VOA News / November 29, 2017
WHITE HOUSE — President Donald Trump has re-tweeted three inflammatory anti-Muslim videos that had been posted on Twitter by a far-right British politician, triggering condemnation, repudiation and fears of a backlash against Muslim Americans.
It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity or origin of the videos, which first appeared on the Twitter account of Jayda Fransen, deputy head of the anti-immigrant Britain First party.
The re-tweets appeared on Trump’s Twitter feed Wednesday morning amid a flurry of presidential posts on a variety of subjects from North Korea, the economy and the firing of a prominent journalist fired for sexual misconduct.
Asked by a reporter whether it mattered whether the videos were fake, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s intent was to raise the issue of security concerns.
“The threat is real and that’s what the president is talking about is the need for national security, the need for military spending, and those are very real things; there’s nothing fake about that,” she said. “It’s important to talk about … national security threats.”
One video carried a description that read: “VIDEO: Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” Another read: “VIDEO: Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!” A third said: “VIDEO: Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” The third video has since been debunked by Dutch news outlets which reported the attacker is neither Muslim nor a migrant.
Fransen, who has more than 60,000 Twitter followers, responded to the presidential retweets with a thank you message noting that Trump had 44 million followers, dramatically increasing the reach of the videos. “God bless you Trump! God bless America,” she tweeted.
Trump’s decision to publicize the videos sparked condemnation on both sides of the Atlantic, and among both his supporters and adversaries.
British Prime Minister Theresa May chastised Trump, saying he had been “wrong” to spread “hateful narratives” that “peddles lies and stokes tensions.” In a statement read by a spokesperson, May called the Britain First party “the antithesis of the values of our country.”
On Washington’s Capitol Hill, senators on both sides of the partisan divide said Trump’s decision to retweet the videos was ill-advised. “Wrong. Inappropriate. A new low,” was the terse reply from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, said Trump should “think carefully about the impact of that kind of retweeting.”
The senator agreed that retweeting inflammatory material could pose a danger to Muslims in the United States. “There’s substantial potential for that, and that’s of concern. When the president uses Twitter to talk about foreign policy or security, the issues are so complicated and so sensitive that you can’t, in a tweet, appropriately convey American policy,” he said.
‘Incitement to violence’
Muslim organizations in the U.S. expressed similar concerns. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) condemned what it called Trump’s “incitement to violence against American Muslims.”
In a statement sent to VOA, the Muslim advocacy group’s national executive director Nihad Awad called on all American political and religious leaders to condemn the president’s actions.
“By his unconscionable and irresponsible actions this morning, President Trump is clearly telling members of his base that they should hate Islam and Muslims,” the statement said.
The president’s re-tweets coincided with a new poll showing that Americans have increasingly favorable opinions of Arabs and Muslims. The poll was done by the Arab American Institute in the wake of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia rally that led to the death of a counter protestor.
In a news release, the institute’s director James Zogby said the data points to a strong partisan divide on the issue, with most of the increase in positive attitudes toward Arabs and Muslims coming from Democrats and independents.
During his campaign for the presidency, Trump regularly called for a “Muslim ban.”
Among his first moves as president was to issue executive orders that would have blocked entry to the United States from citizens of a handful of Muslim-majority countries. The courts blocked those orders, though subsequent decisions have allowed severe restrictions on migrants from some countries with lax immigration controls.
Fransen, who lives in a London suburb, has had several confrontations with British authorities on the issue of hate speech. She was charged earlier this month with using “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior” during speeches she made in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She was previously convicted in 2016 of abusing a woman wearing traditional Muslim dress.
Her party, Britain First, was founded in 2011 by former members of the far-right British National Party. The party has run candidates in parliamentary and European elections and bi-elections, but without success. In the recent election for mayor of London, the party received 1.2 percent of the vote.
Michael Bowman on Capitol Hill contributed to this report.