In a rare political intervention, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has explicitly criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for retweeting anti-Muslim videos posted by a British far-right extremist group.
“It is deeply disturbing that the President of the United States has chosen to amplify the voice of far-right extremists,” said Welby. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May also criticized the American president but was slapped down by Trump, who told her to “focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism.”
The original tweets were posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First, a minority political party with virtually no support in Britain outside its estimated 1,000 followers. In a 2014 parliamentary by-election in the Rochester and Strood constituency, Fransen received just 56 of the 40,065 votes cast. She is currently awaiting trial in Belfast on charges of using “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour” and in Kent for inciting racial hatred.
She and her followers have stormed mosques and carried out what they call “Christian Patrols” – marching in paramilitary-style uniforms carrying a large cross in areas of the U.K. populated by people who – either themselves or through their ancestors – have roots in South Asian countries. She claims to be Christian but it is not known if she attends any church. Her actions and those of Britain First have been condemned by Christian leaders from across the denominational spread.
Fransen has posted more than 15,500 tweets since joining the social media platform in March 2016. Most of them are anti-Islamic. The three tweets shared by President Trump are videos headlined “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!,” “Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!” and “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!.” The last of those has been debunked by the Dutch ambassador to the U.S., who said that the crime committed in the video was carried out by a Dutch-born national.
“Britain First seeks to divide communities and intimidate minorities, especially our Muslim friends and neighbours,” Welby said in response to President Trump’s retweets. “Britain First does not share our values of tolerance and solidarity. God calls us as Christians to love our neighbour and seek the flourishing of all in our communities, societies and nations.
“I join the urgent call of faith groups and others for President Trump not just to remove these tweets, but to make clear his opposition to racism and hatred in all forms.”
Trump’s actions have been criticized by politicians across the political divide in Britain. The spokesman for Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May said: “Britain First seeks to divide communities by their use of hateful narratives that peddle lies and stoke tensions. They cause anxiety to law-abiding people. British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right which is the antithesis of the values this country represents, decency, tolerance and respect.”
The Leader of the Opposition, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “I hope our Government will condemn far-right retweets by Donald Trump. They are abhorrent, dangerous and a threat to our society.” And the Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Many Brits who love America and Americans will see this as a betrayal of the special relationship between our two countries. It beggars belief that the President of our closest ally doesn’t see that his support of this extremist group actively undermines the values of tolerance and diversity that makes Britain so great.”
Trump used Twitter to respond to the criticism from the British Prime Minister, telling her: “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!” And his spokesman, Raj Shah, told reporters: “We think that it’s never the wrong time to talk about security and public safety for the American people. Those are the issues he was raising with the tweets this morning.”
This morning, Britain’s Home Secretary Amber Rudd was summoned to the UK Parliament to answer an urgent question on the matter. “This House should be clear that this government will not tolerate any groups who spread hate by demonizing those of other faiths or ethnicities and who deliberately raise community fears and tensions,” she said. “We have been clear: President Donald Trump was wrong to retweet videos posted by far-right group Britain First.”