The British government was forced to condemn him. The Dutch government was forced to fact-check him.
And the president of the United States exposed himself, yet again, as an unapologetic anti-Muslim bigot.
Donald Trump triggered an international incident on Wednesday morning without saying a word. Scrolling through Twitter, he retweeted, or shared, three anti-Muslim posts from Jayda Fransen, the anti-Muslim deputy leader of the anti-Muslim Britain First party.
Fransen titled one video: “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” Another: “Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!” The third: “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!”
As it turned out, the so-called “migrant” was not a migrant at all. The teenager was “born and raised in the Netherlands,” the Dutch Embassy told Trump on Twitter.
“Facts do matter,” the embassy said in its own tweet.
But Trump has never been interested in facts when it comes to Muslims.
This was at least the eighth time since Trump began his campaign — the campaign in which he initially pledged a “total” ban on foreign Muslims entering the country — that he has uttered or promoted a false claim about Muslims for the purpose of smearing them.
The source of the videos made his retweets especially offensive to Brits.
Fransen was convicted last year of religiously aggravated harassment for accosting and insulting a woman in a hijab during one of her group’s “Christian patrols” of a neighbourhood where Muslims live. And the man who killed pro-European Union British MP Jo Cox later that year allegedly shouted “Britain First” as he committed the attack.
As opposition Labour politicians fumed Wednesday, with some calling again for Trump to be uninvited from visiting the country, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May issued a highly unusual statement of condemnation.
“British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudice of the far-right, which it is the antithesis of the values that this country represents: decency, tolerance and respect. It is wrong for the president to have done this,” her spokesperson said.
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) November 29, 2017
The retweets, however, were entirely in keeping with Trump’s long-running practice of attempting to demonize Muslims, and migrants, by highlighting the worst people among them — and by lying.
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Before Wednesday, he had: lied about thousands of American Muslims supposedly celebrating the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks; told an invented story about a U.S. general supposedly massacring Muslims with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood; made up a story about a nonexistent terror attack “last night in Sweden”; made up a story about Muslims supposedly declining to report the San Bernardino terrorists to prevent their massacre; lied that the distraught mother of a slain Muslim soldier was prevented from speaking publicly by her husband Khizr Khan; falsely claimed a deadly botched Manila robbery was a terror attack; and accused Muslim refugees, with no evidence, of being supporters of Daesh, also known as ISIS and ISIL.
When he insults other minority groups, such as Native Americans and Hispanics, Trump usually talks in a kind of thin code that allows him some room to claim he harbours no animosity at all. When it comes to Muslims, his intentions have always been unmistakable.
“This is clearly incitement to violence against the American Muslim community. It’s unbelievable, it’s unconscionable. I’ve run out of words to describe his actions,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“He’s basically telling his base: hate Islam and American Muslims and I don’t give a rip what you do to them. And that’s coming from the president of the United States.
“We expect to see these things every day on virulent anti-Muslim hate sites. We don’t expect to see it on the Twitter feed of the president of the United States. Who instead of promoting violence and bigotry targeting a religious minority should be challenging that bigotry.”
Trump campaigned on a “total and complete” ban on foreign Muslims entering the U.S. In office, he has amended the policy to ban people from particular Muslim countries, arguing that this is not bigotry but national-security prudence. Civil libertarians have sued, and the matter remains before the courts.
“This president has made demonizing Muslims, demonizing a religion, a centrepiece of his presidency. And our country deserves so much better,” said Scott Simpson, public advocacy director for Muslim Advocates.
Trump’s retweets came in the middle of a week during which he had already courted racial controversy. On Monday, he referred to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has claimed distant Native American ancestry without proof, as “Pocahontas,” a name native leaders consider racist when used in a disparaging manner. On Tuesday, he returned to his criticism of the Black NFL players who are kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism.
In another tweet on Wednesday morning, he suggested that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough might have been responsible for the death of a female employee who was found dead in one of his offices as a congressman in 2001. The death was never considered suspicious.
The anti-Muslim retweets were too much even for a prominent figure at Infowars, the conspiracy-theory website that often traffics in anti-Muslim bunk.
“Yeah, someone might want to tell whoever is running Trump’s Twitter account this morning that retweeting Britain First is not great optics,” Paul Joseph Watson wrote.
Trump’s White House was typically unrepentant, declining to apologize to Britain or the Netherlands, and typically dismissive of truth. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said: “Whether it’s a real video, the threat is real, and that is what the president is talking about.”
— Mediaite (@Mediaite) November 29, 2017
Somebody, at least, was happy. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke tweeted some enthusiastic praise.
Correction — Nov. 29, 2017: An earlier version of this article misquoted Scott Simpson, public advocacy director for Muslim Advocates. Simpson decried the president’s demonizing of “a religion,” not “our religion.”