Preface: This article will not be linking to any of the articles or videos that call the shooting a hoax or use the shooting to further a xenophobic agenda.
When any tragedy occurs, humans tend to show the best of themselves.
In response to the Quebec Mosque shooting, vigils were held across Canada in memory of the six men who were shot while praying. Over $200,000 was raised in a GoFundMe campaign for the victims' families and politicians of every stripe denounced the attack. However, while most of the world was in shock, some set to work discrediting the shooting as a hoax or actively using it to further a xenophobic agenda.
Simply put, a truther movement surrounding the Quebec shooting has started.
While there is still much we don't know about the attack we're starting to get a picture of what happened. According to police, Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old Quebec man, walked into the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec and fired into a crowd, killing six men. We know he called police and surrendered later in the evening. Bissonnette has been described by people who knew him as a far-right online troll, but, at the moment, the motive behind the shooting is still unknown. We likely won't know the full story until the trial but every day a clearer picture is painted of what happened.
During the beginning of the news coverage, scarce bits of information were released rapidly without much time or opportunity for confirmation. It was difficult to tell what was true and both left and right wing outlets were forced to correct some early reports of a second shooter and other likewise information—much of which has since been debunked. We know that a man named Mohamed Belkhadir was arrested at the scene, and was released twelve hours later as a witness. Belkhadir described what happened to him that night to the Toronto Star. For some though, those facts aren't enough.
The two most prevalent media outlets pushing truther narratives, either explicitly or implicitly, are the usual suspects: InfoWars and Canada's Rebel Media (think a b-rate Breitbart). Apart from these outlets, many other independently produced videos have already been published to YouTube "debunking" the shooting and thousands of misleading words have been written in blog posts. The Trump administration also used the shooting to justify its ban on people from seven majority Muslim countries from entering the US.
Lenny Pozner, who lost his son in the Sandy Hook shooting and founded Honr, an anti-hoaxer organization, said that he's not surprised a truther movement was created around the event.
"It's a social movement, all of this, the patterns are the same. Any mass casualty event is labeled a hoax, any errors in news reporting is immediately used as evidence as a hoax," Pozner told VICE.
"The way they're motivating [their base] is they're agitating them with anxiety. The term 'fear porn' has been used to describe some of these YouTube channels. That's what they do, they instill fear in people… they generate anxiety and draw people in."
The godfather of modern-day conspiracy theories, Alex Jones, had Matt Bracken, a former Navy Seal and "terror expert," on his show Tuesday. Together the two discussed how the Quebec attack is a "classic profile of a false flag." They say the reason it was carried out was to hurt Trump or to incite riots over the Muslim ban.
"There is some Dr. Raul X out there that's organizing these," Bracken told Jones. "It won't be the last, believe me, it won't be the last."
Jones adamantly agreed with Bracken and said that the false flag operation was botched because Bissonnette wasn't killed.
"It would legitimize the 'oh look, Trump supporter goes and does this' but he lived, the dumb mind-controlled or easily influenced idiot lived, you can see it now," said Jones. "Matt you're absolutely right, they absolutely had the whole thing set up."
The two also focused upon Mohamed Belkhadir, who they believed to be involved saying that if you were going to do a false flag on a mosque you would do it with a Muslim. They also quickly discussed Belkhadir radicalizing Bissonnette as an Islamic terrorist. Jones and Bracken ended their conversation by saying it's likely Bissonnette will be killed in prison and the murder will be made to look like a suicide—then Jones, as he often does, took to hocking his wellness products to his listeners.
Pozner, a former believer in conspiracies, called Jones one of the leaders in the "mass delusion social movement."
"Alex Jones is obviously charismatic, he's a leader and for something like a social movement you need somebody like that. It's almost like a cult, there is a cult behaviour to it, they have some general rules to their belief system. And it's grown, this social movement has really expanded."
