The far-right party he founded is the frontrunner in France's European elections this week, but Jean-Marie Le Pen is courting global outrage for suggesting that a gruesome disease might help control immigration.
Blaming a global "population explosion" for what he calls Europe's "immigration problem" at a Tuesday election rally, the Front National founder remarked that "Monseigneur Ebola could sort that out in three months," according to The Guardian.
The newspaper notes the 85-year-old has a long history of racist outbursts and was convicted for inciting racial hatred in 2005.
Le Pen handed leadership of the party to his daughter Marine in 2010, the Financial Times explains. Under her leadership, the party has expanded its appeal and has tried to rehabilitate its historically extremist image. Yet, as the report notes, her father remains the party's honorary leader and a candidate for the European parliamentary election.
On Wednesday, France's ruling socialist party, which is trailing in the polls, seized on the elder Le Pen's comments to warn voters that the right-wing party has not shaken off its extremist past. Meanwhile, the aging leader defended his remarks, saying it was simply an "observation" that events like war and disease affect population trends, according to French newspaper Le Monde.
A new outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in west Africa caused panic last month after over 200 cases were detected in Guinea and Liberia. As the Washington Post explains, Ebola inflicts diarrhea, vomiting, and internal and external bleeding, and it has no cure.
The horrific disease has already been linked to anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe. According to Vice News, the African outbreak led to a flurry of false reports in Italy that immigrants had brought the virus with them.
Capitalizing on economic malaise, skepticism about the European Union and fears about immigration, far-right parties across Europe are surging in the polls ahead of this week's European vote, which begins in Britain on Thursday, the New York Times reported.