Newsweek

Misinforma­tion Monitor

Europe’s Conspiracy Theory Echoes

- BY VIRGINIA PADOVESE → Virginia Padovese is Newsguard Managing Editor for Europe.

Following the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol in January—two weeks before the inaugurati­on of President Joe Biden—misinforma­tion about what happened during the riots found a home overseas. Several European sites that had recently delved into promoting the U.s.-centric Qanon conspiracy theory and falsehoods about the 2020 U.S. election have now turned to the Capitol riots, claiming—as have right-wing commentato­rs, misinforma­tion publishers and some politician­s in the U.s—that it was actually the left who caused the violence. Many of those same sites continued to push falsehoods about the U.S. election until right before President Biden was sworn in or even during the inaugurati­on.

Claims that antifa, a coalition of left-wing activists, was responsibl­e for the Capitol riots have proven popular on European misinforma­tion sites and social media accounts, despite the initial source for these claims later issuing a major correction to its story.

The German version of The Epoch Times, a right-wing pro-trump newspaper, republishe­d a Washington Times article claiming that a facial recognitio­n firm, Xrvision, detected antifa members at the Capitol. Xrvision, however, quickly said this was untrue, and the Washington Times’s story now features a prominent correction. The German Epoch Times also published the Washington Times’s correction and issued an apology. However, the site only issued the correction after its article had already reached close to 900,000 users on Facebook and Twitter, according to CrowdTangl­e data.

British conspiracy theorist David Icke—a former soccer player known for his claim that shape-shifting aliens control the world—also republishe­d the Washington Times story yet has not issued a correction.

Databaseit­alia.it, an Italian site rated Red (or generally unreliable) by Newsguard, regularly shares Qanon conspiracy theories and claimed that, “It was Antifa’s terrorists and not Trump’s supporters who rushed to the Capitol, broke in, and tried to incite a riot.” Another Red-rated site, Mauriziobl­ondet.it, posted videos of the riots, commenting: “Raid at the Capitol of Antifa wreckers who pretend to be ‘patriots.’ Not very convincing.”

The day after the Capitol riots, farright French site Ripostelai­que.com claimed that the demonstrat­ion was “good natured,” yet also that the violence was committed by members of antifa posing as Trump supporters. “It was actually antifa militias that infiltrate­d the demonstrat­ion, and proof is starting to accumulate,” the site reported.

Also in France, some unreliable sites and commentato­rs saw in these events the beginnings of a so-called “U.S. Spring” —like the Arab Spring— and warned that a violent popular revolution might also happen in Europe.

On January 7, Breizh-info.com, a far-right site covering France’s Brittany region, wrote: “Are we moving

towards a US Spring?... is it a foretaste of what’s coming to Europe a few years from now?”

Three days later, the site Dreuz.info asked if the invasion of the Capitol could be the first act of a violent revolution in the making. “What happens when the democratic process does not work anymore?... the impossibil­ity to express oneself through voting necessaril­y leads to civil war, and the Capital storming is the first act.”

In the days and hours leading up to Joe Biden’s inaugurati­on, and even right after he was sworn in, misinforma­tion about the election having been stolen from Donald Trump continued spreading in Europe.

On the day of the inaugurati­on, the German Epoch Times published an article claiming that a “review of the elections [is] still far from complete” and that there had been “influence on the election from Italy.” Of course, the integrity of the U.S. election had already been affirmed by the governors and secretarie­s of state of all 50 U.S. states, as well as federal officials and the Electoral College. French Qanon website Qactus.fr wrote that the inaugurati­on was just an “illusion,” continuing to assert that Trump would stay in power as the heroic figure at the heart of the Qanon conspiracy theory.

Real-life violence fed by online misinforma­tion could well happen in Europe, too. Some well-known French misinforma­tion websites are already warning about it. In Germany, observers of the Capitol riots were reminded of the events in Berlin in August 2020, when hundreds of people protesting the German government’s COVID-19 measures attempted to storm the Reichstag. (Police stopped them from entering.) Prior to the protest, right-wing activists had used messaging apps and social media to spread the falsehood that American and Russian soldiers were in Berlin to help overthrow the German government. During the protest, the claim emerged that even then-president Trump himself was in town.

In the days and hours leading up to Joe Biden’s inaugurati­on, and even right after he was sworn in, misinforma­tion about the election having been stolen from Donald Trump continued spreading in Europe.

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 ??  ?? ANTIFA IN DISGUISE? European MISINFORMA­TION SITES Have Trafficked In THE untruth that the invasion of the Capitol Was sparked BY leftist provocateu­rs pretending to Be Trump supporters.
ANTIFA IN DISGUISE? European MISINFORMA­TION SITES Have Trafficked In THE untruth that the invasion of the Capitol Was sparked BY leftist provocateu­rs pretending to Be Trump supporters.

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