The fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, on Monday devastated the world and contributed to some surprising theories as well.
The Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire on Monday afternoon, and it burned for a long time. The tragedy became a global sensation as it was caught on live news coverage and Internet live streams around the world. The breaking news left lots of room for misinformation to spread, as journalists and amateur investigators claimed to know what was going on.
In actuality, little is known about the fire so far. French officials told The New York Times that they believe the fire was an accident, and that a full investigation is now underway. The church has been under major renovations since last year, and the construction could have contributed in some way.
That explanation is not enough for some online, however, as the narrative shifts toward conspiracy in many circles. Some influential figures and even news outlets are circulating unfounded theories that this was a targeted act of arson carried out by one group or another.
All of the below theories are false or at least disproved. Here is a look at some of the conspiracy theories that quickly took hold following the fire.
Many of the false or unproven reports that circulated on Monday began with an anonymous source cited by TIME columnist Christopher J. Hale. Hale tweeted that a worker at the cathedral had told him that the fire was set intentionally.
“A Jesuit friend in Paris who works in #NotreDame told me cathedral staff said the fire was intentionally set," he wrote. "I should not that he has zero evidence beyond what the staff said. So qualify this inan unsubstantiated rumor."
Hale deleted his tweets within minutes as they began to attract attention, but they formed the basis for speculative reports from sites like InfoWars and other conspiracy theorists in the coming hours.
The famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris is on fire, with one worker claiming that the blaze was deliberately set.April 15, 2019
InfoWars' Paul Joseph Watson shared Hale's account of the fire after he had deleted it, reaching thousands of follows who took him at his word. InfoWars has been in trouble for spreading conspiracies before, including the persistent idea that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a "false flag" carried out by the government to create an excuse to change gun laws.
Other influential Twitter users began sharing the claim from Hale's tweet, including some verified Twitter users.
Stories of recent church fires in France resurface look as Notre Dame burns https://t.co/l2zEeejhF6— Mike Cernovich (@Cernovich) April 15, 2019
Conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich was among those who spread these reports. In his livestream, Cernovich also pointed out several other recent instances of small church vandalism in Paris, drawing a correlation between them and the Notre Dame fire with no evidence.
Cernovich's speculation helped fuel convictions that there was a concerted effort to destroy church landmarks in the city.
We all know what is happening.
Ghastly beyond words. https://t.co/VSHriP8EJP— Stefan Molyneux (@StefanMolyneux) April 15, 2019
Controversial radio host Stefan Molyneux posted a tweet that many saw as a "dog whistle" in the wake of the fire. The self-proclaimed philosopher wrote: "We all know what is happening. Ghastly beyond words."
Molyneux went on to suggest that the "official story" was a "cover up," leading his hundreds of thousands of followers toward some fast and unsavory conclusions.
‘People’ are already blaming Islam for the Notre Dame fire pic.twitter.com/jl8KTchshj— Jacob Boon (@RWJBoon) April 15, 2019
The fire was still burning when the idea that it was set by Muslim extremists began to find hold online.
Thousands of tweets state without evidence that various Islamic groups were to blame, and many jumped from there to horrifying calls to action, with one person writing that Muslims "need to be exterminated en toto."
6. A fake CNN account is spreading a hoax about the cause of the fire. pic.twitter.com/4ehiUJZiFh— Jane Lytvynenko 🤦🏽♀️🤦🏽♀️🤦🏽♀️ (@JaneLytv) April 15, 2019
As the story wore on, outright hoaxes began to play out on social media, with disproven information making the rounds. Watson tweeted a fake screenshot claiming to show the people who had responded with "smiley faces" to a video of the fire, all with Arabic names.
Meanwhile, a fake CNN Twitter account found some traction reporting that the fire was officially an act of terrorism. The account convinced dozens of people before the Twitter safety team got to it.
The conspiracies bled into the remarks of French officials, one of whom began to speculate on a live interview on Fox News. Host Shepard Smith had to cut short a discussion with deputy mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine Philippe Karssenty, who speculated about the possibility of arson, calling the fire Frances's "9/11."
“So, of course, you will hear the story of the political correctness which will tell you it’s probably an accident, but I don’t think—” Karsenty said, before Smith cut in.
“Sir, sir, we’re not going to speculate of the cause of something that we don’t know,” the anchor said.
Notre Dame is burning to the ground. But don't worry, QAnon has already cracked it wide open as a deep state/Michelle Obama/Macron false flag distraction from child sacrifice and Brexit.
As if it could be anything else. pic.twitter.com/2a5a3LHJ3X— Mike Rothschild (@rothschildmd) April 15, 2019
Finally, the conspiracies all went straight to the discussion boards of QAnon, an online community of conspiracy theorists who believe in some outlandish political and social concepts.
On Monday afternoon, QAnon posters were suggesting, among other things, that Michelle Obama had helped organize the fire to distract from child sacrifices carried out by the "deep state." The theorists also blamed French President Macron, the Brexit movement and unidentified Satanic groups.
Again, at this time officials believe the fire was not set on purpose, but the cause is under a thorough investigation.