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29 November 2017updated 01 Aug 2021 11:04am

What Donald Trump retweeting Britain First reveals about the UK’s far right

With the decline of “traditional” street fascism, white nationalist groups gain traction online.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Donald Trump has retweeted three anti-Muslim videos posted by the deputy leader of Britain First – the notorious Islamophobic group born of ex-British National Party members six years ago.

Jayda Fransen, whose content was picked up by the US President on Wednesday, has been arrested numerous times, and was convicted of religiously aggravated harassment towards a Muslim woman in a hijab last year.

Her tweets, now retweeted to Trump’s 43.6 million followers, contain misleading and unsourced video clips.

One is supposedly an “Islamist mob” throwing a teenager off a roof and beating him to death – it is four years old, unclear and its source is unknown. Another, two-year-old contextless clip purports to show a “Muslim” (identity unknown) destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary, and the third – supposed to be a Muslim beating up a boy on crutches – has been debunked by the Dutch authorities. The person in the video is neither a Muslim nor a migrant.

Trump retweeting these videos (which weren’t even tweeted out by Fransen consecutively, so he must have been scrolling through her Twitter feed) gives a dangerous stamp of validation to what are nothing more than ageing bits of internet detritus being resurrected as “fake news”.

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This is compounded in the UK by Fransen delightedly retweeting news reports about her newfound internet fame courtesy of the US President.

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While they perpetuate division and Islamophobia, the actions of both irresponsible tweeters also reveal a great deal about the far right in the UK. With the decline of movements such as the BNP and the English Defence League – partly a reason for Britain First’s arrival – neo-fascist energy gains far more traction online than on the streets.

Although Britain First members stage marches, organise mosque “invasions” and intimidate minorities in the street, they are best known for their activity online. The movement draws a much bigger virtual following than a physical crowd – according to recent reports, the group can barely rally 100 people.

But it has a massive presence on Facebook – its page has nearly two million likes, which is bigger than any UK political party or party leader’s Facebook page. This is where memes and videos like Fransen’s take hold and spread. Facebook is a hotbed of Islamophobic material thanks to pages like Britain First’s.

When I reported on the viral image of a young woman coolly facing down the snarling EDL leader at a Birmingham rally in April, most striking was what it revealed about the dwindling numbers at these events. In four years, the EDL had gone from mustering over a thousand supporters to around a hundred in that particular instance. That’s partly why the nationalists and counter-protesters had been allowed to come so close – police didn’t feel the need to separate demonstrators off.

However, Trump spreading misinformation about Islam on Twitter shows that these groups only really need an influential social media presence. The amplification of hate means it will end up where they have always tried to take it anyway: to our streets.