Over the years, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has survived everything from the French Revolution to the Black Plague (which killed tens of millions of Europeans in the 1340s/1350s) to two world wars—and on Monday, April 15, Parisians were shocked to see the historic Medieval building in flames. But the blaze has been extinguished, although Notre Dame suffered extensive damage and will need to be rebuilt. According to French authorities, there is no reason to suspect foul play; the blaze appeared to be the accidental result of renovations work—not terrorism or arson. But that hasn’t stopped far-right extremists and wingnuts from floating conspiracy theories about the Notre Dame fire.
One such extremist is Glenn Beck, founder of the right-wing media company Blaze TV and former AM talk radio host. On Blaze, Beck described the fire as a French equivalent of 9/11 and speculated that the Notre Dame blaze might have been started on purpose by Islamic terrorists—despite the lack of evidence of any type of foul play.
Blaze asserted, “If this was arson, this is going to be bad. It might have just been started by a cigarette; we don’t know. But if this was started by Islamists, I don’t think you’ll find out about it, because I think it would set the entire country on fire. They’ve had killings, they’ve had mass shootings, they’ve had people running people down in the streets. The tension is very high.”
The French government, according to Beck, will not notify the public if it finds evidence of terrorism. “This is their World Trade Center moment,” Beck said on Blaze TV. “And if this was done by terrorists, I think that they will keep it quiet.”
Guest Chad Robichaux concurred with Beck, telling him, “I’m with you” and claiming that French authorities will cover up any evidence of foul play because there “would be a slaughter in the streets” in France.
Beck’s 9/11 comparison is flawed. First, there is no question that the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001 were attacks of terrorism. The Twin Towers were destroyed on purpose; the Notre Dame blaze, French authorities are saying, was an accident. Second, no one died because of the Notre Dame fire, although one firefighter suffered serious injuries—whereas on 9/11, roughly 3000 people were murdered.
When far-right French politician Philippe Karsenty was interviewed on Fox News on Monday, he speculated that the Notre Dame blaze was set on purpose and that the French government would suppress evidence of foul play. Karsenty told Fox News’ Shepard Smith, “Even if nobody died, it’s like a 9/11. It’s a French 9/11, you know?…. Of course, you will hear the story of the political correctness, which will tell you it’s probably an accident.”
But Smith, who is among the more reasonable conservatives at Fox News, shut Karsenty down—telling him, “Sir, we’re not going to speculate here of the cause of something which we don’t know…. We’re not doing that here—not now, not on my watch.”
Alex Jones’ Infowars website, notorious for promoting outlandish conspiracy theories, also floated the claim that the fire was “deliberately” set. Infowars’ “source” was an alleged Notre Dame worker. And anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller claimed that the “Notre Dame Cathedral inferno” was “intentionally set” and implied that there was an ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria) connection.
A troll Twitter account, @CNNPolitics2020, pretended to be CNN and posted, “BREAKING: CNN can now confirm the Notre Dame fire was caused by act of terrorism.” But the account had no connection whatsoever to CNN, and Twitter shut @CNNPolitics2020 down when it learned of the disinformation it was spreading about the Notre Dame blaze.