Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. World
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”.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

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

Content from our partners
Why ports are the gateway to growth
We are living longer than our predecessors – policy must catch up
Getting Britain building

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.