At some point overnight, conservative writer Ann Coulter retweeted a video posted by Jayda Fransen, a leader of the far-right group Britain First who was convicted of harassment last year for verbally abusing a Muslim woman in Luton, England. She was arrested in October for violating the terms of her bail by appearing on a neo-Nazi radio show.
Fransen’s video was titled “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” Coulter retweeted it and also followed Fransen, whose Twitter feed is littered with similar examples of videos depicting individual Muslims in a deeply negative light.
President Trump follows 45 people on Twitter, and Coulter is one of them. That’s probably how he saw the “Dutch boy” video Fransen posted, which he then retweeted.
After that, it seems, he looked at the rest of Fransen’s tweets, and retweeted two others: “Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!” and “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!”
Before 7 a.m. Wednesday, the president of the United States tweeted a video of members of the Islamic State killing someone.
It’s hard to overstate how outside the political mainstream Fransen and Britain First actually are. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate the extent to which the group is toxic is to note that Paul Joseph Watson, one of the main writers for the fringe conspiracy site Infowars, warned on Twitter that retweeting Fransen was “not great optics.”
The question that arises, then, is: Why? Why is the leader of the free world retweeting virulent anti-Muslim videos, videos that serve no purpose other than to vilify Muslims broadly by isolating examples of unconscionable acts by individuals?
Trump’s other tweets Wednesday morning make the reasoning perfectly clear.
He began by retweeting himself in response to the show “Fox and Friends,” touting economic numbers that, he said, were in “record territory.” It was a defense, in short, of his presidency, using one of his favorite metrics — and one of the few objective metrics that show an unqualified positive for the country during his tenure.
The three retweets of Fransen followed, and then three other original tweets. Two disparaged the media. One called CNN a “total waste of time” that should be boycotted; the other noted NBC’s firing of “Today” show host Matt Lauer, arguing that NBC executives should be fired for spreading “fake news.”
Then there was this tweet:
That’s the most revealing. “I guess somebody likes me (my policies)!” the president wrote. It’s an statement that stems from what can only be described as insecurity.
That’s the through-line here. Trump feels as though he doesn’t get enough praise for his work as president, which is one of the reasons he spends so much time watching the unfailingly fawning “Fox and Friends.” Over the weekend, he retweeted a random clickbait site called MAGAPill.com simply because it presented an unfiltered, exhaustive and dubious list of his accomplishments. Trump is insistent that he’s doing a good job and clearly frustrated by those who might suggest otherwise.
Such as objective media reporting. NBC and CNN make mistakes, as do all media outlets, but they are not actively promoting fake news. Trump frames the media this way because it allows him to brush off critical reporting. He has inoculated his base of support against criticism stemming from those outlets by promoting the idea that what is reported can’t be trusted. And he has done so largely successfully.
This, too, is why he retweeted Fransen. Trump’s campaign was predicated on casting immigrants — from Mexico, from the Middle East — as central problems in the United States. Crime, drugs and terrorism are almost necessarily functions of immigrants, according to Trump over the course of his campaign and presidency. He’s quick to criticize violent acts committed by Muslims as terrorism and as quick to ascribe violent acts committed by non-Muslims to mental illness. He consistently argues that a wall is needed along the border with Mexico to prevent drug inflow, despite most drugs entering through existing checkpoints. He once claimed that violent crime in Chicago was a function of illegal immigrants. More directly to the point, the first video Trump retweeted Wednesday morning shows an assault committed not by a “Muslim migrant” but apparently by a Dutch kid from the town of Edam-Volendam.
The president clearly believes this rhetoric, despite it being easily refuted. But he also clearly intuits that immigrants are a politically weak group that can be leveraged as a way to bolster his own political fortunes. He would like us to seize on the idea that it is they, not him, who are the problem. It worked last November, as 4 in 10 Trump voters told exit pollsters that immigration and terrorism were the most important problems the country needed to address.
Trump’s thinking on Wednesday morning, then, probably went something like this. He’s doing a good job as president, despite how negatively his presidency has been portrayed in the media. Look at the stock market, for God’s sake! While the “fake news” is busy criticizing him? Why aren’t media outlets criticizing the Muslims who beat up the disabled and insult Christianity?
Incensed and unconstrained, phone in his hand, Trump gets on Twitter and allows that train of thought to pour out. Sure, it will only lead to more criticism. Perhaps it will come back to haunt him legally, as former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti notes, by bolstering the idea that his travel ban is meant to target Muslim people specifically.
But at least it made him feel better. And it made Britain First, an anti-immigrant group often described as fascist, pretty happy, too.
Apparently someone likes him (his policies).