Geert Wilders’ similarities to Donald Trump don’t stop at his perfectly quaffed, bleached hair. The world-famous, nationalist Dutch politician has ridden the populist wave to notable acclaim. Like Trump, Wilders has lived in the limelight for decades but, unlike Trump, always in the political arena. He tweets recklessly and creates controversy for political expediency. The media hates him and his supporters love him for it. He campaigns vehemently against immigration and portrays himself as positively anti-establishment. Both Wilders and Trump have been accused of appealing to their supporters’ lesser instincts.
Most Americans don’t know Wilders’ name, but documentary filmmakers Stephen Robert Morse and Nick Hampson hope to change that with the release of EUROTRUMP.
After Trump shocked the world by achieving victory against Hillary Clinton in November 2016, Morse and Hampson turned their attention to the next major election in the West: The Netherlands. At the time, the country was facing a populist movement of its own. Capitalizing on Trump’s triumph, Geert Wilders’ PVV (Party for Freedom) was climbing the polls and even adopted the campaign slogan “Make the Netherlands Great Again.”
“Wilders’ was the first big election in the world after Trump, which is what drew us to the project in the first place,” Hampson told the Observer. “We wanted to make a movie about an election that involved an outsider, someone from the traditional right wing.”
Wilders’ singularly defining issue? He hopes to purge Islam from Holland, close all mosques, and ban the Koran “like Mein Kampf is banned.” He calls Islam “that sick ideology of Allah and Muhammad” and argues that Islam is a totalitarian political ideology like communism and fascism. He has proposed to halt Muslim immigration to the Netherlands and pay all settled Muslim immigrants to leave the country. Nevertheless, Wilders claims he is not a racist, saying, “I don’t hate Muslims. I hate their book and their ideology.”
His views have landed him in hot water—in many ways permanently. In 2009, a three-court judge ordered prosecutors to try him for violating Dutch anti-hate speech laws, but he was acquitted of all charges in 2011. In 2016, he was tried again, this time for inciting “discrimination and hatred” for asking supporters at a rally in 2014 if they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the county and leading them in a chant of “Fewer, fewer!” No penalty was imposed, and his party surged in the polls upon his conviction.
Since 2004, Wilders has lived with round-the-clock security to protect him from the many threats to his life. He resides in a safe house and wears a bullet proof vest whenever outside it. Access to Wilders is so restricted that he is reportedly only allowed weekly visits with his wife. All of this, of course, makes Morse’s and Hampson’s nearly unrestricted access even more impressive.
“We were given more access than anyone has ever been given,” says Hampson, a 23-year-old fresh off graduation from Oxford University.
The film also explores how such strict security—effectively being cut off from the world—affects one’s psyche. Hampson explains, “The fact that he is under 24/7 security makes him a pretty fascinating subject both from a political and psychological standpoint. No one really knows what it’s like to live under those conditions when you’re a politician and you’re so detached from voters, yet he was pegged to win the election and still came second out of 28 parties, which is massive for a relatively new party.”
Such vast access to Wilders is notable for one more reason: He detests the media, another attribute of his that is positively Trumpian. Clocking in at roughly 90 minutes, the film is the most in-depth portrait of him to-date.
Asked why they think Wilders was eager to work with them, Hampson and Morse think the success of Morse’s previous film Amanda Knox, which was nominated for a multiple Emmys, has something to do with it. Wilders had seen the film before Morse reached out to him (Hampson jokes, “I guess he probably has a lot of time to watch Netflix if he can’t go outside”), and, says Morse, “I think he could see that our team was capable of dealing with a divisive character in a fair way.”
Morse also thinks their personal relationship helped assure Wilders’ that he wouldn’t be vilified on the big screen. He explains, “At our first meeting, I made him laugh a lot. He made me laugh a lot. We were laughing a lot. And that was completely shocking because I was thinking he would be a monster.”
A monster he is not. Though his views are detestable in most circles, Hampson describes him as a “likable and normal guy when he’s not talking about politics or Islam.”
Wilders’ influence on American politics is not to be underestimated. While some may correctly argue that he has dragged the entire world’s political discourse to the right, his impact has been felt in concrete ways in the U.S. as well.
In 2009, he promoted a “Facing Jihad World Tour,” which was a series of screenings of his anti-Muslim film Fitna. At then-Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl’s invitation, he gave a special screening of the film on Capitol Hill.
In 2010 on September 11, Wilders addressed 2,000 people gathered by a planned Muslim community center near where the former World Trade Towers stood and said, “We must never give a free hand to those who want to subjugate us, draw this line so that New York will never become New Mecca.”
In 2015, he was the keynote speaker at an art exhibit in Texas of drawings and cartoons of the prophet Muhammed. The event was targeted by jihadists and became the first ISIS-directed attack on U.S. soil. Morse says this event alone has “tied him intimately to U.S. history.”
In 2016, he attended the Republican National Convention. And when asked in the film to sum up how he feels about Donald Trump in one word, he responds, “Respect.”
But the primary reason why Americans will take an interest in EUROTRUMP is that it grapples with one of populism’s great ironies: It is happening on a global scale. While Donald Trump’s election and the U.K.’s departure from the EU shocked the world, the success of right wing parties in nearly every election since—France, Germany, Norway, Austria and the Czech Republic to name a few—has come to be expected. Even so, there is much confusion about why Western democracies are experiencing the rise of the far-right in tandem.
“It’s like the butterfly effect. People like him in Europe doing certain things, that message permeates throughout the world. And I think it plays into things like the election of Donald Trump,” says Hampson.
Morse agrees, “The reason why Americans should care, the reason why the world should care is that these parties and these movements are not going anywhere.”
Although he declined to comment for this story, Wilders seems to concur. When asked to describe himself in one word in the film, he responds, “Strong.”
EUROTRUMP will premiere in the U.S. at Doc NYC on November 10 at 9:15 PM.