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Of all President Trump’s idiosyncrasies, his ready embrace of conspiracy theories and dubious news items is one of the most baffling — and potentially dangerous. As a candidate, he infamously appeared on the Infowars radio show hosted by Alex Jones, the well-known conspiracy theorist, who famously advanced the preposterous claim that Hillary Clinton was part of a child sex-trafficking ring run out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. A North Carolina man subsequently shot up the pizzeria in question, with a very real assault rifle. Nevertheless, Trump has reportedly still been seeking advice from Jones, whom he has described as a “nice guy” with an “amazing” reputation.
President Trump’s susceptibility to conspiracy theories and questionable news items took an even more reckless turn Tuesday, when he shared with his millions of Twitter followers incendiary videos from a right-wing British anti-Muslim party called Britain First. The three videos posted by the group’s deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, and retweeted by Trump, were titled “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch Boy on crutches!,” “Muslim destroys a statue of the Virgin Mary!,” and “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!”
While the origin and context of the videos have yet to be verified, their promulgation by the president of the United States drew widespread condemnation. Blowback from videos posted online has had deadly consequences, including in 2011, when two American soldiers were killed by a young Muslim immigrant in Germany. The killer, Arid Uka, saw a video on Facebook purporting to show American soldiers raping a teenage Muslim girl. In actual fact, the video — reportedly posted by a former German rapper named Denis Cuspert — was a scene taken out of context from the Brian De Palma anti-war film “Redacted.” Believing it to be real, he shot four U.S. service members at the Frankfurt airport, killing two.
Anti-Muslim hate crimes last year surpassed the previous peak, set in 2001, according to the most recent FBI reports.
Fransen was convicted in Britain last year for religiously aggravated harassment of a Muslim woman, and was recently charged with using “threatening” and “abusive” language in an anti-Muslim speech. While she said the videos came from various online sources that were posted on her social media pages, Fransen appeared to be delighted that her anti-Muslim incitement had attracted a new fan. “DONALD TRUMP HIMSELF HAS RETWEETED THESE VIDEOS AND HAS AROUND 44 MILLION FOLLOWERS!” Fransen tweeted in all caps. “GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP! GOD BLESS AMERICA!”
While Trump’s incendiary tweet was widely criticized by Muslim groups, it did garner support in some quarters. “He’s condemned for showing us what the fake news media won’t,” tweeted David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. “Thank God for Trump! This is why we love him!”
James Kitfield is senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
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