In 1953 Le Pen abandoned his studies, joined the Foreign Legion, and served in Indochina as a parachutist. Upon his return in 1955, he resumed his studies and political career by joining the right-wing Poujadist movement. Winning a seat in the January 1956 elections as a Poujadist, he became the youngest member of the National Assembly. In September, however, he left France to participate in the Algerian War. Accused of torture, he was forced to return to France in May 1957.
After having broken with another right-wing politician, Pierre Poujade, Le Pen successfully ran as an independent in the November 1958 elections but lost his seat in November 1962. This setback did not keep him from supporting the candidacy of the rightist candidate Jean-Louis Trixier-Vignancour in the presidential elections of 1965. In 1972, Le Pen founded his own party, the far-rightist Front National. His primary focus has been one of seeking to maintain the purity of the French nation and its culture, mainly through vicious anti-immigration rhetoric. This largely explains his fierce anticommunism blended with anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia, and admiration of German national socialism.
Le Pen has rejected the European integration process and is an advocate of a tariff-protected economy. Initially a mere marginal political figure, he has enjoyed increasing popularity, particularly since the 1980s. While capturing only 0.75 percent of the vote in the 1974 presidential elections, his share rose to 15 percent in the 1995 elections and to more than 16 percent in 2002. Moreover, he managed to win a seat in the European Parliament in 1984 and again in 1999. His hitherto unchallenged position in the party was damaged when his deputy, Bruno Mégret, challenged him as party leader in 1998. Although Mégret's power play was unsuccessful, the subsequent split weakened Le Pen and Le Front National.
Marcus, Jonathan. The National Front and French Politics: The Resistible Rise of Jean-Marie Le Pen. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1995.; Rollat, Alain. Les Hommes de l'Extrême Droite: Le Pen, Marie, Ortiz et les Autres. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1985.