Thursday, November 30, 2017

Reactions to unpresidential retweets of Britain First

At about 3:30 in the morning on Wed., Nov. 29, 2017, instead of doing whatever it is that presidents are supposed to do in the middle of the night, President Trump retweeted three inflammatory videos posted by Jayda Fransen of the group Britain First. Fransen had captioned the videos:

Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!
Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!
Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!

A half-hour later, journalist Piers Morgan tweeted at the president: "what the hell are you doing...?"

The New York Daily News said that one of the three videos “was long ago debunked". The New York Times asserted that the perpetrator in the first video "was not a 'Muslim migrant'...according to local officials, both boys are Dutch," and the other two videos were several years old.

NBC News said that they "could not verify Britain First's claims of what the videos showed. Asked whether the White House has a responsibility to verify information before sharing it, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders responded that 'whether it’s a real video, the threat is real and that’s what the president is talking about.'"

Some Republicans objected: Sen. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, said the retweets were “highly inappropriate” and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, said they were "legitimizing religious bigotry."

"No modern American president has promoted inflammatory content of this sort from an extremist organization," Peter Baker and Eileen Sullivan wrote for the New York Times. James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, said on CNN, "I have no idea what would motivate him to do that...To me, it's bizarre and disturbing, particularly when I think of him doing that in the context of North Korea, where moderation, and temperance and thought I think is critical."

Fransen, the deputy of Britain First, was convicted a year ago for abusing a woman wearing a hijab, and Paul Golding, the group's leader, spent time in prison, after which he stated: “I can promise you, from the very depths of my being, you will all meet your miserable ends at the hands of the Britain First movement. Every last one of you.” (Hope Not Hate)

Brian Klaas, an American who is a fellow at the London School of Economics, responded later the same day of the retweets:

“We are watching, in real time, the President of the United States using his power and platform to mainstream the vile ideologies of racist neo-fascism....if we continue to accept these reckless, divisive outbursts as part of our normal political discourse, then we will have answered the question as to whether we have any decency left too. We will have failed yet another test....Here in the UK, Britain First is correctly viewed by most as an extremist, racist hate group with no place in British politics....The UK has long been America's closest ally, with Brits and Americans fighting and dying together to defeat fascism. Now, Britain is being forced to turn away from the United States in horror as the President promotes neo-fascist hate.”


UK reaction

UK Prime Minister Theresa May said that "retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do," and Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said that, from his perspective, "any official visit at all from President Trump to Britain would not be welcomed." Labour Party leader Jeremy Bernard Corbyn, Labour MPs Chuka Umunna, David Lammy, Stephen Doughty, Chris Byrant and Conservative MP Peter Bone also strongly criticized the president's actions.

Video of Parliament criticism (hosted on Facebook)

In a tweet addressed to the prime minister, Trump responded: "Don't focus on me...We are doing just fine!”


Explanation from Twitter

A Twitter spokesperson said the original tweets were allowed to remain online for this reason:

"To help ensure people have an opportunity to see every side of an issue, there may be the rare occasion when we allow controversial content or behavior which may otherwise violate our rules to remain on our service because we believe there is a legitimate public interest in its availability."

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