LONDON >> The leaders of an anti-Muslim extremist group in Britain have been found guilty of hate crimes and sentenced to prison, months after they drew international attention for helping President Donald Trump get entangled in a diplomatic dispute with British leaders.
A judge in Folkestone Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday convicted Paul Golding, the leader of the group, Britain First, of one count of religiously aggravated harassment, and Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader, of three counts of the same offense. Golding was sentenced to 18 weeks in prison, and Fransen to 36 weeks.
The two were convicted over posting videos online of their harassment of Muslims in May 2017, at the same time as a trial of three Muslim men and a teenager who were accused and later convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl.
Britain First, estimated to have about 1,000 members, was little known outside the country until November, when Trump tweeted links to anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim videos made by the group, some of which were misleading.
Britain First basked in the attention, but Trump was rebuked by Prime Minister Theresa May and other politicians, in multiple countries and across a broad ideological spectrum, as well as by human rights groups.
In January, the president canceled a scheduled trip to Britain, to coincide with the opening of a new U.S. Embassy in London. It was clear that he would be met with large protests, fueled partly by those tweets, and 1.8 million people signed a petition calling on the government to rescind its invitation for a state visit.
Trump said on Twitter that he had called off the trip because he objected to the decision to close the old embassy and build a new one in a less glamorous location south of the Thames, a move that he falsely attributed to former President Barack Obama.
Britain First is a Christian nationalist group that opposes immigration and contends that Islam is destroying the country, and it has used inflammatory tactics such as publicly confronting Muslims on the street about their religion, and going into mosques.
Fransen, 32, and Golding, 36, have accused the government of criminalizing their opinions. On Wednesday, the group posted a picture of the two on its Facebook page under the words, “their only crime is loyalty.”
During the trial in the rape case, Fransen and Golding made video recordings, which they posted on social media, of Fransen knocking on the doors of places where they believed the defendants were present — though in each case, prosecutors said, they were wrong — and insulting them and daring them to come out and face her.
In one instance, prosecutors said, Fransen yelled into a defendant’s home, when only his pregnant girlfriend and their two small children were inside. In another, she said, “We don’t want these dirty Muslim pedophile touching our kids.”
“These defendants were not merely exercising their right to free speech but were instead aiming religiously aggravated abuse at innocent members of the public,” said the chief crown prosecutor, Jaswant K. Narwal.
Fransen and Golding have been arrested several times. In one instance, a court fined her, and sentenced him to eight weeks in jail for violating a court order barring him from entering any mosque.