Last Updated: 8:33 p.m. EST
The president of the United States, Donald Trump, got to work early on Wednesday, stoking anti-Muslim hatred by amplifying the views of a small group of British vigilantes who call themselves Britain First, sharing three tweets from the group’s deputy leader.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, DONALD TRUMP, HAS RETWEETED THREE OF DEPUTY LEADER JAYDA FRANSEN'S TWITTER VIDEOS! DONALD TRUMP HIMSELF HAS RETWEETED THESE VIDEOS AND HAS AROUND 44 MILLION FOLLOWERS! GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP! GOD BLESS AMERICA! OCS @JaydaBF @realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/Cym2XCVpN9— Britain First (@BritainFirstHQ) November 29, 2017
Britain First is not, as Trump might have guessed, a tribute to his “America First” campaign slogan. It is a splinter group formed by ex-members of the avowedly racist British National Party which has called for Islam to banned and is dedicated to taking “militant direct action” against Muslim Britons, including elected officials they call “occupiers.” The group’s handful of members have been harassing British Muslims during so-called Christian patrols of the streets since at least 2014.
The group’s activities have largely been dedicated to harassment, but last summer, when a British white supremacist assassinated Jo Cox, a pro-European member of parliament who was campaigning for the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union, he shouted “Britain First!” as he shot and stabbed her.
Brendan Cox, the murdered lawmaker’s husband, quickly denounced Trump for boosting the extremists.
Trump has legitimised the far right in his own country, now he’s trying to do it in ours. Spreading hatred has consequences & the President should be ashamed of himself.— Brendan Cox (@MrBrendanCox) November 29, 2017
Trump’s intervention later prompted a rebuke from Prime Minister Theresa May. “Britain First seeks to divide communities in their use of hateful narratives which that peddle lies and stoke tensions,” May said in a statement. “British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right, which is the antithesis of the values this country represents, decency, tolerance and respect. It is wrong for the president to have done this.”
Later on Wednesday, Trump tried to respond to May, but incorrectly addressed his venomous comeback to another Twitter user who uses the handle @theresamay and has just six followers.
Given British laws against hate speech, Trump might even have veered into dangerous territory if he still hopes to visit the country soon. In May’s previous role as home minister, she added two Islamophobic American bloggers, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, to a list of “extremists” barred from travel to the country, on the grounds that their presence could “foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the U.K.” That ban, imposed in 2013, was motivated by what the two bloggers had written about Muslims online and their plan to take part in a march in London organized by the virulently anti-Islam English Defence League.
In 2009, the Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders was denied entry to the U.K. after the Home Office ruled that his anti-Muslim speeches could “threaten community harmony and therefore public safety.”
A lawmaker for the opposition Labour party, Chris Bryant, pointed out that May had also banned an American white supremacist, Matthew Heimbach, as recently as 2015, and should now consider banning Trump on the same grounds.
In 2015 Theresa May as Home Secretary banned Matthew Heimbach, a white supremacist, and Tayler, the Creator, a homophobic rap singer from UK. She should now ban hatred-inciting Trump, not hold hands with him.— Chris Bryant (@RhonddaBryant) November 29, 2017
Nadhim Zahawi, a Conservative who was born in Baghdad to Kurdish parents and now represents Stratford-on-Avon in Parliament, wrote to Trump, urging him to delete the retweets because the videos “seek to conflate all Muslims into one skewed and twisted stereotype in the hope of inciting hatred toward the Islamic community.”
Zahawi added that he hopes that Trump does go ahead with a planned visit to the U.K. in 2018 so that he can see firsthand “how our Muslim communities live peaceably alongside others,” and are “so far removed from the stereotypes that the videos of Britain First try to portray.”
Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayor of London Trump has attacked in the past because of his Muslim faith, joined the condemnation of the American president’s advocacy for Britain First.
The cross-party alarm at the way Trump’s behavior undermined counterterrorism efforts to ague that the West is not at war with all Muslims was echoed by Alistair Burt, a Conservative MP who serves in the Foreign Office.
As Minister for the Middle East, proud of our relationships with the Islamic world and those within it, the White House tweets are both alarming and despairing tonight. This is so not where the world needs to go.— Alistair Burt (@AlistairBurtUK) November 29, 2017
Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, also urged Trump to remove his retweets.
Each of the posts Trump shared from Britain First’s Jayda Fransen included video of an inflammatory act, accompanied by a caption meant to stir outrage at Muslims.
None of the incidents were recent, suggesting that they had been chosen simply to tarnish the reputation of Muslims, in keeping with Fransen’s efforts to provoke anger and confrontation both online and in sparsely attended marches through Muslim neighborhoods.
Despite Fransen’s claim, there is no evidence that the first of the three clips — video of a Dutch teenager beating another boy who walked with a crutch — has anything to do with Muslims. The video has been removed from the Dutch site where it first appeared, at the request of the victim and the police, but the clip’s original caption, and a news report on the perpetrator’s subsequent arrest, gave no indication of his religion or ethnicity. The Public Prosecutor’s office for North Holland, where the incident took place in May, said in a statement on Wednesday that the attacker “was born and raised in the Netherlands,” and so, not a migrant at all.
Fransen and her colleagues have often been caught mislabeling viral videos to falsely accuse Muslims or immigrants of violence. In August, she added a fake caption blaming “migrants” to video that actually showed a British rapper scuffling with locals in Spain. As HuffPost reported, Britain First’s leader, Paul Golding, has now been caught three times making the false claim that video of Pakistani cricket fans in London, cheering after a sporting victory in 2009, showed “Muslims celebrating” three different terrorist attacks in Paris.
Earlier this year, Golding also shared video of about a dozen members of his group chanting in support of Trump while being protected by the police on the fringes of a massive antiracism rally in London.
The other two incidents Trump thought it urgent to draw America’s attention to this morning both took place in 2013.
One, an Islamist fighter in Syria shattering a statue of the Virgin Mary on camera, has been circulating online since October 2013, when it was added to the collection of the Middle East Media Research Institute, a pro-Israel monitoring group that scours websites and television channels for video of Islamists saying outrageous or embarrassing things.
The other, the brutal murder of an Egyptian teenager by Islamist extremists, took place in July 2013, following clashes in the city of Alexandria between supporters of Egypt’s deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, and his opponents.
That Trump would come to the aid of a fringe activist like Fransen is no small matter in Britain, given that she was arrested this month for possibly breaking a law against hate speech — defined as using words intended “to stir up hatred or arouse fear” — in remarks she made to 50 supporters in Belfast this summer. Her compulsive sharing of videos of violence attributed to Muslims appears to have exactly that goal. By extension, Trump now looks like her accomplice.
This is not Fransen’s first run-in with the law. She was convicted and fined last year for religiously aggravated harassment, over an incident her own group documented proudly on YouTube, in which she screamed abuse at a Muslim woman in a hijab while brandishing a huge white crucifix.
Late Wednesday, Fransen posted a new video on Twitter, in which she thanked Trump and appealed to him to intervene on her behalf, to save her from being convicted of hate speech by Britain’s “Sharia-compliant” authorities.