As a conflagration spread through the ancient timbers of Notre Dame Cathedral’s attic on Monday, a parallel fire was spreading on social media. This one was willfully set, a series of conspiracy theories neatly slotted into preexisting cultural biases. And soon enough, willing believers were aflame with hate.
The conspiracy theorizing began almost as soon as the blaze did, right when people saw the shocking, transfixing video of the cathedral’s spire toppling. While French authorities began to assert almost immediately that the fire was apparently accidental, the brief gap between the startling images’ generation and their explication was enough for far-right figures to exploit with their own sinister insinuations. Their prevailing view was nearly identical and, apparently, completely false: that the fire was deliberate and most probably set by Muslims.
Conservative gadflies on social media were among the first to leap to dark conclusions about the blaze, even as it raged: Matt Walsh, a conservative blogger who identifies himself as a “theocratic fascist” in his Twitter bio, wrote, “I don’t understand how a fire of this magnitude could happen accidentally,” accumulating nearly 9,000 likes. Infowars, a conspiracy-oriented outlet helmed by Alex Jones, immediately publicized unverified rumors claiming the fire had been “deliberately started” and linking the blaze to “anti-Christian attacks.” Katie Hopkins, a racist British provocateur, was far more explicit, claiming that “Jewish and Christian Parisians” are being “hunted out of the city by Islamists, fleeing in their thousands,” and affixing the hashtag #NotreDame. [Continue reading…]