President Trump on Wednesday shared three inflammatory anti-Muslim videos on Twitter posted by a far-right British activist, drawing backlash from across Britain, including a sharp rebuke from the British prime minister's office.
The videos — whose authenticity could not be independently verified — were first shared by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First, which bills itself as a political party but has been widely condemned as an extremist group that targets mosques and Muslims.
Britain First has previously posted a number of misleading videos, and the three Trump shared were provocatively titled “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!,” “Muslim destroys a statue of Virgin Mary!” and “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!”
Fransen, 31, who lives in a London suburb, was convicted of religiously aggravated harassment in November 2016 after abusing a woman wearing a hijab. Fransen was arrested again earlier this month after comments she made during a speech in Belfast.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment as to why the president retweeted Fransen’s provocative and unverified videos. It was not immediately clear how the videos came to Trump's attention, but conservative columnist Ann Coulter, whom Trump follows on Twitter, retweeted one of them on Tuesday.
The video of the rooftop mob dates to July 2013 and was purportedly filmed in Alexandria, Egypt, shortly after the military overthrew President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist and the country’s first democratically elected president. The coup set off weeks of protests and violent clashes between Morsi’s supporters on one side, and Egyptian security forces and military supporters on the other, culminating in an Egyptian security force raid on a pro-Morsi protest camp that killed as many as a thousand people.
Trump’s retweets stirred widespread criticism in Britain, including a statement from the office Prime Minister Theresa May saying Trump was “wrong” to redistribute material from a group that promotes “hateful narratives.”
“British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far-right which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents: decency, tolerance and respect,” said the statement, read by a spokesman from 10 Downing Street.
It added that Britain First “seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives” and uses falsehoods to “stoke tensions.”
“They cause anxiety to law-abiding people,” the statement said.
Wednesday evening, Trump responded on Twitter: "Theresa @theresamay, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!"
The Netherlands Embassy, too, also took to Twitter to respond, noting that that video Trump claimed depicted a “Muslim migrant” beating up a Dutch boy was actually a Dutch native. “ Facts do matter, ” the embassy wrote, directing its comments at the president. “The perpetrator of the violent act n this video was born and raised in the Netherlands. He received and completed his sentence under Dutch law.”
The president has a history of retweeting other controversial supporters, including white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and during his campaign proposed a ban on all Muslims from entering the country.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump’s post as evidence he wants to “promote strong borders and strong national security.” But she sidestepped questions on whether the president should give his Twitter endorsement to content whose authenticity was not verified.
“Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real, and that is what the president is talking about,” Sanders told reporters.
Following Trump’s retweets, Fransen took to Twitter to tout the U.S. president’s promotion of her videos.
“Donald Trump himself has retweeted these videos and has around 44 million followers!” she wrote. “God Bless You Trump! God Bless America!”
Trump’s tweets were strongly condemned by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.
“By his unconscionable and irresponsible actions this morning, President Trump is clearly telling members of his base that they should hate Islam and Muslims,” said Nihad Awad, the group’s national executive director. “These are actions one would expect to see on virulent anti-Muslim hate sites, not on the Twitter feed of the president of the United States. Trump’s posts amount to incitement to violence against American Muslims. His actions should be condemned by all American political and religious leaders, regardless of their party or faith.”
Piers Morgan, a British journalist and television host who was also a winner on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” was also quick to rebuke the president.
“Good morning, Mr President @realDonaldTrump — what the hell are you doing retweeting a bunch of unverified videos by Britain First, a bunch of disgustingly racist far-right extremists? Please STOP this madness & undo your retweets,” he wrote.
Britain First was founded in 2011 and has sought to have its members elected to Parliament but has failed to win seats.
Nick Ryan, of the anti-extremist group Hope Not Hate, told the Independent newspaper it was “pretty incredulous that the leader of the free world would stoop to sharing content from one of the most notorious far-right groups in the U.K.”
In June 2016, Labour Party member of Parliament Jo Cox was killed by an assailant alleged to have shouted “Britain first!” Leaders of the Britain First group said there were no ties between the attacker and their organization. The assailant, however, had links to neo-Nazi groups.
On Wednesday, Cox’s widower, Brendan Cox, tweeted: “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.”
William Booth in London and Abigail Hauslohner and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.