Not long after a gunman in Canada shot and killed six people and wounded a dozen others praying at a Quebec City mosque Sunday night, the finger-pointing began, identifying the shooter as a Muslim extremist.
Several conservative news outlets were quick to point out the 27-year-old suspect was a Muslim from Morocco, with Fox News not only tweeting that fact, but also reporting “witnesses said at least one gunman shouted ‘Allahu akbar!'”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer in a press briefing Monday afternoon cited the massacre as validation of President Donald Trump’s executive order to ban of immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries. “It’s a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant and why the president is taking steps to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to our nation’s safety and security,” Spicer said.
Here’s the tape: pic.twitter.com/kinK8XKlXV
Jackson Proskow (@JProskowGlobal) January 30, 2017
As it turned out, however, the alleged gunman was not a Muslim from Morocco but rather French-Canadian university student Alexandre Bissonnette, who boasted on Facebook to be a fan of Trump and far-right French politician Marine Le Pen, and whose friends and online acquaintances told Canadian media he expressed anti-immigration sentiments, especially toward Muslim refugees.
Over the weekend, in response to Trump’s executive order, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would welcome refugees form Muslim-majority countries.
A Facebook post by the group “Welcome to Refugees Quebec City” said Bissonnette was “unfortunately known to several activists in Quebec City for his pro-Le Pen and anti-feminist identity positions at Universit Laval and on social networks,” according to Reuters.
“I wrote him off as a xenophobe. I didn’t even think of him as totally racist, but he was enthralled by a borderline racist nationalist movement,” Vincent Boissoneault, a fellow Laval University student, told the Globe and Mail newspaper. He said they frequently clashed over Bissonnette’s opinions about refugees and support for Le Pen and Trump.
Montreal’s La Presse newspaper, quoting a source close to the investigation, said Bissonnette did not hide his hostility toward Muslims during his interrogation by police. On Monday Trudeau told parliament, “This was a group of innocents targeted for practicing their faith. Make no mistake. This was a terrorist attack.”
Canadian authorities on Monday said Bissonnette was the sole suspect and charged him with six counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder with a restricted weapon.
In an article on its website Monday, Fox News updated the information on the suspect’s background and blamed other news outlets for its incorrect reporting.
“Reuters and the French language newspaper La Presse reported earlier that one of the suspects was of Moroccan origin, a report that was picked up by Fox News and other news outlets,” it said, adding that police later announced that the Moroccan individual was identified as a witness.
That individual, Mohamed Belkhadir, was one of 50 worshipers praying at the mosque and reportedly the person who called 911. According to reports, he was detained as a witness to the crime, police said.
Several other conservative publishers, however, either did not correct the misinformation or blasted other news outlets for failing to report the Muslim terrorist link.
While the Black community was blamed when a Black man killed police officers last summer, the tone is different when the suspect is a white, Confederate flag-waving Trump supporter.
Conservative New York publisher Pamela Geller on her Geller Report website Monday wrote the following lead paragraph to her report of the massacre, which still has yet to be corrected:
“As I predicted last night, the shooters in the Quebec mosque attack are Muslim, as is generally the case in these circumstances. The jihadis were shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ as they gunned down men worshiping at a Quebec mosque.”
Conservative website Gateway Pundit under the moniker “Alternative Facts” pointed out and scolded the news outlets it said “failed to report that the mosque shooter yelled ‘ALLAHU AKBAR.'”
It identified The Associated Press, CNN, Reuters, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, The New York Times and The Washington Post as the “mainstream media” that omitted the fact, claiming, “It apparently doesn’t help the narrative that they are trying to push especially given the timing of Trump’s ban on visitors from countries that have strong ties to terrorism.”
Gateway Pundit included screenshots of news reports from those outlets under the heading “Those That Hid The Truth,” together with screenshots of articles from “Those That Reported The Truth,” including Fox News, Drudge Report, Breitbart, CBC and RT (the English-language Russian government-funded television network).
“As for reports that someone yelled ‘Allahu akbar,’ it is perfectly natural that someone in a mosque would say that upon seeing a homicidal killer randomly shooting people, or it’s possible that the shooter said it mockingly,” according to The Intercept, which initially called out the rush to judgment. “But this is exactly why no responsible news organization, let alone the White House, should rush to depict the shooter as Muslim and of Moroccan descent when so little is known about what happened.”
The massacre was eerily similar to the Charleston, S.C., church shooting in 2015 when white nationalist Dylann Roof shot and killed nine parishioners during Bible study at the historically Black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
That incident, despite its parallels, is not considered a terrorist act. It begs the question, if the conflicting initial reports of the shooting in Quebec had not mentioned a Muslim suspect, would the White House have gone along with the same classification
Material from Reuters was used in this report.