U.S. President Donald Trump caused a media storm when he retweeted three anti-Muslim videos posted by the deputy head of the far-right group Britain First. Jayda Fransen, a former recruitment consultant with a conviction for religiously aggravated harassment behind her, is a high-profile member of the ultra-nationalist grouping that likes to warn of an imminent “third world war” with Islam.
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Fransen, who is from South London, has 54,300 followers on Twitter, where her profile reads: “Faithful to God and Britannia. ‘If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first’ John 15:18.”
In response to Trump’s tweet, she posted, using capital letters: “The president of the United States, Donald Trump, has retweeted three of deputy leader Jayda Fransen’s Twitter videos! Donald Trump himself has retweeted these videos and has around 44 million followers! God bless you Trump! God bless America!”
Reportedly a devout Roman Catholic, Fransen was filmed in January 2016 brandishing a white cross and shouting abuse at a Muslim woman and her four young children during a Britain First rally in Luton, a small town near London.
Fransen avoided a possible six-month jail sentence but was ordered to pay nearly 2,000 pounds (currently $2,680) in costs and fines. Following the November 2016 court case, Jayden called the verdict “a really clear example of Islamic appeasement.”
She is due to appear in court again next month after being charged with “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior” during a Britain First rally last summer.
Britain First partly grew out of the remains of the British National Party, a far-right grouping that failed in its attempts to reach parliament over the last two decades.
Founded in 2011 by former BNP members including current leader Paul Golding, Britain First also exploited the fragmentation of the English Defence League, a rabble-rousing street-protest group formed in 2009.
According to the group Hope Not Hate, Britain First has a membership of around 1,000, although it has sometimes struggled to rally people to its street demonstrations. A “Day of Action” it held in the Midlands city of Wolverhampton in August attracted just 17 people.
Still, its online following is far larger, with nearly 2 million likes on Facebook, although it has also spawned comedy spoofs such as “Little Britain First” – a play on a television series from a decade ago. The organization has an unusually Christian focus, having been founded by Jim Dowson, a former evangelical preacher turned millionaire backer of the far right.
Its main tactic has been to share promotional stunts on social media, including filmed confrontations of so-called mosque invasions where activists force their way into mosques to hand out Bibles and Christian leaflets.
Like some other far-right groups currently focusing their ire on the Muslim community, Britain First has attempted to court British Jews.
In 2015, when a neo-Nazi group threatened to hold a rally in Golders Green, a heavily Jewish neighborhood in northwest London, Fransen and Golding held what they called a “solidarity patrol” in the area. But they have suffered a fate characteristic of British far-right groups: Sensationalist media reports and publicity stunts have failed to translate into political results.
In 2016, Golding ran as the Britain First candidate in London’s mayoral election against Labour candidate Sadiq Khan, a Muslim. Having won just 1.2 percent of the vote, Golding turned his back on the victorious Khan during his acceptance speech.
Anti-racism groups warn, however, that Britain First’s following and influence is growing. In June 2016, Thomas Mair, the killer of Labour MP Jo Cox, repeatedly shouted “Britain First” as he attacked her.
The husband of the slain parliamentarian, Brendan Cox, tweeted that he was appalled that Trump was sharing content from someone like Fransen.
Cox tweeted, “Trump has legitimized the far right in his own country, now he’s trying to do it in ours. Spreading hatred has consequences & the President should be ashamed of himself.”