President Trump retweeted several videos on Wednesday allegedly depicting physical attacks carried out by Muslims, originally posted by the deputy leader of Britain First, a far-right political party that opposes immigration.
While critics accused Trump of trying to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment by retweeting the unverified videos, White House officials said he was underscoring the issue of violence by Muslim migrants in Europe.
"These are real threats we have to talk about," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, dismissing questions about the veracity of the videos after reports that one perpetrator is not a Muslim. "Whether it is a real video, the threat is real."
Jayda Fransen posted the videos, with the captions: "VIDEO: Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!"; "VIDEO: Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!"; "VIDEO: Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!"
Trump did not provide a reason or additional commentary on the videos, though the president has previously criticized immigration policies in Europe and backed a travel ban to the United States from six Muslim-majority nations.
Trump's travel ban is currently the subject of federal lawsuits from plaintiffs who say Trump is seeking to constrain immigration from Muslims, rather than terror-prone countries.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Trump's "unconscionable and irresponsible" tweets "amount to incitement to violence against American Muslims. His actions should be condemned by all American political and religious leaders, regardless of their party or faith."
Britain First is a far-right, anti-Muslim political organization that was formed in 2011.
In September, its leader Paul Golding, 35, and deputy Fransen, 31, were charged with causing religiously aggravated harassment after distributing leaflets and posting videos on social media during the gang rape trial of three Muslim men and a teenager who were later convicted of rape and imprisoned.
While there are some British news reports that Golding stepped down from the organization for family reasons, his Twitter account still describes him as the group’s leader.
Golding saluted Trump's retweets of Fransen's videos, saying in all capital letters: "DONALD TRUMP HIMSELF HAS RETWEETED THESE VIDEOS AND HAS AROUND 44 MILLION FOLLOWERS! GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP!"
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! OCS @JaydaBF @realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/2RJhjGXd2I— Paul Golding (@GoldingBF) November 29, 2017
Last year, police won an injunction in the High Court to ban Britain First campaigners from all mosques in England and Wales for three years after they were accused of causing community tensions in Luton, a town north of London. It came after the group filmed themselves confronting worshipers and imams in a series of what the local media has called "mosque invasions."
Golding was jailed for eight weeks in December last year for breaching the ban on entering a mosque. Fransen has been found guilty of religiously aggravated harassment and fined for verbally abusing a Muslim woman in Luton.
On Wednesday, some British lawmakers and Trump critics immediately condemned what they called the president's anti-Muslim bias in reposting Fransen's videos.
David Lammy, a Labour MP in London, said Trump was not welcome in his country after posting the videos.
“Trump sharing Britain First. Let that sink in," Lammy tweeted. "The President of the United States is promoting a fascist, racist, extremist hate group whose leaders have been arrested and convicted. He is no ally or friend of ours. @realDonaldTrump you are not welcome in my country and my city.”
Trump sharing Britain First. Let that sink in. The President of the United States is promoting a fascist, racist, extremist hate group whose leaders have been arrested and convicted. He is no ally or friend of ours. @realDonaldTrump you are not welcome in my country and my city.— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) November 29, 2017
Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics and international relations at the University of Kent in England, said he was surprised to see the U.S. president retweet a "basically neo-Nazi" group.
"I never thought I would see the President of the United States retweet Britain First. They are not 'nationalist.' They are basically neo-Nazis," he said.
I never thought I would see the President of the United States retweet Britain First. They are not "nationalist". They are basically neo-Nazis.— Matthew Goodwin (@GoodwinMJ) November 29, 2017
Brian Klaas, author of The Despot's Apprentice: Donald Trump's Attack on Democracy, tweeted: "Neo-Fascists in the UK celebrating Trump giving them a platform, just as neo-Nazis at the Daily Stormer celebrated Trump's comments at Charlottesville."
Neo-Fascists in the UK celebrating Trump giving them a platform, just as neo-Nazis at the Daily Stormer celebrated Trump's comments at Charlottesville. https://t.co/mNTWkgzA6I— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) November 29, 2017
Meanwhile, Trump's video was praised by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
"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!" Duke tweeted.
Louise Haigh, a member of parliament for the opposition Labour Party, has called for Britain First to be listed as a terrorist organization and banned from standing in elections.
It remains an open question whether it was a Britain First supporter who killed British lawmaker Jo Cox on June 16, 2016, a week before the nation’s referendum to leave the European Union. The killer, Thomas Mair, 52, repeatedly shouted "Britain first” as he shot and stabbed Cox, the court in London heard during his trial.
The group has distanced itself from the murder. "We had nothing to do with it, we would not condone actions like that,” Golding said. “I hope the person who carried out this heinous crime will get what he deserves."
Onyanga-Omara reported from London