U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to retweet the messages of a far-right and virulently anti-Muslim British activist has provoked condemnation from religious leaders on both sides of the pond.
Muslim organizations and interfaith allies spoke out on Wednesday against Trump’s role in amplifying three videos shared by Britain First’s deputy leader Jayda Fransen. The critics said the president’s retweets gave her a much bigger platform on which to spread anti-Muslim hate.
Britain First is a fringe political party in the U.K. known for spreading hoaxes about Islam online. Although it claims to be defending Britain’s Christian heritage and promoting Christian values, the anti-immigrant group has been thoroughly denounced by every major Christian denomination in the U.K.
On Wednesday, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the Church of England, called on Trump to “remove his Britain First retweets and make clear his opposition to racism and hatred.”
“It is deeply disturbing that the President of the United States has chosen to amplify the voice of far-right extremists,” Welby wrote on Facebook. “Britain First seeks to divide communities and intimidate minorities, especially our Muslim friends and neighbours. 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.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews, one of the country’s leading Jewish advocacy groups, echoed Welby’s call for Trump to delete his retweets.
And the Muslim Council of Britain said that Trump’s retweets were the “clearest endorsement yet from the US President of the far-right and their vile anti-Muslim propaganda.”
“We cannot give such bigotry a free pass,” the council’s statement read.
The three videos that Trump retweeted purport to show Muslims committing violent and anti-Christian acts. Fransen’s tweet claimed that one of the videos depicted a Muslim migrant beating up a Dutch boy on crutches. The Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C., discredited that claim, confirming in a tweet that the attacker was born and raised in the Netherlands. The two other videos appear to be from Syria and Egypt in 2013 and show the actions of violent political extremists.
The videos are part of Britain First’s long-running campaign to stoke fears about Muslims and conflate the ideology of extremists with the way that the vast majority of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims practice their faith. Fransen herself was convicted in 2016 of religiously aggravated harassment against a Muslim woman.
Muslim and interfaith allies in the U.S. have also criticized the retweets, warning they could encourage those who seek to harm Muslim Americans.
The Anti-Defamation League released a statement arguing that Trump’s retweets are just another example of how he continually provides “his millions of followers a gateway into the world of extremism, hatred and anti-Semitism.” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Jewish advocacy organization, said this kind of anti-Muslim propaganda will “embolden bigots in the US and abroad.”
Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large of America magazine, compared the president’s tweets to tactics used by the Nazis to increase division and foment hatred against Jews.
Other interfaith allies in the U.S. also chimed in on Twitter.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Trump’s actions put “the lives and safety of American Muslim children and families at risk.”
“Hate speech leads to hate crimes. When hate speech and conspiracy theories against American minorities go unchallenged, they foster an atmosphere that causes hate crimes,” Awad warned.
Trump wasn’t living up to his promise to be a president for all Americans, said Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
“You can’t claim to be a President for all Americans if you scapegoat any group of Americans. In fact, you can’t claim to be President at all if you promote conspiracy theories about any minority,” Al-Marayati said in a statement. “If moral leadership will not come from the White House, we will need others ― religious leaders, political leaders, and everyday Americans ― to step up and condemn this behavior and fill the gap.”