Early Wednesday morning, President Trump made a British white nationalist group very happy — even exultant.
“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!” read a tweet from the main Twitter account of Britain First, which bills itself as a political party but has been widely condemned as an extremist group that targets mosques and Muslims.
The three videos Trump shared were 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!” They were still on his account as of Wednesday afternoon, even after Britain's leadership roundly criticized his decision to amplify a “hateful” group that “peddles lies.”
Many who woke up to the videos Wednesday wondered where they came from and were puzzled by their timing. What follows is an explanation of what we know about the videos' origins.
But before we even get into that, here's the main takeaway. Jayda Fransen, Britain First's deputy leader, appears to be claiming that each video shows violence perpetrated by Muslims against non-Muslim people or their religious idols. This fits into a white nationalist narrative that “truth-tellers” — like Trump and Fransen — are heroically documenting Muslim wrongdoing that the politically correct “mainstream media” won't.
In the case of these three videos, the intended message seems to be that “Muslims are dangerous people.” But these videos appeared to be selected at random, offered without context or original sourcing, and are months, if not years, old. They depict people who may or may not be Muslim, inflicting harm on people who also may or may not be Muslim. This is what propaganda looks like.
The most graphic video was filmed in the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria during the summer of 2013, after a coup against President Mohamed Morsi, who was allied with the Muslim Brotherhood. The 1½-minute clip shows pro-Morsi demonstrators pushing a teenager, first from a water tower onto a flat roof, and then onto the ground below. Hamada Badr al-Din, 19, later died of his injuries, and the video came to symbolize some of the darkest excesses of countrywide civil unrest that summer.
At least one of the perpetrators, Mahmoud Ramadan, was hanged in 2015. Hundreds of other Morsi supporters would later be sentenced to death after swift mass trials that the United Nations described as “unprecedented in recent history.” Videos like the one from Alexandria were widely screened on Egyptian television and used by state media to depict everyone involved in the pro-Morsi movement as terrorists.
Another video claimed to show a “Muslim migrant” beating up a presumably non-Muslim “Dutch boy on crutches.”
According to Dutch police, both teenagers were arrested May 13, 2017, after the video surfaced on Dumpert, a Dutch video-sharing site the day before. Neither the police nor news reports identified either teenager as a Muslim or as an immigrant.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Embassy of the Netherlands in Washington, D.C., replied to Jayda Fransen's original tweet of the video, saying that her caption was spurious.
.@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.
— Netherlands Embassy (@NLintheUSA) November 29, 2017
The last of the three videos is titled “Muslim destroys a statue of Virgin Mary.” According to Storyful, a news agency that sifts through and vets user-generated videos and photos, the video has been misattributed several times but dates to at least 2013. Storyful says the moment depicted may have taken place in the western Syrian town of Yakubiyah. The man in the video says, in Arabic, that “Allah alone will be worshiped” in Syria, before smashing a statuette of Mary.
Various reports identify the man as Sheikh Omar Raghba, and his accent is discernibly Syrian, but none of this is verified. Storyful notes that in January 2015, a version of the video posted on LiveLeak was wrongly described as being shot in Perugia, Italy.
Louisa Loveluck in Beirut contributed to this report.
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