Re-captioned, retweeted and, in effect, hijacked by anti-Muslim, nationalist, alt-right and far-right websites since 2013, the clips retweeted by Donald Trump are ammunition in an online infowar.
The three videos posted by the Britain First deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, purport to show Muslims committing acts of violence: two assaulting people, one destroying a statue of the virgin Mary.
Fransen’s characterisation of one, however, “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!”, does not describe what the film shows. Her captions for the other two mislead by failing to explain the circumstances in which they were shot.
The first video appeared originally on Friday 12 May this year on a Dutch website, Dumpert.nl, under the title (in Dutch) “Your anger trigger for today: guy on crutches gets a cowardly beating”. It showed a teenage boy attacking another on crutches, knocking him over and kicking him while he lay on the ground.
The following day, Dutch police issued a statement saying two 16-year-olds had been arrested in connection with the incident, one on suspicion of assault. Neither was identified, by police or local media, as Muslim or a migrant, and the video was subsequently taken down at the request of the police and the victim.
After Trump retweeted the film on Wednesday, the public prosecutor’s office in North Holland province and the Dutch embassy in the US said the attacker was “born and raised in the Netherlands” and had completed a programme for first-time young offenders.
A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said it was not policy to comment on an individual’s religion, but the leading Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad said the youth “as far as is known did not have a Muslim or migrant background”.
On the day of the boys’ arrest, however, the video was tweeted by a pro-Trump account, StockMonsterVIP, who captioned it “Migrant beats up helpless Dutch boy on cruches b/c he can”, Buzzfeed reported. It was retweeted more than 5,000 times.
From there it made it to a Reddit forum called The_Donald, and then to the website of Pamela Geller, who prefaced the caption with the word “Muslim”. The Southern Poverty Law Centre has designated Geller’s American Freedom Defence Initiative, also known as Stop Islamisation of America, as an anti-Muslim hate group.
The myth-busting website Snopes said the clip appeared on other rightwing sites before it was tweeted by Fransen first in October and then again this week. It is thought Trump saw it after it appeared in the feed of the conservative commentator Ann Coulter, reportedly one of the 45 Twitter accounts he follows.
A second video retweeted by Trump, captioned by Fransen “Muslim destroys a statue of virgin Mary!”, shows a Syrian radical Islamist cleric, Abo Omar Ghabra, then a member of the group Jabhat al-Nusra.
The footage was shot in October 2013 in northern Idlib province, according to the New York Times, which spoke to a villager who was there. Ghabra later joined Islamic State before being captured in Aleppo, the man told the paper.
Several websites including InfoWars, run by the rightwing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, carried the footage, rarely adding that moderate Muslim groups around the world have overwhelmingly condemned extremists’ destruction of religious icons.
The final video, characterised by Fransen as “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!”, was also filmed in 2013, in Alexandria, Egypt, during fighting between supporters and opponents of the recently overthrown president, Mohamed Morsi.
According to Egyptian media, one man in the footage – seen carrying a black flag bearing the Islamic declaration of faith, a common symbol of Islamist militant groups – was later found guilty of murder and executed.
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