsylvania, staffed by former members of the Obama Administration, and motivated at every turn, according to its website, by Joe Biden’s “lifelong commitment to public service.”
What, exactly, is the Penn Biden Center? You may recall that during the current presidential campaign, Biden said that after leaving the vice presidency he’d been a professor at Penn. The truth is that he was paid $900,000 by Penn to be the face of his eponymous Center. When the Philadelphia Inquirer looked into what he’d actually done to earn the money, it discovered that he’d held “a vaguely defined role that involved no regular classes and around a dozen public appearances on campus, mostly in big, ticketed events.” A Penn spokesperson toldPhiladelphia Magazine that Biden’s role involved expanding Penn’s “global outreach” and “sharing his wisdom and insights with thousands of Penn students through seminars, talks and classroom visits.” Yes, he’d been accorded the title of “professor” – his full title was University of Pennsylvania Benjamin Franklin Presidential Professor of Practice – but as the Washington Times observed, he didn’t actually do any teaching. When he quit the Penn sinecure to run for president, his Center – and Carpenter – remained behind.
Not that Carpenter has done any teaching, either. While at Penn, he’s spent much of his time tweeting (his Twitter feed has two constant themes: Trump evil, Biden godlike) and had his byline on the Washington Post op-ed page a number of times, most recently on April 29. He’s a good soldier and then some: in one op-ed, he not only supported Trump’s impeachment but said that Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, and Bill Barr should be impeached, too. On October 7, 2019, the Post ran a Carpenter op-ed headlined “Only in Trump’s world could what Joe Biden did in Ukraine be considered ‘corrupt.’” Here’s Carpenter’s take on Hunter Biden’s involvement with Barisma, the spectacularly corrupt Ukrainian firm: “Trump has made much of the fact that Biden’s son Hunter later joined the Burisma board, but the fact remains: Despite repeated calls by the U.S. government — whose Ukraine policy Biden led — pressing Kiev to cooperate with a British-led investigation of Burisma, neither [then Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor] Shokin nor his successor showed any inclination to help the British or to launch a serious probe of their own.” In other words, Carpenter wants us to believe that Joe Biden supported a serious probe of Burisma’s corruption – but that, for reasons Carpenter doesn’t care to go into, it was apparently just dandy with Joe for his son to accept bundles of cash to sit on Burisma’s board.
This, then, is Michael Carpenter: a quintessential Deep State swamp dweller and shameless water-carrier for Joe Biden. We know now that members of the Obama Administration tried to frame Trump as a Putin stooge. Does Carpenter’s participation in the April 16 installment of Zembla mean that the same shabby crew have also been trying to bring down the pro-Trump Baudet?
Whatever the deal may be with Carpenter, the bottom line about Zembla’s Baudet show was that it was yet another transparent attempt by the Dutch left to take down a political antagonist. It was a very unscrupulous attempt – and also very lame, especially given the nature of the target. For the fact is that any serious person who’s even glancingly familiar with Baudet’s life and work will know that, whatever his faults may be, he’s nobody’s marionette. This is a guy who’s written exceedingly learned books in which he lays out the arguments for his worldview in such detail as to make it clear that he’s the real deal – that is, he’s an intelligent and principled person who’s thought extensively about all the issues, steeped himself in all the relevant history, and reached conclusions based on sound reasoning and his own deeply held convictions. Unlike, say, Joe Biden or Michael Carpenter, he’s not a political hack who’s prepared to do or say almost anything for the right price.
By and large, however, the mainstream Dutch news media were eager to parrot Zembla’s unfounded accusations against Baudet. One exception was Frits Bosch in De Dagelijkse Standaard, who noted that this was nothing new: the Dutch media had maligned Fortuyn and van Gogh and Wilders too, and in much the same way. They’d done so endlessly, mercilessly, with no regard whatsoever for truth or decency, and without giving any thought, apparently, to the possible consequences of their acts of demonization. In the Netherlands, quite simply, this is what happens to you if you’re a prominent figure who criticizes Islamic immigration. Sometimes you end up dead; sometimes you just end up fleeing the country or spending the remainder of your life at a secret address with armed guards.
Now it was Thierry Baudet’s turn. The only important difference this time was that a Joe Biden lackey took part in the smear.