White House Defends Trump's Muslim Tweets

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U.S. President Donald Trump has ignited controversy by retweeting several graphic videos from a far-right British politician heavily associated with Islamophobia. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders defended the president's latest tweets as an effort to stir debate over national security.

On Nov. 29, Trump shared three tweets by Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the U.K.'s Britain First party. The three videos depicted the assault of a boy on crutches, the destruction of Christian iconography, and a mob execution. Fransen made the unverified claim that all three acts were perpetrated by Muslims.

"Whether it is a real video, the threat is real," Sanders said to reporters, according to CNN. "That is what the president is talking about, that is what the president is focused on dealing with those real threats, and those are real no matter how you look at it."

When Sanders was asked again about the authenticity of the videos, she responded that journalists were "focusing on the wrong thing."

"The threat has to be talked about and that is what the president is doing in bringing that up ... I think his goal is to promote strong borders and strong national security," Sanders added.

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Meanwhile, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May's office condemned Trump's decision to retweet the videos.

"The 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," May's office said in a statement. "It is wrong for the President to have done this."

May's office added that it would not rescind an invitation to Trump for a state visit, Business Insider reports.

Britain First was founded in 2011. The far-right group has become notorious in the U.K. for inciting Islamophobia and antagonizing Muslims. In November 2016, Fransen was convicted of aggravated harassment of a Muslim woman. Dilowar Khan, the director of finance and engagement of the East London Mosque, stated that the group focused its efforts on provoking British Muslims and then filming their reactions to create misleading and unflattering videos.

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"They come to provoke the local youths and intimidate them," Khan told The Washington Post. "They get them to react, take video, and then post it on their website and say: 'Look how nasty Muslims are.' They are a blatantly anti-Muslim group."

Nick Ryan, a spokesperson of the anti-extremist group Hope Not Hate, said that Britain First was overwhelmingly unpopular in the U.K.

"A politician would have to be blind not to understand that this is a particularly nasty far-right organization that is in trouble with the law, electoral authorities, and reviled by 99 percent of the population," Ryan said. "It beggars belief that Trump would knowingly share this stuff."

In June 2016, a far-right domestic terrorist murdered British MP Jo Cox. The assailant reportedly shouted "Britain first!" before stabbing the lawmaker to death with a knife. Fransen's group denied any connection with the assassination.

Following Trump's tweets on Nov. 29, Brendan Cox, the widower of Jo, tweeted: "Trump has [legitimized] the far right in his own country, now he’s trying to do it in ours. Spreading hatred has consequences & the president should be ashamed of himself."

It remains unclear how Trump came across Fransen's account. The videos had been retweeted earlier by conservative pundit Ann Coulter, who the president follows.

Sources: Business InsiderCNN, The Washington Post, Brendan Cox/Twitter / Featured Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr / Embedded Images: PBS NewsHour/YouTube, EU2017EE Estonian Presidency/Flickr

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