It's not just Alex Jones though. Alfred Webre, a lawyer and conspiracy theorist, said on Press TV (Iran's state-owned TV network) that Bissonnette "fits all of the facts of a CIA patsy in this case." Webre went on to say during the live interview that because Bissonnette is a twin and his father is in the military, he "fits all the profiles of MK Ultra."
Several other videos and blog posts echoed Webre's belief.
The Rebel Media, much like InfoWars, seized on the idea that Belkhadir had more to do with the crime than simply being a witness. Even before Belkhadir's named was announced, they released a video implying Muslims from another mosque may be responsible for the attack. When that was debunked they carried on a similar narrative.
In a video published to YouTube, Faith Goldy, the host, sows doubt about the official story under the guise of "asking the difficult questions." She focuses on the fact that several witnesses heard the shooter yell "Allahu Akbar" during the attack. Before going into any information on Alexandre Bissonnette, Goldy speaks at length regarding Mohamed Belkhadir and implies he may have more to do with the mass murder than most believe.
She also raises questions about the motives of the police saying of the CCTV camera outside the mosque, "when did police review the footage and why did it take them more than 12 hours to determine that Bissonnette was their sole suspect?"
Several blog posts follow Goldy's logic regarding the CCTV footage to the extreme and accuse the Quebec police of covering up an Israeli Mossad attack. Pozner said it's not that difficult for the conspiracy minded to build upon the initial ideas with further "proof."
"You can make a YouTube video using your cell phone about any conspiracy theory in two minutes and it's online for the entire population of the world," Pozner said.
"If you have a collective of all the village idiots in the world collaborating together at the speed of light with their crazy ideas and developing them, you'll get this alternative reality social movement. We're in the middle of that right now and nobody knows what is true anymore and they're questioning the mainstream media."
In the Rebel Media video, Goldy cherry picks facts and ignores the journalists who spoke to people who knew Bissonnette and described him as a far right troll, rather she implies they are getting this information from "Facebook likes."
"The mainstream media couldn't be bothered to ask the tough questions, quickly obsessed with the new narrative based on a few likes on [his] Facebook page," she says in the video.
Goldy then goes on to decry the fact that news outlets were using up to date information. She speaks of Bissonnette as a "polite and introverted individual from a good family" who wasn't violent and then plays a video of his ALS ice bucket challenge.
The video has over 60,000 views and has been shared wildly among many on the alt-right. In the most recent video, Goldy posits five questions to the audience and, again, spends a significant amount of time focusing on Belkhadir and asks "why is Justin Trudeau micromanaging this situation?"
The YouTube comment section on the videos are full of people calling the attack a false flag or "Muslim on Muslim violence." While the majority of the videos and blog posts present different theories, they all imply that a cover up may be or certainly is occurring—something that, according to Pozner, is par for the course.
"Eventually the narrative gets more crystallized and gets repeated. Now there are many different narratives about how it is a hoax and it's still evolving," said Pozner. "Hoaxer narratives are usually very elementary and don't get very complex."
Traditional logic would dictate that we ignore these people, that we don't "feed the trolls." However, Pozner said these traditional tactics haven't been working and the "mass delusion movement" is growing. Furthermore, they're not benign. Pozner routinely receives death threats and takes care not to have any information on how to find him on social media. It's likely these hoaxers could come after Belkhadir with the same intensity.
"These online ideas cross over into the real world, there was an event where someone travelled to a pizzeria with a weapon to investigate a child sex ring. That's a crossover from the bizarre fiction that exists to the real world," said Pozner. "The internet has motivated people to action in the real world, it doesn't completely remain online."
Pozner said he believes the best way to counter the fake and manipulative information is to take it head-on. Not to let it fester in a corner of Reddit, YouTube or Facebook.
"The way to balance out hate speech is through counter speech, that's what works through the framework of freedom of speech in society," he said. "If you're going to be silent to hate speech then the only thing that remains is hate speech."
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