Trump re­buked over retweets

Bri­tish leader ob­jects; ex­trem­ist ex­presses thanks


LON­DON — In a sharp per­sonal re­buke, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment told Pres­i­dent Trump he was “wrong” to retweet on Wed­nes­day a se­ries of anti-Mus­lim video clips pro­moted by a leader of a far-right fringe group that uses “hate­ful nar­ra­tives” and lies.

Trump had alerted his mil­lions of fol­low­ers to three video posts by Bri­tain First, a small group of ul­tra­na­tion­al­ists whose sup­port­ers march in front of mosques with crosses and whose lead­ers de­cry what they de­scribe as a takeover of Bri­tish Chris­tian so­ci­ety by “for­eign in­fi­dels” who want to im­pose Is­lamic law.

The three videos Trump shared were ti­tled “Mus­lim mi­grant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!,” “Mus­lim de­stroys a statue of Vir­gin Mary!” and “Is­lamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!”

The videos pro­vide no con­text. The Nether­lands Em­bassy tweeted to Trump that the video about the “Mus­lim mi­grant” had been mis­char­ac­ter­ized: “Facts do mat­ter. The per­pe­tra­tor of the vi­o­lent act in this video was born and raised in the Nether­lands. He re­ceived and com­pleted his sen­tence un­der Dutch law.” The em­bassy did not re­veal his reli­gion.

White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders de­fended Trump’s post as ev­i­dence he wants to “pro­mote strong bor­ders and strong na­tional se­cu­rity.”

“Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real, and that is what the pres­i­dent is talk­ing about,” San­ders told re­porters.

Trump retweeted an item from Jayda Fransen, 31, deputy leader of Bri­tain First, who in an in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Post ex­pressed grat­i­tude for what she said was Trump’s en­dorse­ment of her and her group.

“The Bri­tish es­tab­lish­ment no longer sup­ports free speech, but the pres­i­dent of the United States,

Don­ald Trump, clearly does, and that’s why he tweeted, as a pub­lic dis­play of sup­port for Bri­tain First and its deputy leader,” she said.

Crit­i­cism of the pres­i­dent’s retweets came thick and fast in Bri­tain, draw­ing in Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, whose of­fice said Trump was “wrong” to pro­mote the videos.

May’s of­fice con­demned Bri­tain First for its use of “hate­ful nar­ra­tives which ped­dle lies and stoke ten­sions.”

The state­ment con­tin­ued, “The 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. It is wrong for the Pres­i­dent to have done this.”

Trump did not apol­o­gize or ex­plain. In­stead, Wed­nes­day night he tweeted a re­sponse di­rectly to the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter: “@There­sa_May, don’t fo­cus on me, fo­cus on the de­struc­tive Rad­i­cal Is­lamic Ter­ror­ism that is tak­ing place within the United King­dom. We are do­ing just fine!”

Bri­tish lead­ers across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum said they were amazed and ap­palled by Trump’s tweets en­dors­ing a group that usu­ally draws just a few dozen sup­port­ers to its ral­lies. Some said Trump was try­ing to le­git­imize the far right in Bri­tain, while oth­ers were so flab­ber­gasted that they won­dered whether he was per­haps ei­ther naive or ig­no­rant.

“Bri­tain First is an ap­palling or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Martin Cal­lanan, a Con­ser­va­tive Party politi­cian and gov­ern­ment min­is­ter, told the BBC.

Re­fer­ring to Trump, Cal­lanan said: “I can only as­sume he has made a mis­take and that he didn’t re­al­ize who Bri­tain First were.”

Asked about the pres­i­dent’s re­sponse to May’s state­ment, a deputy White House press sec­re­tary, Raj Shah, told re­porters: “The pres­i­dent has the great­est re­spect for the Bri­tish peo­ple and for Prime Min­is­ter May.”

When a reporter asked why the pres­i­dent was retweet­ing posts from a far-right, anti-Mus­lim party con­demned by the Bri­tish lead­er­ship, Shah said: “We’re go­ing to be fo­cus­ing on the is­sues that are be­ing raised, which is safety and se­cu­rity for the Amer­i­can peo­ple.” He noted that Trump had sup­ported “ex­treme vet­ting” of for­eign­ers trav­el­ing to the United States and other mea­sures to crack down on pos­si­ble en­try by ter­ror­ists.

None of the videos ap­peared to deal with peo­ple trav­el­ing to the United States.

Bri­tain First was founded in 2011 by Jim Dow­son, an an­tiabor­tion cam­paigner, and Paul Gold­ing, a for­mer lo­cal-gov­ern­ment coun­cilor for the Bri­tish Na­tional Party.

Bri­tain First soon be­came known for its “Chris­tian pa­trols” and for driv­ing around in para­mil­i­tary-style ve­hi­cles and wear­ing uni­forms.

