U.S. President Donald Trump has stirred up a tidal wave of condemnation after tweeting anti-Muslim videos from an extreme right-wing British party leader. The move drew adoration from anti-immigrant and racist figures, but strong condemnations from U.S. Muslim groups, British allies, Congress and a range of figures across U.S. society.
As has been the norm in recent weeks, White House spokesman Sarah Sanders doggedly defended Trump's social media shares on the grounds that he was highlighting ongoing security issues. As president, Trump has issued executive orders banning entry to citizens of Muslim-majority countries whose governments aren't aligned with Washington. In response, U.S. courts have partially blocked the measures from taking effect, citing an apparent anti-Muslim bias in the former reality star's past tweets.
"Look, I'm not talking about the nature of the video," Sanders told reporters. "The threat is real and that's what the president is talking about, is the need for national security, the need for military spending, and those are very real things. There's nothing fake about that."
Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of anti-immigration Britain First, posted the videos which she said showed a group of Muslims beating a teenage boy to death, and battering a boy on crutches before destroying a Christian statue. Fransen was convicted earlier this month of abusing a Muslim woman and was ordered to pay a fine and legal costs.
Fransen greeted the retweets with glee, celebrating the shares in block capitals littered with exclamation points: "DONALD TRUMP HIMSELF HAS RETWEETED THESE VIDEOS AND HAS AROUND 44 MILLION FOLLOWERS! GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP! GOD BLESS AMERICA!"
Fransen then shared a range of articles describing the posts as Islamophobic and "hate message(s)," expressing her delight that Trump shared her aim of raising awareness of "issues such as Islam."
Britain First is a far-right political party which seeks to terminate all immigration and comprehensive ban adherents of the Muslim faith from practicing Islam in the U.K., espousing the view that anyone found to be promoting the religion should be deported or imprisoned.
Last week, Fransen was charged by the police in Northern Ireland with using threatening, abusive or insulting words in a speech at a rally in Belfast in August.
Along with the group's leader, she was also charged in September with causing religiously aggravated harassment over the distribution of leaflets and online videos during a trial involving a number of Muslim men later convicted of rape.
Lawmakers from across Britain's political spectrum slammed the U.S. commander-in-chief for sharing the videos with his nearly 44 million Twitter followers.
"It is wrong for the president to have done this," a spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said. "Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which peddle lies and stoke tensions. They cause anxiety to law-abiding people."
Labour MP David Lammy expressed his disgust, tweeting: "Trump sharing Britain First. Let that sink in. The President of the United States is promoting a fascist, racist, extremist hate-group whose leaders have been arrested and convicted. He is no ally or friend of ours. @realDonaldTrump you are not welcome in my country and my city."
The White House repeatedly refused to be drawn into the content of the videos or whether Trump was aware of the source of the tweets.
In reference to a video entitled "Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!," the Netherlands embassy in the United States tweeted back to Trump: "@realDonaldTrump Facts do matter. The perpetrator of the violent act in this video was born and raised in the Netherlands. He received and completed his sentence under Dutch law."
Trump's promotion of the videos contrasts with how he has criticized mainstream U.S. media, lambasting some outlets for "fake news" when they air segments he regards as being against him.
"What we saw today is one of many videos that is circulating on anti-Muslim hate websites," said Ilhan Cagri, of the U.S.-based Muslim Public Affairs Council.
"It is years old and simply aims to breed fear for Muslims and Islam and breed violence. It has nothing to do with the practice of Islam itself."
Democratic U.S. Senator Jack Reed said in a statement: "The violence depicted in these videos is horrific, but it is abhorrent that President Trump would choose to deliberately fan the flames of hatred and religious bigotry."
Politicians in Britain also condemned Trump: Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, described his tweets as "abhorrent, dangerous and a threat to our society."
U.S. civil rights and Islamic organizations said the posts amounted to an incitement to violence against U.S. Muslims.
In contrast, David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader who has run for political office in Louisiana, praised Trump. "He's condemned for showing us what the fake news media won't," Duke wrote on Twitter. "Thank God for Trump! That's why we love him!"
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