Convicted of racism, accused of Nazi ties, known for burnings of the Quran... and about to become a Danish MP?
Danish lawyer Rasmus Paludan was little known a few months ago but his far-right party has gained traction ahead of a general election on June 5.
His political movement — Stram Kurs (Hard Line) — calls itself the party for “ethnic Danes”, wants to ban Islam and deport all Muslims from Denmark.
His party is forecast to win 2.3%, according to a recent poll published by Voxmeter, which would be enough to enter parliament.
Hard Line's rise comes as support for the country's biggest nationalist movement, Danish People's Party, has fallen.
“Hard Line’s only agenda is to be extremely tough on refugees, immigrants and Muslims in particular, and that attracts a small group of voters who think anti-immigration policies can always get harder and more radical," said elections specialist and professor of political science at Copenhagen University, Kasper Møller Hansen.
Since founding his party in July 2017, Paludan has earned a following on YouTube and Snapchat but in recent months he emerged from virtual stardom among teenagers to securing election candidacy by gathering the required 20,000 digital signatures of endorsement from voters.
In April, a Danish court found Paludan guilty of racism after he argued that people from Africa are less intelligent.
Paludan said in a December 2018 video: "The enemy is Islam and Muslims. The best thing would be if there were not a single Muslim left on this earth. Then we would have reached our final goal."
The foundation of Hard Line is "ethnonationalism" and Paludan says you need at least two grandparents of Danish origins to prove you are Danish.
Martin Krasnik, editor-in-chief of the Danish newspaper "Weekendavisen", called Paludan a Nazi in a recent editorial. He said that Paludan is "clearly familiar with the Nuremberg laws” from Nazi-era Germany.
Paludan denies having any associations with Nazism.
He and his supporters are known for burning or throwing the Quran in the air. Police have spent almost €6 million on protecting Hard Line's leader during his protests this year.
In April, Paludan demonstrated in the ethnically diverse Nørrebro district of Copenhagen where large numbers of Muslims live. It caused a violent reaction and unrest that spread to several parts of the capital.
"I strongly disagree with Paludan's meaningless provocations that have no other purpose than sow disunity. Meet him with arguments - not with violence," Denmark's prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, wrote on Twitter.
However, journalists have found it difficult to argue with Paludan, who recently claimed on air that there are 700,000 Muslims in Denmark.
Danish media has been under fire for giving Paludan a platform to promote his agenda and Paludan's protest and many interviews have once again ignited the heated debate about freedom of speech in Denmark.
“Paludan is acting much like Trump, he is pointing fingers at the establishment and the media and often lies. But his voters do not care”, said Hansen. “Despite the rise of Hard Line, right-wing populism has weakened a lot in this election.”
The opposition “red bloc” is forecast to win the general election, which would make the leader of The Social Democrats, Mette Frederiksen, prime minister.
Their bloc is estimated to gain more than 50% of the vote after the Social Democrats adopted a stricter migration policy, which has helped them to win back left-leaning anti-immigration voters who had previously abandoned them for right-wing parties.
“The right-wing parties will get fewer votes this time and the government will most likely be based on the Social Democrats, which means that a party like Hard Line will be alienated on the far-right and probably they will not have much to say in the coming term and law-making process”, Hansen said.