When President Donald Trump retweeted anti-Muslim propaganda videos Monday morning, he was promoting Britain First, an extremist group whose founding members have stormed mosques, gone on immigrant-hunting patrols, and been accused of sexual assault.
Britain First is Trump’s kind of hate group. Founded by an anti-Muslim, anti-abortion hardliner who quit a post in the British National Party over a sexual harassment allegation, Britain First leads invasions of mosques, and so-called “Christian patrols” during which members march the streets harassing Muslims. And now those same extremists are thanking Trump for the endorsement.
Jim Dowson, a former Calvinist minister who spent his early career attached to anti-Catholic campaigns, founded the group. Dowson is a former member of the Orange Order, a conservative group involved in violent anti-Catholic clashes in Northern Ireland. During his tenure with the group, Dowson reportedly organized a controversial flute band that produced songs celebrating Michael Stone, a Protestant militant who murdered three people and wounded over 60 others in an attack on a Catholic funeral in 1988.
Dowson is an anti-abortion extremist, and used a website to dox workers at sexual-health clinics, allegedly spurring his followers to harass them.
“I think that's nonsense,” Dowson told the Belfast Telegraph when asked whether he was inviting people to harass the health workers. “You read the newspaper every day of the week, you get people's names and addresses.”
After falling out of the Orange Order (“atheists and boozers,” he accused of the hardline Protestant group), Dowson took on an administrative role with the far-right British National Party. But that relationship also soured, after a BNP activist accused the ultra-religious Dowson of sexual misconduct.
The activist, Shelley Rose, accused Dowson of luring her to a hotel room after a BNP event.
"I decided it was safer to stay with him, as it was too late to get home, because he was a religious and family man and didn't think there would be a problem,” Rose said, according to the Daily Record. "We both had on our nightclothes. I felt these clammy, sweaty hands crawling up my leg. He was kissing me. Then he got on top of me and I told him to stop.”
Dowson stopped, but rather than apologize for the advance, “he started to verbally abuse me and told me I was frigid, had emotional issues and was a wreck,” Rose alleged. Dowson denied all Rose’s allegations, but quit the party, stating that he was done with politics.
Seven months later, he launched Britain First, an explicitly anti-Muslim group. He was arrested and charged for participating in an unlawful demonstration after a nationalist demonstration with Britain First in 2012, but left the group in 2014, claiming opposition to the group’s marches on mosques
Dowson is also an avowed Trump fan. During the 2016 election, Dowson founded a network of pro-Trump websites that peddled lurid headlines and hoaxes tying Hillary Clinton to Satanism and pedophilia. “Bombshell: Hillary Clinton’s Satanic Network Exposed,” read one headline on Dowson’s “Patriot News Agency,” a hoax site with an eagle logo and the motto “built by patriots, for patriots.”
Contrary to its motto, the Patriot News Agency was based in the U.K., and courted Russian viewers, the New York Times reported last year. The site nurtured a following on VKontakte, a Russian social media network, leading to questions over the site’s potential collaboration with Russian interests. Dowson is also a vocal defender of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has spoken at the International Russian Conservative Forum, a gathering of the world’s far-right fringe personalities.
During a 2015 speech at the conference, Dowson projected a picture of Putin riding a bear shirtless. “Obama and America, they are like females. They are feminized men,” Dowson said, according to the Times. “But you have been blessed by a man who is a man, and we envy that.”
In his post-Britain First years, Dowson has also become involved in the Knights Templar International, an extreme anti-immigrant group, and last fall was filmed in a military uniform with militants from the Bulgarian National Movement, who patrol Bulgaria’s borders hunting immigrants with knives and bayonets.
“We are on the Bulgarian Turkish border on patrol and looking for illegals. The dedication these guys have got is very impressive,” Dowson says in the film. “Today, the Knights Templar International brought along vests and ballistics and drones and night vision, stuff that these guys desperately need.”
Meanwhile, Britain First other leaders have continued the group’s anti-Muslim campaign at home. The group is currently headed by Paul Golding, reportedly a former member of the neo-Nazi group the National Front. Like Dowson, Golding is a former member of the far-right, anti-immigrant BNP. But unlike Dowson, who quit the party following the sexual harassment allegation, Golding was kicked out after he physically assaulted the group’s only non-white member, a half-Turkish man, according to the Evening Standard.
Since taking up the helm at Britain First, Golding has led a campaign of harassment against Muslims and minorities in the U.K., resulting in his repeated arrest. In 2015, Golding was convicted of harassment and illegally wearing a political uniform, after he attempted to visit the home of a man allegedly involved in the 2005 London bombings. But due to a confusion in addresses, Golding harassed the man’s sister-in-law’s home. After harassing Muslims in a series of “mosque invasions,” Golding was banned from entering the religious sites, but was subsequently arrested for entering more mosques.
Golding and Britain First have taken to fundraising off his arrests, claiming the charges prove he is fighting powerful forces. On at least one occasion, Golding went as far as faking his arrest, claiming local police had raided his home with dogs. Police later clarified that Golding had showed up at a police station of his own volition, without a warrant for his arrest.
He and fellow Britain First leader Jayda Fransen were charged in September with a combined seven counts of religiously aggravated harassment for distributing anti-Muslim leaflets and posting illegally filmed footage of a trial.
Fransen has previously pleaded guilty to harassing a Muslim woman on one of Britain First’s “Christian patrols,” where she verbally abused a woman wearing a headscarf.
Trump retweeted three of Fransen’s anti-Muslim videos Monday morning.
Hours after Trump’s retweets, a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May made a rare condemnation of Trump’s actions, calling them “wrong.”
“Britain First seeks to divide communities through their use of hateful narratives which peddle lies and stoke tensions,” the spokesperson said. “British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far-right, which is the antithesis of the values that this country represents—decency, tolerance and respect.”
But Fransen, a fringe figure, was overjoyed at the new attention for her propaganda videos.
“THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, DONALD TRUMP, HAS RETWEETED THREE OF DEPUTY LEADER JAYDA FRANSEN’S TWITTER VIDEOS!” Fransen tweeted. “DONALD TRUMP HIMSELF HAS RETWEETED THESE VIDEOS AND HAS AROUND 44 MILLION FOLLOWERS! GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP! GOD BLESS AMERICA!”