- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 29, 2017

LONDON — Jayda Fransen couldn’t be more pleased with her newfound fame.

“I’m delighted that the leader of the Free World has taken the time to retweet three of my tweets in support of me,” she told The Washington Times.

Few Britons knew much about the 31-year-old deputy leader of Britain First, an anti-Islam, anti-immigration and ultranationalist group with an estimated 1,000 members, before President Trump on Wednesday posted three anti-Muslim videos that originally appeared on Ms. Fransen’s Twitter feed.

“She wasn’t really a character in British politics,” said Thomas Hills, 28, an engineer from London. “Obviously, I’ve heard of Britain First and I know they’re racist bigots, but they’re nothing more than minor players here.”

President Trump’s early-morning Twitter habits on Wednesday sparked a furious controversy on both sides of the Atlantic when he passed along the anti-Muslim videos to his vast social media following

The White House on Wednesday defended President Trump’s retweets of videos portraying Muslims allegedly committing acts of violence.

“The threat is real,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, adding the media were “focusing on the wrong thing” in questioning the veracity of the videos.

White House spokesman Raj Shah told reporters that the president “has the greatest respect for the British people and for [Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May,” but Arab American Institute Executive Director Maya Berry said Mr. Trump’s retweeting of “inflammatory ant-Muslim bigotry from a white-nationalist group” should be denounced by other Republican leaders.

“As the president’s tweets are official statements of the administration, these xenophobic retweets cannot be ignored,” she said.

Mr. Trump fired back Wednesday evening via Twitter and addressed himself directly to Ms. May’s official account.

[email protected]_May, 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!” he wrote.

But while the White House stuck to its “never apologize” philosophy, the retweets sparked a furious debate in Britain over Ms. Fransen and her group among mainstream politicians, civil society groups, and citizens alike, presenting a new political headache for Mrs. May, who has struggled to stay on good terms with the Republican president.

“Britain First seeks to divide communities by their use of hateful narratives that peddle lies and stoke tensions,” Mrs. May said through a spokesman, “It is wrong for [President Trump] to have done this.”

Mr. Hills agreed.

“When the Labor MP Jo Cox was murdered, the assassin shouted ‘Britain first!’ before stabbing her,” he said, referring a lawmaker killed last year by a neo-Nazi. “This kind of thing can have real consequences.”

Provocateur

A well-known provocateur on the far-right fringes of British politics, Ms. Fransen has been long accused of stoking potential violence. She was convicted in September of “religiously aggravated harassment” for leading a cross-bearing “Christian patrol” through Luton, a town 30 miles northwest of London, a verdict which she dismissed as “Islamic appeasement.”

Many Britons were stunned Wednesday at what seemed like a presidential endorsement for the group’s message. The party received just 1.2 percent of the votes in last year’s London mayoral elections, losing out to Sadiq Khan, a Muslim candidate who took home 44 percent. It has no seats in the House of Commons or the European Parliament.

But Ms. Fransen insisted she was leading a “common-sense” movement, saying she was “grateful” to Mr. Trump for the virtual shoutout.

On its Facebook page, the group also describes itself as a “movement that opposes and fights the many injustices that are routinely inflicted on the British people,” adding that “we want our people to come first, before foreigners, asylum seekers or migrants and we are overtly proud of this stance.”

Many have questioned the validity of the videos President Trump retweeted — one of them purports to show a Muslim beating up a boy on crutches. But Ms. Fransen said those doubts about the video are of little consequence.

“It doesn’t matter which tweets he chose,” she said. “What is relevant here is that I’m an elected deputy leader of a British party and I’m facing sentencing and President Donald Trump is highlighting this.”

Critics say it is Ms. Fransen who is not in step with traditional British values.

“Britain First are the radicalized ones. They say and believe anything bad about Muslims even if they’re not true,” said Adeel Iftikhar, a 32-year-old unemployed Muslim returning from Wednesday evening prayers at a Mosque in the affluent South London neighborhood of Balham.

The Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella group representing British Muslims, called on the nation’s leaders not to give the American president a “free pass” on what they deemed “bigotry.”

“This is the clearest endorsement yet from the U.S. president of the far-right and their vile anti-Muslim propaganda,” the group said in a statement Wednesday.

Tracey Brabin, a member of the leftist opposition Labor Party who took over Cox’s seat after her assassination, told BBC Radio 4 in an interview Wednesday that Mr. Trump “has shown such a lack of leadership as president of the United States.”

But Ms. Fransen intends to build on the momentum provided by the White House retweet.

“From here, we intend to throw the party into politics,” she said. “We’ll still continue with our marches, but we already have a growing list of candidates for next year’s local elections.”

Staff writer Dave Boyer reported from Washington.


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