WASHINGTON — The British government condemned the “hateful narratives” of an ultra-nationalist group behind three videos against Muslims that President Trump tweeted out this morning, prompting Trump to lash out at his UK counterpart on social media.
After the Dutch government said one video was incorrect in stating a migrant was behind an assault, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that “whether it is a real video, the threat is real.”
“That is what the president is talking about, that is what the president is focused on is dealing with those real threats, and those are real no matter how you look at it,” Sanders said. “I’m not talking about the nature of the video. I think you’re focusing on the wrong thing. The threat is real, and that’s what the president is talking about.”
Trump retweeted three videos from the feed of Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First, which was founded in 2011 by former members of the far-right British National Party but was deregistered by the Electoral Commission this month after neglecting to pay standard fees.
The videos purported to show a Muslim immigrant striking a Dutch boy on crutches, a Muslim destroying a Virgin Mary statue, and Muslims pushing a boy off a roof.
The Netherlands Embassy tweeted at Trump, “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.” Dutch media archives indicate the assailant, arrested in May, was a 16-year-old boy from Edam-Volendam. The Public Prosecution Service of North Netherlands tweeted that the video showed a fight stemming from an argument between two teens, and the attacker was placed in a program for young first-time offenders.
Fransen, a former member of the far-Right English Defence League who stood for Parliament in 2014 and received 56 votes, was recently arrested for an August speech in Belfast in which she’s charged of using “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior.” She was found guilty last year of religious aggravated harassment for her comments to a woman wearing a hijab who was with her four small children in a Luton neighborhood.
After Trump’s retweets, Fransen tweeted, “THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, DONALD TRUMP, HAS RETWEETED THREE OF DEPUTY LEADER JAYDA FRANSEN’S TWITTER VIDEOS! DONALD TRUMP HIMSELF HAS RETWEETED THESE VIDEOS AND HAS AROUND 44 MILLION FOLLOWERS! GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP! GOD BLESS AMERICA!”
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said “it is wrong for the president to have done this” and that Britain First “seeks to divide communities by their use of hateful narratives that peddle lies and stoke tensions.”
“They cause anxiety to law-abiding people,” the statement added. “British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right which is the antithesis of the values this country represents, decency, tolerance and respect.”
Trump tweeted this evening: “Theresa, 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!”
Aboard Air Force One en route to Missouri today, deputy press secretary Raj Shah said, “We think that it’s never the wrong time to talk about security and public safety for the American people. Those are the issues he was raising with the tweets this morning.”
“We have the greatest respect — the president has the greatest respect for the British people and for Prime Minister May,” he said.
The reaction from British lawmakers ranged from condemning Trump to demanding that he be kept from visiting the UK. “Well, there was nothing scheduled on a trip to the UK, so any announcement will be forthcoming. We just don’t have anything on the books right now,” Shah told reporters.
May’s office said, “The invitation for a state visit has been extended and accepted. Further details will be announced in due course.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations charged that “Trump’s actions are putting the lives and safety of American Muslim children and families at risk” while inviting hate crimes.
“As numerous Americans who are Muslim or ‘looked Muslim’ were shot or beaten severely, we did not hear a word from this president,” CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad said. “During most of these attacks, attackers uttered or expressed the same anti-Muslim slurs repeated daily in mainstream headlines and often by President Trump himself.”
Shah responded that “the president is the president of all Americans” and “the tweets were about national security and protecting the safety and security of the American people.”
“Look, a lot of folks want to focus on the videos,” the White House spokesman said. “We want to focus on the issues. It’s about safety. It’s about security. It’s about ensuring that individuals that come to the United States don’t pose a public safety or terrorism threat.”
Backing up CAIR, Anti-Defamation League CEO and national director Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted, “It is no longer alarming that our @POTUS is tweeting violent anti-Muslim videos created by far right extremists – it is a **four alarm fire.** Of course this will embolden bigots in the US and abroad. We have seen a clear line from advocating intolerant ideas to pushing out prejudiced memes to introducing anti-immigrant & anti-Muslim policies like #TravelBan. We stand with the Muslim community and with all those condemning this shameful message.”