Marine Le Pen's 'Brutal' Upbringing Shaped Her Worldview Marine Le Pen grew up in a "house of political violence," a biographer says. Since taking control of the far-right party her father founded, she has tried to expand its reach, and kicked him out.

Marine Le Pen's 'Brutal' Upbringing Shaped Her Worldview

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

As we just heard, a leading contender in the French presidential election is the far-right politician Marine Le Pen. In just six years, she has moved her National Front Party from the extremist fringe to being an influential force in French politics. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has this profile.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: On a November night in 1976 when Marine Le Pen was just eight-years-old, a bomb ripped through her family's apartment building in Paris. The target was Le Pen's father, Jean Marie Le Pen, a former paratrooper in the Algerian War who founded the controversial far-right National Front. To this day, the perpetrators have never been caught. No one was killed. But Le Pen and her two older sisters awoke emits shards of glass and rubble and with an entire wall of the building blown out. Cecile Alduy has written a book about Le Pen.

CECILE ALDUY: She traces her worldview, actually, about how much violent the world is and politics is to this event that was traumatizing.

BEARDSLEY: In her autobiography, Le Pen, writes - that night I went to sleep like all little girls my age, but when I woke, I was no longer a little girl like the others.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARINE LE PEN: (Speaking French).

(CHEERING)

BEARDSLEY: Forty-one years later, supporters hang on Marine Le Pen's every word at a rally in Paris. To understand how this woman was able to command complete control of France's most extreme-macho political party, you have to understand the brutal nature of her upbringing, says Olivier Beaumont, who wrote a book about the Le Pen family.

OLIVIER BEAUMONT: (Through interpreter) After the explosion, they moved into a stone mansion that was left to her father in someone's will. This was a house of political violence. Morning, noon and night, there was a parade of far-right characters coming and going there. Her father mixed family and politics, and she grew up in this environment.

BEARDSLEY: Beaumont describes Le Pen's childhood as one of departures, ruptures and slamming doors. When she was 16, Le Pen's parents went through a bitter and very public divorce. Her mother left with another man. Le Pen wouldn't see her again for 15 years. Another trauma was growing up with the Le Pen name, says Alduy.

ALDUY: She has described how being the daughter of Jean Marie Le Pen as the National Front was emerging as a new force and being very controversial, led her to, first, idealize her father who was the brunt of criticism but also to have this kind of clan mentality of closing ranks around the family and the party.

BEARDSLEY: Le Pen became a trial lawyer and for a while, struck out on her own. But she could never really escape her father's orbit. She married a prominent party member, had three children and then raised them as a single mother after her divorce. When Le Pen speaks about herself, her supporters feel she's one of them.

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LE PEN: (Through interpreter) I'm a French woman, a mother and a candidate for the presidency. For me, this election is about a choice of civilizations. After five years of the left and the right, our country is overrun by insecurity, economic and social disorder and Islamist terrorism. Our values and identity are under threat.

BEARDSLEY: Le Pen became directly involved in the party in the early 2000s and took over the leadership from her father in 2011. Her rise marked the beginning of the National Front's journey toward the mainstream of French politics. But as daughter Le Pen tried to reach out to the economically fragile and draw in more young people and women, Olivier Beaumont says, her father's xenophobic and anti-Semitic outburst continued to dog her.

BEAUMONT: (Through interpreter) She can't stand his provocations about Nazi gas chambers and Marshal Petain, and she thinks he's trying to sink her. The straw that broke the camel's back was when her father's two Dobermans killed her favorite cat.

BEARDSLEY: Le Pen moved out of the mansion in 2014. And soon after, threw her father out of the party. The two don't speak anymore. Some speculate it was all just show to convince people the party has truly changed. But Beaumont believes the rupture is real. There's a big difference between Jean Marie and Marine Le Pen he says. The father only wanted to provoke. The daughter aspires to real power.

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LE PEN: (Singing in French).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in French).

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News Paris.

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