WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump retweeted a string of inflammatory videos Wednesday that purported to show violence being committed by Muslims, drawing quick condemnation from civil rights groups who said the president was fanning anti-Muslim sentiment just as he did during his presidential campaign.
Trump retweeted videos from Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the far-right organization Britain First, a fringe British group whose profile was elevated by Trump’s attention. The group’s tweets read: “VIDEO: Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” and “VIDEO: Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!” and “VIDEO: Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” The origins of the videos could not immediately be determined.
Trump did not offer any explanation for why he retweeted the videos. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders later defended his early-morning posts, saying he wants to “promote strong borders and strong national security.”
Asked if the president had a responsibility to verify the content, Sanders said: “Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real and that is what the president is talking about.” Britain First is a group that opposes multiculturalism and what it calls the “Islamization” of Britain. It has run candidates in local and national elections, with little success, and has campaigned against the construction and expansion of mosques.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations strongly condemned Trump’s tweets. Nihad Awad, the group’s executive director, said in a statement that Trump is “clearly telling members of his base that they should hate Islam and Muslims.”
Awad addressed Trump in his own tweet, saying the council has recorded 3,296 anti-Muslim incidents this year and yet “we haven’t heard a peep from you. Some president.” The American Civil Liberties Union, in a tweet, said, “Trump’s prejudice against Muslims reveals itself at every turn_with today’s tweets meant to gin up fear and bias, with statements like ‘Islam hates us,’ and with every version of the Muslim ban.”
Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke welcomed the videos, tweeting: “Trump retweets video of crippled white kid in Europe being beaten by migrants, and white people being thrown off a roof and then beaten to death, He’s condemned for showing us what the fake news media WON’T. Thank God for Trump! That’s why we love him!”
British opposition politicians demanded Wednesday that the government revoke an invitation to Trump over the videos. Prime Minister Theresa May announced in January that Trump had accepted an invitation for a state visit to Britain. Almost a year later, no date has been set, and opponents of Trump have promised to stage large protests if he does come.
Sanders said that May and other world leaders “know that these are real threats.” Trump’s tweets came two days after he mocked Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” during an Oval Office event with Native American veterans, drawing criticism from of Native American war veterans and politicians of both major parties.
It’s not the first time Trump has retweeted inflammatory content or posts from controversial Twitter accounts. He has shared messages from accounts that appeared to have ties to white nationalist groups. He has retweeted a conservative Trump supporter who used social media to draw attention to “pizzagate,” an unfounded conspiracy theory that claims Democrats harbored child sex slaves at a pizza restaurant. He has also retweeted doctored videos, including one that appeared to show him hitting Hillary Clinton with a golf ball.
Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump offered anti-Muslim commentary, saying he would “strongly consider” closing mosques and insisting that “Islam hates us.” As president he has sought to ban travel from majority-Muslim countries. He said earlier this year that “we have to stop radical Islamic terrorism.”
After Trump retweeted the videos, Fransen quickly responded on Twitter, saying: “DONALD TRUMP HIMSELF HAS RETWEETED THESE VIDEOS AND HAS AROUND 44 MILLION FOLLOWERS! GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP! GOD BLESS AMERICA!”
Fransen has been charged with causing religiously aggravated harassment through leaflets and videos that were distributed during a criminal trial earlier this year. She has separately been charged with using “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior” in a speech she made in Northern Ireland in August. She is currently free on bail.
She was convicted last year of religiously aggravated harassment and fined after hurling abuse at a Muslim woman wearing a hijab. Trump’s retweets were condemned by Brendan Cox, whose British lawmaker wife Jo Cox was murdered last year by an attacker with far-right views.
Cox tweeted: “Trump has legitimised the far right in his own country, now he’s trying to do it in ours. Spreading hatred has consequences & the President should be ashamed of himself.” Trump’s tweets were also condemned by TV host Piers Morgan, who tweeted: “Good morning, Mr President @realDonaldTrump – what the hell are you doing retweeting a bunch of unverified videos by Britain First, a bunch of disgustingly racist far-right extremists? Please STOP this madness & undo your retweets.”