WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump aroused on Wednesday the indignation of the British government and many sectors of both the UK and the US by sharing on Twitter three messages from an extreme right-wing British political group in which violent attitudes toward alleged Muslims are expressed.
Trump retweeted, without any accompanying comments, three messages originally posted by British far-right politician Jayda Fransen, with the Britain First fringe party, whom British courts have prohibited from entering mosques in England and Wales to avoid incidents.
The messages that the US president retweeted included videos – the authenticity of which has not been independently verified – purporting to show a group of Muslims beating a teenage boy to death, battering a Dutch boy on crutches and destroying a Christian statue of the Virgin Mary.
Trump’s posting of the messages on his Twitter account, which has about 44 million followers, sparked controversy and outrage on both sides of the Atlantic and the office of British Prime Minister Theresa May did not delay in responding.
“It is wrong for the president to have done this,” the spokesperson for May’s office said.
“Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which peddle lies and stoke tensions. They cause anxiety to law-abiding people,” the spokesperson said. “British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far-right, which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents – decency, tolerance and respect.”
According to what Downing Street told the BBC, the incident does not alter plans for a state visit by Trump to the United Kingdom, a trip that is expected to take place in the coming months but which has not yet been definitively scheduled.
Despite May’s reaction, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump and said that the message the president wanted to send remains valid.
“Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real and that is what the president is talking about, that’s what the president is focused on, is dealing with those real threats and those are real no matter how you’re looking at it,” she told reporters at the White House.
Sanders said that Trump was not spreading anti-Muslim propaganda or endorsing Britain First, but rather was making the case for ensuring US national security.
“It’s important to talk about national security and national security threats,” she said. “The president sees different things to be a national security threat and he sees having strong borders as being one of the things that helps protect people in this country from some real threats we face.”
The episode reinforced for many the xenophobic image of Trump, who has defended his ban on US entry for citizens from several Muslim-majority nations.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest US civil organization defending Muslims’ rights, harshly condemned Trump’s retweets, calling them an “incitement to violence against American Muslims.”
“By his unconscionable and irresponsible actions this morning, President Trump is clearly telling members of his base that they should hate Islam and Muslims,” CAIR national director Nihad Awad said in a statement.
“These are actions one would expect to see on virulent anti-Muslim hate sites, not on the Twitter feed of the president of the United States,” he said, adding on Twitter that his organization so far this year has registered 3,296 anti-Muslim incidents in the US.