(CBS News) — President Trump took to Twitter early Wednesday morning, retweeting violent images and videos that appeared to be anti-Islamic in nature.
The videos were tweeted out by the account held by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of fringewhich subscribes to an anti-Islam, anti-immigration and nationalist agenda. The group is estimated to have only about 1,000 active members, and its rallies around the U.K. draw supporters numbering only in the hundreds.
On Fransen’s own Twitter account, a message appeared lauding Mr. Trump for sharing the Britain First message with his “around 44 million followers!”
The first video posted by Fransen Wednesday morning and subsequently retweeted by Mr. Trump is from around 2012, as political unrest roiled Egypt. The clip shows supporters of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group chasing opponents in the city of Alexandria, and throwing at least one of them from a rooftop. The main suspect implicated in the incident was sentenced to death and executed a year later, reports CBS News’ Khaled Wassef.
The second video Mr. Trump re-circulated is from 2013, in war-torn Syria’s Idlib Province. It shows a Sharia law judge of the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front destroying a Virgin Mary statue and declaring that none other than Allah would be worshipped in the area. The militant group, which has since changed its name to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, still holds significant territory in Idlib Province.
The third video appears to have been first posted in May 2017, purportedly showing a Muslim migrant beating a Dutch boy on crutches. But a local prosecutor’s office in Holland disputes that description, saying it was actually an argument between two underage boys from back in May and the suspect was in fact of Dutch descent.
“The suspect, who was born and raised in the Netherlands, received a HALT settlement. This has been successfully completed,” the office wrote on Twitter.
Fransen was arrested earlier this month in London over a speech she gave in Belfast, Northern Ireland during the summer. According to CBS News partner network BBC News, Fransen has been charged with using “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior,” and is due to appear in court on Dec. 14.
In 2016, Fransen was convicted for religiously aggravated harassment for shouting at a Muslim woman during one of her group’s so-called “Christian patrols” through neighborhoods with high Muslim populations. Fransen admitted telling the Muslim woman that men of the faith force women to cover up to avoid rape, “because they cannot control their sexual urges,” adding, “That’s why they are coming into my country raping women across the continent.”
Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesperson said in a statement in response to the retweets, that it was “wrong for the president to have done this.” The statement added:
“Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which 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 that this country represents – decency, tolerance and respect.”
The president’s retweets of Fransen were raised as a point of order in the UK Parliament by Labour Party ministers Yvette Cooper and Stephen Doughty. Doughty told British lawmakers, “It appears that the president of the United States has, in recent moments, been retweeting comments from far-fight organization Britain First – highly inflammatory videos – including some posted by an individual who I believe has recently been arrested and charged, relating to certain serious offenses.”
Cooper reminded Parliament that Fransen “has indeed already been convicted of hate crime” in the UK, and “given the significance and the seriousness of the president of the United States giving her such a huge platform,” she called on ministers to condemn Mr. Trump’s actions. Other ministers could be heard responding, “Disgraceful,” as she talked about the tweets.
Here’s the video tweeted by C-SPAN:
Britain First made headlines in 2016 after, was assassinated by a man who shouted out the fringe party’s name during his attack. No ties to the actual organization were ever established.
Brendan Cox, husband of the Labour party lawmaker who was killed, tweeted in response to Mr. Trump’s retweets Wednesday morning, saying he has “legitimized the far right in his own country, now he’s trying to do it in ours. Spreading hatred has consequences and the president should be ashamed of himself.”
Among others criticizing the retweets Wednesday was Paul Joseph Watson, a top editor at the far-right conspiracy website InfoWars.
“Yeah, someone might want to tell whoever is running Trump’s Twitter account this morning that retweeting Britain First is not great optics,” he tweeted.
British commentator and Trump supporter Piers Morgan, who has also criticized him in the past, tweeted, “What the hell are you doing retweeting a bunch of unverified videos by Britain First, a bunch of disgustingly racist far-right extremists?”
Among those praising the President for the retweets was former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who tweeted, “That’s why we love him!”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to the outcry over the retweets later Wednesday morning, telling reporters “regardless of the video, the threat is very real.”
She added, “the president has talked about the need for strong borders and strong security since the campaign trail, that’s not a secret that’s something he’ll continue talking about and continue highlighting in a lot of different venues and avenues.”
Asked if the president’s retweets were an endorsement of the “Britain First” movement, Sanders replied, “not that I’m aware of but he does endorse a strong national security and endorses strong borders.”
“Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real and that is what the president is talking about, that’s what the president is focused on is dealing with those real threats and those are real no matter how you look at it,” she added.
CBS News’ Emily Tillett and Tucker Reals contributed to this report.