The Right Is Spreading Islamophobic Conspiracy Theories About Notre Dame

Right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck spread a conspiracy theory blaming the Notre Dame fire on "Islamists". French officials ruled out arson or terrorism.
Glenn Beck speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC – October 8, 2011 (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Glenn Beck speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC – October 8, 2011 (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

On Monday, a monumental piece of human history was tragically damaged. After a fire broke out in the spire and collapsed onto the roof, the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France burned. The two towers of the Cathedral and many of the priceless pieces of art were saved, but the main Cathedral was thoroughly damaged. French President Emmanuel Macron has said they plan to rebuild Notre Dame within 5 years.

French officials have ruled out arson and terrorism, tying it to the renovations that were ongoing. On Tuesday morning, Paris prosecutor Rémi Heitz said: “There is no indication that this was a deliberate act.” This hasn’t stopped right-wing conspiracy theories.

Given the timing of the fire and the religious significance of Notre Dame, the right wasted no time in trying to stoke Islamophobia. Conservative commentator Glenn Beck broached a conspiracy theory, with no evidence, raising the possibility “Islamists” were behind the fire.

British conservative commentator Katie Hopkins took a more… direct approach:

InfoWars, founded by Alex Jones and known for conspiracy theories ranging from claims the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax to Pizzagate, published an unsubstantiated story claiming the fire was started deliberately. Conservative blogger Matt Walsh speculated on Twitter: “I don’t understand how a fire of this magnitude could happen accidentally.”

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The theories weren’t just perpetuated by right-wing pundits, they were spread by tech platforms. While users were posting live streams of the Notre Dame fire to YouTube, their automated fact-checker was publishing facts about 9/11 alongside the streams. Another video on YouTube reportedly featured edited audio of a man yelling “Allahu Akbar” over footage of the Notre Dame fire. The video was viewed 40,000 times on YouTube before it was taken down and subsequently posted on Twitter where it got 2,000 retweets.

Elsewhere on Twitter, users spread outright fake news.

Conspiracy theories of this nature spread wildly in white nationalist circles even if there is no evidence to back them. Given the recent murder of 50 Muslims in New Zealand by a white supremacist terrorist, right-wing pundits and tech platforms should be more mindful of pushing and facilitating unfounded speculation that only further sows Islamophobia. Lives have already been lost due to rhetoric of that nature.

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News // Conservatives / Conspiracy Theories / Islamophobia / Notre Dame