If president Donald Trump doesn’t understand the danger of spreading disturbing, unverified videos posted by someone like Jayden Fransen—the deputy leader of far-right group Britain First, who has been convicted of anti-Muslim harassment—he should listen to Brendan Cox.
Cox knows as well as anyone that “spreading hatred has consequences.” During the 2016 Brexit campaign, his wife, British MP Jo Cox, was murdered in broad daylight by a man who reportedly shouted “Britain First.”
When police delved into murderer Thomas Muir’s computer, they found he had searched for Nazi propaganda and Klu Klux Klan material. He had white supremacist literature and a swastika-emblazoned golden eagle in his house (paywall). One of his books, The Turner Diaries (1978) by William Pierce, depicts the mass murder of “race traitors” who include all non-whites, Jews, and homosexuals. When police tackled Muir to the ground after the murder, he cried, ”I’m a political activist.”
When convicted of religious aggravated harassment in 2016, Fransen defended herself in similarly unrepentant terms—and seems to have been influenced by similar disinformation. Having gone on a “Christian patrol” and shouted at a local resident that Muslim men “cannot control their sexual urges…that’s why they are coming into my country raping women across the continent,” she told a court: “The reason I said them was because from everything I have studied, I understand them to be true.” She later decried her nearly £2,000 fine as “Islamic appeasement.”
Last week, already reportedly out on bail awaiting trial for allegedly inciting religious hatred, Fransen was arrested for hate speech.
Her tweets, which Trump shared to 43.6 million followers this morning, fit directly into a history of racial othering and misinformation that traces back to Nazi Germany. One seems to show a boy being pushed off a roof somewhere in the Middle East (it claims he was attacked by an “Islamist mob”). Another depicts a man shattering a gaudy sculpture of the Virgin Mary. The third shows a teenager beating up another teenage who’s holding a crutch. The tweets all highlight or claim that the culprits are “Muslim.” All are eerily reminiscent of the Nazis’ use of propaganda vilifying Jews as criminals (paywall); the broad aim being to use an isolated incident to smear a whole race or rligion.
It’s not for nothing that Dutch police asked the website Dumpert to remove (link in Dutch) the video of the boy in crutches being beaten up (the attacker has been arrested). British prime minister Theresa May has similarly condemned Trump’s decision to retweet videos by Britain First, which, they said, uses “hateful narratives which peddle lies and stoke tensions.”
When asked why Fransen still has a Twitter account, and why it is “verified,” Twitter told Quartz that it was continuing a “comprehensive review of verification policies.” Nevertheless, the company noted, “To help ensure people have an opportunity to see every side of an issue, there may be the rare occasion when we allow controversial content or behavior which may otherwise violate our Rules to remain on our service because we believe there is a legitimate public interest in its availability.”
The US president’s retweets have only elevated Fransen’s platform, resulting in interviews with news media including CBS, the BBC and Channel 4.
Heather Timmons contributed reporting