US President Donald Trump on Wednesday retweeted three anti-Muslim videos posted by a British far-right group.
The videos, posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First, a far-right and ultra-nationalist political group, depict “Muslims assaulting people and, in one video, smashing a statue of the Virgin Mary,” according to CNN.
Trump, who has previously warned that immigration from Muslim-majority nations threatens European and US security, frequently retweets other messages whose political views he finds favorable. But he has seldom shared messages as offensive and explosive as he did on Wednesday, and the retweets were immediately met with outrage in the United Kingdom and condemned by Downing Street.
Fransen reacted jubilantly online, touting that the videos had been shared with Trump’s nearly 44 million followers. “GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP!” she wrote in all caps.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended Trump’s retweets, telling reporters that he shared them to start a conversation about border security and immigration.
“I think his goal is to promote strong borders and strong national security,” Sanders told a small group of reporters after appearing on Fox News.
Sanders also downplayed questions about whether the videos were authentic, because “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,” she said.
Sanders said she didn’t know how Trump came across the videos, but conservative commentator Ann Coulter, who is one of the 45 accounts Trump follows, had retweeted Tuesday one of the clips shared by Fransen.
Fransen was found guilty of religiously aggravated harassment in November 2016 after abusing a Muslim woman wearing a hijab while she was with her four children. Fransen was fined by the court and ordered to pay costs.
Trump’s retweets were leading several major British news websites Wednesday morning, and officials condemned him on Twitter. A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Theresa May said Trump was “wrong” to share the videos, adding that “Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which peddle lies and stoke tensions.”
“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,” the spokesperson added.
The Muslim Council of Britain slammed Trump in a statement, saying the retweets were “the clearest endorsement yet from the US President of the far-right and their vile anti-Muslim propaganda. The US-based Council on American-Islamic Relations similarly condemned Trump’s retweets, saying he is “clearly telling members of his base that they should hate Islam and Muslims.”
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK opposition Labour Party, called the retweets “abhorrent, dangerous and a threat to our society.” Labour lawmaker David Lammy told the President he was “not welcome in my country and my city.”
Brendan Cox, the husband of Jo Cox, the British MP who was murdered last year by a man who reportedly shouted “Britain First” as he attacked her, 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.”