The right-wing reaction to the devastating fire in the historic Notre Dame cathedral is an excellent case study in how fringe views make their way to the mainstream, but it also demonstrates how each facet of the right preys upon and produces the same emotional response in their audience—fear. (More specifically, fear of being eliminated or replaced with an “other.”)
Glenn Beck, who’s recently recovered from his brief bout of #NeverTrump sanity, seemed itching to break out the chalkboard during a discussion of the Notre Dame fire on his internet streaming channel The Blaze.
Glenn Beck speculates on the Notre Dame fire: "If this was started by Islamists, I don't think you'll find out about it." pic.twitter.com/Yvq5iRdUCw— Jason Campbell (@JasonSCampbell) April 16, 2019
“If this was started by Islamists, I don’t think you’ll find out about it,” Beck somberly yet wildly speculated based on absolutely zero information. But even Beck’s leap to cast what appears to be a tragic accident in terms of an imagined clash of civilizations was somewhat late to the fear-mongering game.
Right-wing Twitter trolls, conspiracy theorists, and pundits had their paranoid hate machines cranked up to 11 scarcely before Notre Dame’s spire collapsed. The reactions on the right illustrates how the out-and-out right-wing hate-mongers mingle with the more mainstream “just asking questions” crowd to produce a poisonous stew of bigotry.
Conservative writer Matt Walsh was simply gobsmacked that an 800-year-old church made of wood might be flammable, suggesting arson might be in play. Robert Spencer, who runs a “jihad watch” website, posted and tweeted an unrelated story about a years-old plot to blow up gas canisters near Notre Dame by a Muslim woman.
I don’t understand how a fire of this magnitude could happen accidentally— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) April 15, 2019
Notre Dame fire hasn't even been extinguished yet and the right is already trying to blame it on Muslims, despite it being started by accident during repair work pic.twitter.com/X5d4eiPOvd— jordan (@JordanUhl) April 15, 2019
Meanwhile, a fake CNN account with “parody” in the bio to elide Twitter’s rules against spreading misinformation tweeted a real CNN screenshot with a claim that the fire was started by terrorists.
A fake Fox News “parody” account followed suit, bringing Muslim Rep. Ilhan Omar—who has received death threats after being falsely smeared by the right—into the story with a fake quote.
And of course the QAnon crowd had their own batsh*t theories, accusing Michelle Obama of being involved with the fire.
This is the stuff of nightmares, and any history worth reading will tell you that dangerous upheavals and murderous fascism are born out of baseless conspiracy theories that become weaponized and unstoppable. https://t.co/YYxlLSavJM— Jared Yates Sexton (@JYSexton) April 16, 2019
Ben Shapiro, who’s considered more mainstream and gripes when he’s labeled alt-right, was still only able to view the incident through the same lens as alt-right troll Mike Cernovich—a loss for “the West” and “Judeo-Christian heritage.”
The West has fallen.https://t.co/bhfWORTqGw— Mike Cernovich (@Cernovich) April 15, 2019
It is. And that is why it is a central monument to Western civilization, which was built on the Judeo-Christian heritage. https://t.co/cS9oFzNz1P— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) April 15, 2019
The message they’re all sending—that “Western Civilization” is being threatened by Muslims—is painfully clear. But just in case there’s any doubt, Neo-Nazi white nationalist Richard Spencer ditched the coy dogwhistles and spelled it out.
What an interesting point of view, different from my own. Perhaps and exchange of ideas would build a bridge between us. Perhaps we’ll BOTH learn something? This seems like a worthy endeavor! pic.twitter.com/Ajh5nOB0U2— Paul F. Tompkins (@PFTompkins) April 16, 2019
You can see how even a casual consumer of right-wing media would be left with the fearful feeling that the “Western” way of life is under attack or slipping away, setting the predicate for something to be done to stop it. All of these right-wing media personalities take different paths to get there, but that’s where they end up. And that, as Ben Shapiro likes to say, is how we got Trump.