Grenfell Tower: Rumours, Rhetoric, and Conspiracy Theories

Below, I note various examples of rumour-mongering and opportunistic rhetoric in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster in London.

“Children sent home from school for not having uniforms”

The Daily Mail published – and then deleted – the claim that children who had survived the inferno had the next day been “turned away from school” for not having their school uniforms. The story, by a young journalist and a trainee, did not identify the school, and it was based on a Facebook post by someone who said she had heard the detail from a friend (unnamed) who had heard it from a childminder (unnamed).

In itself, the story is not very significant, but it may have provoked some misplaced anger, and it shows how in the scramble for a unique angle on a big story quality control can be compromised.

“Death toll suppressed by D-Notice”

The left-wing website The SKWAWKBOX justly received opprobrium and mockery when it claimed that the true death toll was being suppressed by a “D-Notice”, an outdated term for a DSMA-Notice (Defence and Security Media Advisory Notice).

There is a common misconception that such notices allow the government to censor the media, and this has been exploited by conspiracy theorists over the years (in particular, it has claimed that D-Notices are used to protect VIP paedophiles from exposure). However, as the full name implies, a DSMA notice is purely advisory, and such a notice would not be deployed in relation to a event such as the Grenfell fire.

“Muslims should be blamed”

Perhaps inevitably, there was early speculation that the fire had been a terror attack, and readers at right-wing conspiracy websites such as WND have posted numerous comments blaming Muslims and suggesting a cover-up. On 17 June, the Daily Express noted a fire at tower-block in Shadwell, and drew attention to a Tweet from someone with 173 followers (account now deleted) which suggested that fires were occurring “in muslim populated areas”. This was then picked up by Infowars as “Londoners suspicious after 3 consecutive fires in heavily Muslim neighborhoods”.

Meanwhile, Alex Jones’s man in the UK, Paul Joseph Watson, selected a few random Tweets as proof that Muslims as a whole were “celebrating” the disaster. He also drew attention to a video of the fire in which “a man is even heard… say ‘Allah Akbar’ [sic] – the refrain commonly shouted by Muslims during terror attacks – as victims are still trapped inside the building.” In fact, of course, the phrase “Allahu Akbar” is used in many situations, and the context here was certainly alarm and distress.

“Zionists should be blamed”

The Jewish Chronicle notes that the tragedy was referred to during the pro-Hezbollah Al-Quds day march in London last weekend. A speaker said that “Some of the biggest supporters of the Conservative Party are Zionists. They are responsible for the murder of the people in Grenfell.” Thus the negligence that caused the blaze is expressed through inflammatory language (“murder”), and “Zionism” is brought into it in a way that is gratuitous, opportunistic, and barely coherent.

“Authorities stopped people from helping, in order to ‘kill more people'”*

The most unpleasant and irresponsible comment has come from Haitham al-Haddad, a notorious Islamist. In a video, he has claimed that “a brother” has “confirmed” to him that

Most of the people who were in that building, they were Muslims. He said “…Police and the authorities were stopping the people!” He said “Shall we expect that it was intended to stop people from helping in order to kill more people in there? Was this intended or not?” Many questions have to be answered.

This is not just a vile slur against those who attempted to rescue the residents of the tower block – given the recent Islamist terror attacks in London, it verges on incitement.

UPDATE: One I missed on the right claims that the man whose fridge started the fire, acted either suspiciously or irresponsibly, apparently packing his things before alerting a neighbour to the blaze. But if he were up to no good why would he have alerted anyone? The narrative here is uncertain: we now know that firefighters believed that they had successfully extinguished the fridge fire (perhaps caused by a power surge) before it was realised that the external cladding was also ablaze – he probably did his packing based on a false belief that the matter was under control.

David Vance demands to know whether the fire was “started by an illegal immigrant who has subsequently fled”, and he suggests that possibility this is being “casually ignored”. However, although media reports describe the man as a minicab driver from Ethiopia, there is no evidence that he was working illegally, and there is no reason to suppose that he “started” the fire.

UPDATE 2: The conspiracy theorist Michael Shrimpton has claimed that the fire occurred because the fridge was being used to store explosives as part of an “ISIS bomb-making factory”. Shrimpton was given airtime by Richie Allen to expound his views, but not even Allen – who uses his radio show to promote conspiracy theories – was quite convinced.

[*Amended]

2 Responses

  1. Good article: I do not myself have much time for conspiracy theories. Is Mrs May for example a secret ally, and even an agent for, Jeremy Corbyn? And then there are the Jews and the Jesuits. Yes: we need not go into that.

    We must respect the people who have these views, but not necessarily the views themselves; that is the truly liberal position. Neither the Government nor Ofsted seem to know the difference.

    I think that this site needs a few more individuals posting.

  2. You missed the one about the Ethiopian keeping bombs in his fridge. That’s been a suggestion from several twitter accounts – he was a terrorist who packed his bags before unaccountably calling the brigade in to view his handiwork.

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