Its mem­bers are no­to­ri­ous for tar­get­ing mosques and ma­jor­i­tyMus­lim ar­eas and then pro­duc­ing short, se­lec­tively edited videos of their provoca­tive tac­tics.

Over the past spring and sum­mer, for in­stance, a few dozen ac­tivists with Bri­tain First marched in front of the East Lon­don Mosque, wav­ing the Union Jack and car­ry­ing white crosses.

In one ex­change, a coun­ter­protester shouts, “What you’re do­ing is dis­gust­ing!” And some­one shouts back, “This is still a Bri­tish Chris­tian area, and this is our coun­try.”

The videos show scuf­fles, kick­ing, curs­ing and egg-throw­ing as po­lice strug­gle to keep the two sides apart.

In a video clip from June, Gold­ing is shown in front of the mosque say­ing, “This used to be our area,” and vow­ing, “It will be our area again.”

He nar­rates that his group walked past the mosque and that “we were very quickly sur­rounded by an ever-in­creas­ing mob of Mus­lims and white lib­er­als scream­ing abuse.”

In Au­gust 2016, the group’s were banned from en­ter­ing all mosques in Eng­land and Wales and from en­cour­ag­ing their fol­low­ers to do so.

Later that year, Gold­ing was jailed for vi­o­lat­ing the ban.

On his re­lease from pri­son, he put out a chill­ing video in which he rants against the es­tab­lish­ment, lib­er­als, the me­dia and “for­eign in­fi­dels.”

In the video, Gold­ing threat­ens to “con­front and op­pose ev­ery traitor in this county.” As he con­demns “traitors,” the short video shows im­ages of the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter wear­ing a head­scarf and meet­ing young Mus­lim girls.

Gold­ing said he was jailed be­cause he had the courage and con­vic­tion to con­front the hard-line Mus­lim cleric Ali Ham­muda, the imam at a mosque in Cardiff that is home to sev­eral Bri­tons who trav­eled to join the Is­lamic State mil­i­tant group in Syria.

Last year, a court in Lu­ton found Fransen guilty of ver­bally abus­ing a Mus­lim woman.

“They have been quite provoca­tive over the years,” said Dilowar Khan, direc­tor of fi­nance and en­gage­ment at the East Lon­don Mosque. “They come to pro­voke the lo­cal youths and in­tim­i­date them. They get them to re­act, take video and then post it on their web­site and say, ‘Look how nasty Mus­lims are.’ They are a bla­tantly anti-Mus­lim group.”

Once, he said, mem­bers of Bri­tain First en­tered the mosque with their shoes on, mak­ing sure to walk over prayer rugs, and then de­liv­ered a Bi­ble to the re­cep­tion­ist. On an­other oc­ca­sion, he said, sup­port­ers of the group drank al­co­hol out­side in hopes of trig­ger­ing a re­sponse.

“It’s not ap­pro­pri­ate for any politi­cians to show di­rect or in­di­rect sup­port for groups that are bla­tantly anti-Mus­lim and try­ing to di­vide com­mu­ni­ties,” Khan said.

Even Paul Joseph Wat­son of the far-right, con­spir­acy-minded In­lead­ers fowars tweeted that giv­ing Bri­tain First a mega­phone is not a good look for Trump.

“Yeah, some­one might want to tell who­ever is run­ning Trump’s Twit­ter ac­count this morn­ing that retweet­ing Bri­tain First is not great op­tics,” Wat­son wrote.

Nick Ryan, a spokesman for Hope Not Hate, an anti-ex­trem­ist re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion, said it was as­ton­ish­ing that the U.S. pres­i­dent would know­ingly retweet the Bri­tain First posts.

“A politi­cian would have to be blind not to un­der­stand that this is a par­tic­u­larly nasty far-right or­ga­ni­za­tion that is in trou­ble with the law, elec­toral au­thor­i­ties, and re­viled by 99 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion,” Ryan said.

Al­though Bri­tain First draws no more than a few hun­dred peo­ple to its ral­lies, it has a mas­sive fol­low­ing on­line — its Face­book page has nearly 2 mil­lion likes. But Hope Not Hate has ques­tioned the le­git­i­macy of the on­line sup­port.

“We think they may have bought a pro­por­tion of their fol­low­ers,” Ryan said.

In June 2016, a Labour Party mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, Jo Cox, was shot and stabbed to death by an as­sailant al­leged to have shouted “Bri­tain first!” Lead­ers of the Bri­tain First group said there were no ties be­tween the at­tacker and their or­ga­ni­za­tion. The as­sailant had links to neo-Nazi groups.

On Wed­nes­day morn­ing, Cox’s wid­ower, Bren­dan Cox, tweeted, “Trump has le­git­imized 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.”

Bri­tain First has tried its hand at elec­toral pol­i­tics but has failed to get any can­di­date into of­fice.


Sup­port­ers of the far-right group Bri­tain First march in cen­tral Lon­don on April 1 to protest the March 22 ter­ror­ist at­tack near Par­lia­ment.


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