A White House spokesperson on Monday tried to explain Trump's retweet of a faked image with the Democratic leaders wearing Muslim garb, posed in front of an Iranian flag.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told Fox News that Trump retweeted the image as the president's way of accusing the Democrats of supporting "terrorists".
“I think the president is making clear that the Democrats are, have been parroting Iranian talking points and almost taking the side of terrorists and those who were out to kill the Americans", Grisham asserted, adding that "Democrats seem to hate [Trump] so much that they’re willing to be on the side of countries and leadership of countries who want to kill Americans".
Trump tweeted the fake image Monday morning.
Activists and former government officials quickly criticised Trump's tweet, allegeging that it promotes a hatred of Muslims.
Dana Shell Smith, a former ambassador to Qatar during the Obama administration, accused Trump of promoting "hate speech".
The President of the United States is engaging in hate speech against an entire religion. And because he is President, it is in our name. It is on all of us - especially our elected officials- to demand that it stop. And to demand that @Twitter put an end to it. https://t.co/YU9nCCxBFm— Dana Shell Smith (@AmbDana) January 13, 2020
Jasmine El-Gamal, another Obama administration veteran, slammed the fake image in a series of tweets calling it "deeply damaging" to US Muslims and portraying sympathy to the inhabitants of a Muslim country as an insult.
The President of the United States retweeted a picture of Democratic leaders in a headscarf and turban, calling them corrupt and implying they are siding with "the Ayatollahs" demonstrating once again the vulnerability of Muslims in the US. This is a critical moment for us. 1/— Jasmine El-Gamal (@jasmineelgamal) January 13, 2020
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said in a statement that the tweet endangered Muslim Americans and was "childish, undignified and offensive."
"President Trump has repeatedly targeted Islam and Muslims with bigoted rhetoric and Islamophobic appointments and policies such as the Muslim Ban, which media reports say is soon to be extended to other nations", the organisation said.
Trump's highly-polarizing tweet follows a rise in tensions between the US and Iran after his administration authorized the assassination of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani on 3 January.
Leading Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Schumer and Speaker of the House Pelosi strongly criticised the killing as an escalation of conflict towards war, while many observed that the president was merely seeking to distract attention from his ongoing impeachment.
Those who support Trump accuse critics of the Soleimani assassination of siding with Iran.