The inferno that has engulfed the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris has been seized upon by far right provocateurs to spread anti-Muslim hate and conspiracies, even as officials said they have ruled out arson as the cause.
Even before the blaze brought the centuries-old steeple and roof crashing to the earth on Monday, conspiracy-minded conservatives on Twitter began declaring the cause to be terrorism — and using the world-renowned landmark as a symbol to push western Christian rhetoric.
The comments online came as authorities in Paris ruled out any terror-related motives as the cause of the blaze, as firefighters continued to battle the fire that was expected to burn the entire church to the ground, leaving just the stone walls behind.
"If the Nortre [sic] Dame fire serves to spur the White man into action—to sieze [sic] power in his countries, in Europe, in the world—then it will have served a glorious purpose and we will one day bless this catastrophe," wrote Richard Spencer, an alt-right commentator.
As mourners gathered in Paris singing hymns, Jack Posobiec — an alt-right troll and conspiracy theorist — likened the flames to a 9/11 attack for Catholics, in spite of a lack of evidence that the blaze was set intentionally, let alone as an attack on Catholicism.
“Many Catholics are saying Notre Dame feels like 9/11 did. Of course they don't mean there is a literal comparison, but to many of us, the images of beloved icons engulfed in flames and falling draws the same visceral emotions of loss and anger,” Mr Posobiec wrote.
Paul Joseph Watson, an alt-right media personality known for his work on YouTube and with the conspiracy site InfoWars, followed suit by amplifying a tweet from French far-right troll Damien Rue, who posted a video appearing to show Facebook users with names commonly used by Muslims responding to video of the fire with laugh and smiley emojis.
“A brief summary of who is responding to the tragic Notre Dame fire with 'smiley faces' on Facebook. Appalling,” Mr Watson wrote.
The attempt to capitalise on these events by the likes of these individuals — and others on Twitter with fewer followers, but potentially massive reach — illustrates a common tactic used by far right provocateurs who use major news events to spread their messages of hate.
Platforms like Twitter have become common grounds for internet trolls to spread disinformation, and tech companies have received frequent criticism in recent years for what has been frequently viewed as lacklustre attempts to address the problem.
That perceived indifference was seen again on Monday, too, when a CNN executive noted that an imposter account for his news network had tweeted to say that CNN had confirmed the cause of the Notre Dame fire to be terrorism. Twitter, however, refused to take down the tweet.
“Get this: @Twitter says they won’t take action against this account bc it’s bio says “parody” so the account has 48-hours to comply with the parody policy. Can someone please explain to Twitter how their platform works?!,” wrote Matt Dornic, the vice president for communications and digital partnerships, wrote.