President Trump retweeted anti-Muslim videos originally posted by Jayda Fransen, the leader of Britain First. Britain First is a far-right British fringe group known for conducting “Christian patrols” in Muslim neighborhoods. (Nov. 29, 2017)
Misleading anti-Muslim articles and videos aren’t difficult to find on the internet — the claim that President Barack Obama declared Islam as the “official” religion of the U.S. still makes the rounds — but the hate groups who perpetrate such drivel got quite a boost this week from a certain serial Twitter user with 44 million followers and a negligible interest in the truth. Donald Trump may not be getting a holiday card from British Prime Minister Theresa May, who denounced the president’s decision to re-tweet the anti-Muslim videos in question, but he may get a nice, flowery one from leaders of Britain First, the vile ultranationalist group that posted the videos in the first place and whose members regularly invade mosques and harass Muslims on the street; they were also linked to the assassination of British lawmaker Jo Cox last year.
President Trump’s re-tweet was repugnant on any number of levels. Human decency, for starters. One of the three videos purported to show a young Muslim immigrant in the Netherlands assaulting a young man on crutches. The incident did happen, as various sources from fact-checking sites like Snopes confirm, but it just didn’t involve a Muslim immigrant; the perpetrator who was caught and convicted earlier this year was a native of the Netherlands.
And here’s the part that really elevates the episode from merely gross and outrageous to Alternative Fact of the Week. When asked about the president’s retweets of what amounts to hateful propaganda, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it didn’t matter whether the videos were real because “the threat is real.”
Now, take a moment to digest that one because it’s a big, hot steaming plate of disturbing. What she’s saying is that reality, truth, honesty, whatever you want to call it, doesn’t matter as long as a video backs your point of view. Oh, and by the way, what is the “threat” she’s talking about? ISIS is a threat. Terrorism is a threat. But in this context, she seems to be suggesting Islam is the threat and Islamic immigrants can’t be trusted. In other words, Mr. Trump wants to declare a holy war against a religion that claims 1.8 billion practitioners, or roughly one-quarter of the global population, or perhaps revive an unpopular, unnecessary and unjust travel ban rather than focus on the extremists who are the actual threat, and he’s willing to do so with whatever misleading tools are at hand.
This is something beyond hypocrisy from an administration that spouts the words “fake news” whenever there’s the slightest criticism mouthed by a cable news anchor. And it’s far beyond mere partisanship or even populism. Previous administrations recognized that the United States was not under attack from Islam, and they were capable of differentiating between the actions of ISIS or the Taliban from mainstream practitioners. Muslims serve in the U.S. military. They are out there sacrificing their lives for our country, and the White House is going to call their religion a threat?
Of course, the last place Mr. Trump’s defenders can hide is to make the claim that, well, this is Twitter, the social media equivalent of the Wild West, and users don’t show much concern for the truth on Twitter. Or perhaps they’ll say the president didn’t originate the videos, he was just sharing. But he’s still the president, he’s still setting the example, he’s still leader of the free world (assuming the part of the planet not governed by Vladimir Putin hasn’t given up on us yet). And, as the Netherlands Embassy in Washington tweeted to @realDonaldTrump hours after the president’s retweets, “facts do matter.”