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Trump's Retweets Of Extremist Group Cause Firestorm In U.K.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday that President Trump's retweets of the extremist group Britain First "was the wrong thing to do."
Leon Neal
Getty Images
British Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday that President Trump's retweets of the extremist group Britain First "was the wrong thing to do."

British politicians are loudly condemning President Trump's retweets yesterday of incendiary anti-Muslim videos posted by a leader of the far-right Britain First party.

"President Trump has used Twitter to promote a vile, extremist group that exists solely to sow division and hatred in our country," tweeted London Mayor Sadiq Khan. "It's increasingly clear that any official visit from President Trump to Britain would not be welcomed."

Jayda Fransen, the fringe group leader who posted the videos Trump retweeted, was convicted earlier this month of religiously aggravated harassment for shouting at a woman wearing a hijab. She faces further criminal charges over a speech she made in Belfast in August.

In January, Prime Minister Theresa May invited Trump for a state visit – an invitation that drew immediate criticism. A petition to prevent Trump from making an official state visit "because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen" drew nearly two million signatures and received Parlimentary debate in February. Trump accepted the invitation, but has not yet scheduled the visit.

In Parliament on Thursday, lawmakers condemned Trump's retweets, and in many cases, Trump himself. Stephen Doughty, a Labour party MP, was sharply critical.

"This is the President of the United States sharing with millions inflammatory and divisive content deliberately posted to sow hatred and division by — as the Home Secretary says — a convicted criminal who is facing further charges who represents a vile fascist organization seeking to spread hatred and violence in person and online," Doughty said. "By sharing it he is either a racist, incompetent, or unthinking, or all three."

He also had harsh words for Twitter itself: "Will the Home Secretary confirm when she and the Government will take tough action, on which I support her in her efforts, on the social media companies? We have had no response from Twitter, a typically irresponsible attitude."

Britain's Home Secretary, the Conservative party's Amber Rudd, called Britain First "an extremist organization that seeks to divide communities through its use of hateful narratives that spread lies and stoke tensions."

She said Trump was "wrong" to retweet the videos, but added, "the importance of the relationship between our countries — the unparalleled sharing of intelligence between our countries — is vital. It has undoubtedly saved British lives. That is the bigger picture here and I urge people to remember that."

At a press conference Thursday in Jordan, May carefully addressed the firestorm.

"The fact that we work together does not mean that we are afraid to say when we think that the United States have got it wrong and to be very clear with them," she said. "And I am very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do."

Asked if she would fire one of her own cabinet members if they retweeted such extremist propaganda, May laughed and replied, "I have absolute confidence that my cabinet ministers would not be retweeting material from Britain First."

May had previously issued a statement that said, "It is wrong for the president to have done this."

Trump responded by tweeting at May — though not the correct Theresa May at first – "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!"

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

It wasn't immediately clear where the videos came from, though one was debunked by the Netherlands Embassy in Washington.

On the campaign trail in 2015, CNN asked Trump if his retweets were endorsements.

"I think that's right. Do you want me to say no?" he said. "You know, I retweet, I retweet for a reason."

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Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
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