From unverified claims that the fire was intentional to fake pictures and videos of alleged arsonists, far-right internet trolls started spreading disinformation within minutes of the fire breaking outby Cécile Guerin / April 17, 2019 / Leave a comment
When the fire started at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, thousands of Parisians and tourists gathered on the banks of the Seine watched in horror as flames engulfed one of the world’s most famous gothic cathedrals and its spire snapped in two before collapsing.
The symbolical blow has been profound: Notre Dame is France’s geographical and historical centre, the starting point for all major French roads. But the symbolical significance of Notre Dame to the French nation only partly explains why the fire has provided such a fertile ground for a perhaps surprising group: the far-right.
The sight of one of the world’s most famous Catholic churches ablaze has fuelled narratives about the decline of Western civilisation and confirmed the beliefs of those who subscribe to the idea of a war between Islam and the West.
From unverified claims that the fire was intentional to fake pictures and videos of alleged arsonists, far-right (and alt-right) figures, conspiracy-minded right-wingers and internet trolls started spreading disinformation within minutes of the fire breaking out.
An article in Buzzfeed showed how one ‘parody’ Twitter account that misrepresented itself as Fox News shared a false quote from a Muslim congresswoman saying: “they reap what they sow.”
In France, conspiracy theorists in the far-right and in radical Islamism have presented the fire as retribution for a recent controversy involving a teenager going by the name of ‘Hugo’ who tweeted a joke about the pilgrimage in Mecca—and who has since received hundreds of death threats, as well as support from prominent French political figures.
In the English-speaking world, social media and alt-tech platforms have been awash with pictures of “Muslims rejoicing at the tragedy.” In a 4chan thread entitled “Muslims laughing,” a user shared the widely circulated picture of “Muslims taking pleasure in Notre Dame” burning.
“This is how they thank you for accepting them into your country,” a post read on Gab, a ‘free speech’ platform favoured by the far-right.
In some cases, these anti-Muslim narratives have veered into calls for new ‘crusades’ and apocalyptic language. A picture of the cathedral in flames in a far-right Telegram channel came with the caption: “They will take from you everything: Your culture. Your history. Your existence.”
More worrying is the fact that, far from being confined to…