WASHINGTON >> President Donald Trump shared videos on Twitter this morning that supposedly portray Muslims committing acts of violence, images that are likely to fuel anti-Islam sentiments popular among the president’s political base in the United States and that prompted the office of Britain’s prime minister to issue a statement condemning the tweets.
Trump retweeted the video posts from an ultranationalist British party leader, Jayda Fransen, who has previously been charged in the United Kingdom with “religious aggravated harassment,” according to news reports. The videos 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!”
It is unusual to see a U.S. president promote this type of content. But the videos are consistent with how Trump has approached Islam, particularly during the 2016 presidential campaign, when he said, “Islam hates us” and called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims coming to the United States.
It was unclear Wednesday morning whether the perpetrators in the videos were Muslim, as Fransen suggested.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president’s tweets to reporters and said the president was talking about the need for national security and military spending.
“The threat is real,” Sanders said. “The threat needs to be addressed. The threat has to be talked about, and that’s what the president is doing in bringing that up.”
British politicians were quick to condemn Trump’s tacit endorsement of the videos.
The office of Theresa May, British prime minister, said, “It is wrong for the president to have done this.”
In a statement, the office also said of the far-right party Britain First, for which Fransen is the deputy: “Britain First seeks to divide communities by their use of hateful narratives that peddle lies and stoke tensions. They cause anxiety to law-abiding people.”
David Lammy, a member of Parliament for the Labour Party, echoed that statement on Twitter.
“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.”
This reaction is exactly what James R. Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said he feared when he saw the president’s Twitter posts.
“It has all kinds of ripple effects, both in terms of perhaps inciting or encouraging anti-Muslim violence, and as well causes, I think, our friends and allies around the world to wonder about the judgment of the president of the United States,” Clapper told CNN on Wednesday.
Britain First was co-founded by a man who later supported Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign and was part of the efforts to spread anti-Clinton news on social media.
Fransen has been accused of using “threatening, abusing or insulting words or behavior” in speeches and leaflets at events this fall in England.
Fransen thanked Trump for promoting her message in a Twitter post today.
Trump is not among Fransen’s Twitter followers. But the president does follow a conservative commentator, Ann Coulter, who Tuesday retweeted the video purporting to show a Muslim migrant beating a Dutch boy.
The official Twitter account of Britain First also wrote to its more than 24,000 followers Wednesday morning about Trump’s posts.
“Donald Trump has just retweeted Britain First’s deputy leader Jayda Fransen THREE times,” the group wrote.
Britain First is a far-right nationalist group that promotes anti-immigrant sentiments and uses hateful rhetoric about Islam, according to the British anti-racism watchdog Hope Not Hate.
One of Britain First’s co-founders, James Dowson, has been linked to websites that appeared during the 2016 presidential campaign and spread pro-Trump hoaxes and the same sort of virulent anti-Muslim videos that Trump shared Wednesday. Dowson left the group in 2014, according to Hope Not Hate. But he is still involved in far right causes.
Britain First calls itself a “patriotic” political party but has been criticized by human rights groups as being a far-right extremist group that engages in activities calculated to bait Muslims.
Formed in 2011 by former members of the far-right British National Party, the group states on its Facebook page that its mission is to fight “the many injustices that are routinely inflicted on the British people” and to defend British culture against the excesses of left-wing liberalism and political correctness.
Chuka Umunna, a Labour Party member of Parliament, wrote on Twitter that an invitation for Trump to come to Britain for a state visit should be immediately withdrawn. “The US President is normalising hatred. If we don’t call this out, we are going down a very dangerous road. His invite should be withdrawn,” he wrote.
Craig M. Considine, a lecturer in the department of sociology at Rice University and the author of several books on Muslims in the West, said he saw Trump’s tweets as an effort to stir up hatred and intolerance of Muslims in Western countries and build a case for driving them out. Trump was essentially promoting the “clash of civilizations” theory that the West and Islam are incompatible, Considine said.
“He’s playing on this fear, whipping up the fear,” Considine said. “It is completely reckless.”
Trump’s tweets were welcomed by a former Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke, who wrote on Twitter, “Thank God for Trump! That’s why we love him!”
Duke was also supportive of the president’s defense of the white nationalist movement in August after a bloody protest in Charlottesville, Virginia.
At the time, Trump said that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the protest, equating counterprotesters with those who brandished swastikas, Confederate battle flags and anti-Semitic banners.
One man is charged with murder in the death of a protester, who was hit by a car that rammed into a crowd demonstrating against the right-wing rally.