President Trump on Wednesday retweeted three anti-Muslim videos posted by the deputy leader of the far-right British political party Britain First — drawing criticism from Prime Minister Theresa May and dragging Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric back into the spotlight in the US.
At least one of the videos, which originated in the Netherlands, was debunked. It drew a rebuke from the embassy.
The videos, which Trump retweeted from Jayda Fransen, are captioned "Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!", "Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!", and "Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!"
"It is wrong for the president to have done this," a spokesperson for May said, amid universal condemnation from politicians and groups in both the UK and US.
"Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which peddle lies and stoke tensions," the spokesperson said. "They cause anxiety to law-abiding people. British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right, which is the antithesis of the values which this country represents: decency, tolerance and respect."
We have the greatest respect — the president has the greatest respect for the British people and for Prime Minister May," White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah responded later in the day.
The White House went on to defend the tweets by saying it doesn't matter if the videos are accurate. Officials then went on to say Muslims posed a "threat," which is why Trump imposed his travel bans.
"Whether it's a real video, the threat is real. His goal is to promote strong border security and strong national security," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.
As a presidential candidate, Trump often talked about and portrayed Muslims and Islam in an overwhelmingly negative light. He once said, “I think Islam hates us,” and that he would ban all Muslims entering the US. As president, he tried on three occasions to ban immigration from numerous Muslim-majority countries, and finally succeeded in having a revised version of the ban go into effect in June, only to have it blocked again by a federal judge in October.
When asked on board Air Force one is Trump feels that Muslims are a threat to the United States, Shah said, "no." Then he went on to say Muslims are the reason Trump tried to install the travel bans: "Look, the president has addressed these issues with the travel order and he issued earlier this year, and the companion proclamation."
"The president is the president of all Americans, the tweets were about national security and protecting the safety and security of the American people," Shah said.
He said he didn't know how the tweets came to Trump's attention.
Britain First is electorally insignificant but has gained a reputation in the UK for headline-grabbing anti-Muslim media stunts, including occupying mosques and halal slaughterhouses.
Fransen responded to Trump sharing her videos with his 44 million followers by tweeting "GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP! GOD BLESS YOU AMERICA!"
Trump's decision to retweet a British far-right politician was almost immediately raised in the House of Commons. Labour MP Stephen Doughty called a point of order on the issue, which the Conservative home secretary declined to answer.
The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on the government to "condemn far-right retweets". "They are abhorrent, dangerous and a threat to our society," Corbyn wrote on Twitter.
Speaking to imams and schoolchildren in parliament today at the launch of a global guide in for Muslims to keep safe online, Labour MP Wes Streeting told BuzzFeed News: "It really does say something about the scale of the challenge that we meet on the day when the president of the United States of America has chosen to retweet one of the leaders of a far-right hate organisation, someone who has criminal convictions for hateful actions and incitement."
The videos retweeted by Trump come from various sources.
The clip of a man being pushed off a rooftop was filmed in Egypt during the 2013 overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi. One man was hanged after being found guilty of the crime.
The clip of two teenagers fighting, labelled "Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches", originally went viral after being posted to Dutch video-sharing website Dumpert.nl in May. The video led to the arrest of a 16-year-old Dutch boy in Monnickendam and the video was removed from Dumpert at the request of the police.
Dumpert’s sister website GeenStijl has since posted a debunk of the video, claiming that no migrants were involved and calling Trump's retweet "fake news".
The video of the Virgin Mary statue being destroyed was shot in 2013 in Qunaya, Syria, and shows an extremist cleric, Abo Omar Ghabr, the New York Times reported. Muslims have condemned ISIS and other extremist groups who have destroyed religious symbols.
The video was widely circulated at the time, including by the pro-Trump conspiracy theory website Infowars.
Trump does not follow Fransen, raising questions about how he encountered the Britain First deputy leader's tweets. However, right-wing journalist Ann Coulter, who the president follows, did retweet one of the videos on Tuesday night, and it is possible she popped up in his "what you missed" feed.
Paul Joseph Watson, Infowars editor-at-large and a leading right-wing internet commentator based in the UK, suggested the move was "not great optics".
Britain First is a niche political party with no elected representatives that was founded by former members of the British National Party, itself an offshoot of the National Front. It has largely served as a vehicle for Fransen and leader Paul Golding's activities but was one of the first UK political groups to realise the potential of social media.
BuzzFeed News has previously reported how a small number of Britain First members are used to spread anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric, sometimes disguised as memes about animal welfare. The party also paid Facebook to promote its anti-Islam material into users' News Feeds.
Golding stood for election as mayor of London in 2016, finishing a distant eighth place behind Labour's Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim to hold the post. Golding responded by turning his back on Khan's victory speech in protest.
Britain First gained prominence following the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox by the far-right extremist Thomas Mair during the 2016 EU referendum campaign. In the hours after the attack, posts on the party's Facebook page cast doubt on whether or not Mair had shouted "Britain First" as he killed Cox outside a constituency surgery.
Cox's husband said Trump was vindicating the British far-right group.
The party, which has threatened "militant direct action" against elected Muslims, operates a "defence force" and gives activists "self-defence training" on camping retreats.