American Muslims woke up early this morning to the sound of their cellphones buzzing. President Donald Trump had just retweeted three posts from Jayda Fransen, a leader of the far-right Britain First organization and a virulent anti-Muslim bigot. Each post featured a video that purports to show Muslims engaging in brutal violence. All are several years old; one, involving a Dutch boy beaten by a “migrant Muslim,” apparently had nothing to do with migrants or Muslims. But once again, the president’s reckless tweets singled out Muslims at a time when hate crimes have just surpassed 2001 levels.
Within a few hours of Trump’s retweets, I was already finding the videos in my Twitter mentions:
Fransen was herself convicted of a hate crime last year for hurling abuse at a woman wearing a hijab. At the time, Fransen called the verdict a “clear display of Islamic appeasement.” On Wednesday, she was euphoric after Trump took up her cause.
I’ve seen all of these videos before. They’re used as evidence of what Islam actually looks like, as if the religion’s true nature is obscured by the everyday Muslims people usually encounter. They largely circulate on the anti-Islam internet. But not today.
On most days, Britain First is a tiny, largely ignored, fringe group that shares videos of brown people celebrating after cricket matches with captions suggesting they are cheering on terrorism. In 2016, a British MP was murdered by someone who shouted “Britain First” before he shot and stabbed his victim. The group has organized marches through Muslim neighborhoods, shoving crosses in the faces of passers-by, and it publishes doctored videos with the sole purpose of brewing more hate and violence toward Muslims. It is widely reviled and rejected in the U.K. But today, its cause was vindicated by our president.
Britain First and right-wing activists like Jayda actively work against mainstream Muslims and in favor of fanatical Islamists. As part of my Slate video series, I learned firsthand how this can make young Muslims vulnerable to recruitment, according to a deradicalization expert who himself was seduced by the message of “Islamist resistance” by the Taliban. Britain First adherents stoke this false notion of an ideological and religious war between Islam and Christianity. It serves their agenda as much as it serves Islamic radicals’.
Trump’s tweets not only legitimize these groups but amplify their propaganda. They’ve been caught fabricating evidence of Muslim barbarism countless times, but Trump’s retweets will make that irrelevant to many of his 44 million followers, providing more evidence—and an official endorsement—to people whose biases toward their neighbors need justification. In a real way, it could make my family and my community less safe.
Trump is my president. He was elected into office amid fears that he would facilitate hate against Americans like me, but that never disqualified him. Now we’re seeing how far that can go. With his signal boost for fascists, Trump has once again showed he has zero hesitation about putting 3 million American Muslims in danger to satisfy his anti-immigrant agenda. Last year, shortly after his election, I wrote that as an American Muslim, I couldn’t afford to show I was afraid, even if I was. Today, I am just exhausted. I’m exhausted that my identity is again being used as a political bludgeon. I’m exhausted at a new wave of Twitter replies and ignorant, misplaced anger. And I’m exhausted at the thought that my president is likely just getting started.