Trump’s retweets spark outrage in UK, far-right delighted by endorsement

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U.S. President Donald J. Trump (R) and British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) during a working dinner meeting at the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. (EPA Photo)
U.S. President Donald J. Trump (R) and British Prime Minister Theresa May (L) during a working dinner meeting at the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. (EPA Photo)

U.S. President Donald Trump, in an unprecedented public attack on America's closest security ally, sharply rebuked British Prime Theresa May on Twitter after Britain criticized him for retweeting British far-right anti-Islam videos.

"Theresa @theresamay, 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," Trump tweeted, sparking further outrage in Britain that has seen several major terrorist attacks on its streets.

Trump's unrepentant response was a reaction to May's spokesman who on Wednesday criticized his retweets of anti-Islam videos originally posted by a leader of a British far-right fringe group.

"It is wrong for the president to have done this," the spokesman said.

Trump sparked criticism on both sides of the Atlantic on Wednesday by sharing anti-Muslim videos posted by Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the group Britain First, who was convicted this month of abusing a Muslim woman.

His new response triggered outrage in Britain, with some opposition politicians demanding he apologize for his sharp words to May.

Daesh-linked terrorists have carried out several major attacks in Britain this year that have killed a total of 36 people, including a bombing in Manchester and two attacks on bridges in London in which victims were rammed with vehicles and stabbed.

Whereas in June, one person was killed and 10 others injured when a vehicle ran down worshippers near a mosque in northern London.

A spokesman for May's Downing Street office in London declined to comment on Trump's tweet on Thursday. May was on a trip to the Middle East and was expected to speak to media in Jordan later on Thursday.

Trump initially addressed his tweet to a Twitter handle that was not May's, though he later retweeted to the British leader's correct account.

Always a pillar of Britain's foreign policy, the so-called "special relationship" with Washington has taken on added importance as Britain prepares to leave the European Union in 2019. Since Trump became president, May has gone out of her way to cultivate a good relationship with him.

She was the first foreign leader to visit him after his inauguration, and they were filmed emerging from the White House holding hands. She also invited him to make a state visit to Britain, angering Trump's many critics in Britain.

Trump's tweet triggered outraged reaction in Britain, including from Brendan Cox, the husband of lawmaker Jo Cox who was murdered in 2016 by a far-right extremist.

"You have a mass shooting every single day in your country, your murder rate is many times that of the UK, your healthcare system is a disgrace, you can't pass anything through a Congress that you control. I would focus on that," Cox tweeted.

The videos shared by Trump purported to show a group of people who were Muslims beating a teenage boy to death, battering a boy on crutches and destroying a Christian statue.

The Dutch embassy in Washington issued a Twitter comment on one of them, which Fransen had described as showing a "Muslim migrant" beating up a boy.

"@realDonald 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."

British lawmakers demanded that Trump make an apology for retweeting the videos, while U.S. Muslim groups said the president's action was incendiary and reckless.

Sajid Javid, Britain's minister for communities and local government, who is Muslim, tweeted: "So POTUS has endorsed the views of a vile, hate-filled racist organization that hates me and people like me. He is wrong and I refuse to let it go and say nothing."

Vince Cable, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats party, urged May to demand a public apology from Trump over what Cable described as an "insult" to May.

"She (May) must end humiliating dependence of Brexit Britain on goodwill of evil racist. Cancel visit," he tweeted, referring to Trump's state visit, which has yet to be scheduled.

England's top religious authority, Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, called on Trump on Wednesday to remove his retweets, urging him to show he rejects racism and religious hatred.

Stating that he found it "deeply disturbing that the President of the United States has chosen to amplify the voice of far-right extremists," Justin Welby said that he, along with faith groups and others, expected Trump "to make clear his opposition to racism and hatred in all forms," and not just un-retweet the videos.

"Britain First seeks to divide communities and intimidate minorities, especially our Muslim friends and neighbours. God calls us as Christians to love our neighbour and seek the flourishing of all in our communities, societies and nations," he said in a statement he shared on Twitter and Facebook.

The Church of England leader also retweeted a statement by the Christian Muslim Forum, an organization that supports public dialogue between Christians and Muslims, condemning the violence shown in the videos.

"We are extremely concerned to see anti-Muslim propaganda given such publicity and implied credence," the organization said in statement, calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to denounce all extremist behavior.

Far-right delighted by endorsement

Britain First's Fransen welcomed Trump's retweeting of the videos.

"I'm delighted," Fransen, who has 53,000 Twitter followers, told Reuters. She said Trump's retweets showed the president shared her aim of raising awareness of "issues such as Islam".

Britain First opposes 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.

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke also welcomed the videos, tweeting that Trump was being "condemned for showing us what the fake news media WON'T. Thank God for Trump! That's why we love him!"

Condemnation from civil rights organizations was swift.

The executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Nihad Awad, said in a statement that Trump is "clearly telling members of his base that they should hate Islam and Muslims."

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."

There are about 3.45 million Muslims in the United States, according to an August report from the Pew Research Center.

White House twists the argument

The White House defended the retweets by the Republican president, who during the 2016 U.S. election campaign called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States", saying that he was raising security issues.

It repeatedly refused to be drawn into the content of the videos or whether Trump was aware of the source of the tweets.

"It's about ensuring that individuals who come into the United States don't pose a public safety or terrorism threat," White House spokesman Raj Shah told reporters aboard Air Force One.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was simply promoting border security and suggested that verifying the content was not a top concern.

"Whether it's a real video, the threat is real and that is what the president is talking about," she said.

Trump had turned away from taxes, North Korea and other issues facing his administration to share the videos. It was not clear what drew him to the videos, though one had been shared by conservative commentator Ann Coulter the day before.

Trump made anti-Muslim comments one hallmark of his presidential campaign and has previously retweeted inflammatory posts from controversial Twitter accounts including some with apparent ties to white nationalist groups. As president, he has sought to ban travel to the U.S. from a number of majority-Muslim countries.

His promotion of the videos 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.

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