the words can poison the minds, and, depending on stories, end up killing is a historical evidence. The most recent case has occurred in France. A man convinced that the fire of Notre Dame was the work of muslims tried on Monday, setting fire to the mosque of Bayonne, in the French Basque Country, and shot two faithful.
The attacker —Claude Sinké, a an ex military man of 84 years with mental health problems and excandidato to a local election by the party of the extreme-right National Front— alluded to justify the attack to a conspiracy theory that circulated in the hours and days after the accidental fire in the cathedral of Paris. The injured are out of danger.
The attack of Bayonne poses for a textbook case on how a conspiracy theory, without any real foundation, but nurtured in the social networks and in the media by leading politicians, can end up triggering a tragedy. The researchers ruled out soon the thesis that the fire of Notre Dame, the 15th of April, was caused, but from the first minute the idea that it could be an attack by islamist settled in the circles of the extreme right.
“Some sources speak of two sources of the fire in Notre Dame, ( … ). If this information is confirmed, the thesis of the accident, forward from the beginning almost as a certainty by many means but no one knows anything, would be to take”, he wrote in the social networks, on the night of the fire, Jean Messiha, leader of the Rassemblement National, heir of the National Front. Three days later, the leader of the right pro-sovereignty Nicolas Dupont-Aignan asked for an independent investigation. “The power hides something,” he said.
The ideologue French that inspires the supremacismo white Pizza-gate: the false news the armed man
None of these politicians mentioned in their statements the hypothesis islamist, and the act of Sinké can not be explained only by the theory of conspiracy on Notre Dame. But it would not be the first time that a person decides to take justice into their own hand on the basis of a falsehood.
A recent case is the so-called Pizza-gate in the fall of 2016: the rumor far-fetched, according to which a pizza restaurant in Washington frequented by families from the neighborhood was actually the lid of a network of trafficking of minors was involved, Hillary Clinton, a rival of Donald Trump in the presidential elections of the united States that year. A man who thought to walk the letter in the word presented at the pizzeria, armed with an assault rifle and got to shoot several times, without there being any unfortunate victims.
The episode was a warning about what happens when someone decides to take the practical ground of the conspiracy theories. It is not new. “Historically, conspiracy theories have been linked to violent behavior at least since the Middle Ages,” write psychologists Pia Lamberty and David Leiser in a study on the links between these theories and the violence.
Not every conspiracy theory is what lead to the violence; the majority, in fact, are innocuous. “The conspiracionismo is very expanded among the population. More than half of the population believes in one or another conspiracy theory. It would be strange that all these people were violent,” says Sebastian Dieguez, a researcher in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) and author of the book Total bullshit! Au coeur of the post-vérité. But he adds that, “in some cases”, observed “a certain disposition to the justification of violence,” because “we no longer believe in the methods or democratic virtues: it is believed that the game is souped-up, which hides from us the things that dominate us”. “And then,” he concludes, “violence is justified”.
Cases like the Pizza-gate or the Bayonne —people feel isolated, perhaps fragile and easily influenced— “raise an interesting question,” says Dieguez. “Many people suspected that the fire of Notre Dame was not an accident, but it was only a posture of subversive, which was to be presented as someone that is not allowed to be used by the authorities. But it is already. These don’t do anything. The proof of that is a posture more than a belief is that so few people try to act and go beyond.”
The list of conspiracy violent can include the man who in 2011 shot and killed six people and wounded a congresswoman in Tucson (Arizona), and that he believed that the attacks of 11 September 2001 were a compló government. Or terrorists that, in march and August 2019 respectively, carried out the killings of Christchurch (New Zealand) or El Paso (Texas). Both were inspired by the theory racist of the great substitution, according to which the native-born population, white is being replaced by a foreign population, or of another religion.
“A most important phenomenon are the multiple terrorist groups with conspiracy theories included in their beliefs foundational”, says in an email to journalist Jonathan Kay, who investigated the conspiracionismo american in the book Among the Truthers. And he mentions the example of the founding charter of Hamas, which cites as a source of authority, the Protocols of the elders of Zion, a fake text conspiracy that has supported a good part of the anti-semitism of the TWENTIETH century.
“If we look at the radicalized groups, there conspiracionismo abounds”, says Dieguez. “It’s like an engine that allows you to join the group, justify their existence and their actions, their method of violence. The conspiracy theory provides both a justification and a motivation to act in a manner not democratic”.