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Fake ‘Fake News’: Media Sow Division with Dishonest Attack on Breitbart’s ‘Allahu Akbar’ Church Fire Story

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The German press, together with establishment politicians, Germany’s police, and left-wing international news agencies have railed against Breitbart London’s reporting of an 1,000-strong crowd, many of whom were chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’, and firing fireworks at one of the oldest churches in Dortmund on New Year’s Eve.

The headlines — which lean on the establishment media’s new “fake news” trope — fail to reflect that reporting from some of the very same outlets now blasting Breitbart News confirmed almost every substantive fact about the Breitbart London report on the issue: there were 1,000, mostly male, mostly non-native German people gathered in the Leeds Square; there were repeated chants of “Allahu Akbar”; the ‘Free Syrian Army’ flag was flown; and there was a fire at the St. Reinold’s Church caused by the fireworks. The only correction Breitbart London is happy to make is the age of the church, which does not constitute a substantive error in our reporting.

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The “fake news” claims rely on a few points of apparent contention: the size of the mob in question, the religion of the men involved, the age of the church involved, and the size of the fire caused.

One witness of the event — Peter Bandermann from the Breitbart-critical Ruhr Nachricthen (RN) website — refused to assist Breitbart London in the reporting of the event, despite reporting it at length himself.

Long before any of the controversy surrounding this story began Breitbart London approached RN, offering to buy a licence for the pictures they had taken. Mr. Bandermann’s Ruhr Nachricthen — contrary to what most publications and journalists might do in a situation like this — refused to sell the story and its accompanying pictures to Breitbart News.

The effect of journalists refusing, on ideological grounds, to ensure stories are reported across the international press is both a sign of a partisan media, but also protects criminals, police ineffectiveness, and failing state policies. This tactic, usually reserved for state-sponsored news outlets like Russia Today or TeleSUR, are becoming more commonplace in the West, especially in Germany.

ILLEGAL FIREWORKS

One of the major points of contention raised in the “fake news” reports by AFP, the Guardian, the Independent, POLITICO, the Huffington Post, and German-language papers like Bild, Die Welt, and Deustche Welle is the size of the mob on the night in question.

In a report about police preparations for unrest they anticipated on New Year’s Eve, and which specifically mentioned the events of New Year’s Eve 2015 in Cologne, RN itself reported on December 22nd: “The police have the task, among other things, to counter the emergence of aggressive gatherings of people,” including comments about the “abstract high risk of terrorism” expected.

In 2015/2016, they claim, fireworks were shot in public in Cologne — which experienced another major incident initially played down by the police and mainstream media — and in Dortmund in areas of the city centre that prohibit the use of rocket and other pyrotechnic objects.

The police clearly failed in their attempts to stop this happening again, and are now lashing out against news organisations like Breitbart News for drawing attention to the matter.

Mr. Bandermann’s report states there were “Pyrotechnics thrown into crowds and at policemen”, describing scenes where fireworks were aimed at homeless people. According to RN, people were “seriously injured” and police described the culprits as “with and without migrant backgrounds”.

A video uploaded to the RN live blog of the night clearly shows a large mob of people recklessly releasing fireworks at buildings and each other. The video cuts to a group of men chanting “Syria” while dancing with the flag flown by the Free Syrian Army — a group noted even by the Washington Post to have had extreme levels of desertion to the Islamic State.

This, remember, is Ruhr Nachtrichten’s own reporting.

1,000 PEOPLE IN THE SQUARE

Video evidence shows almost no signs of non-participatory revellers in what was happening in Dortmund on New Year’s Eve, despite RN reporting that many in the square were “peaceful”. What counts as “peaceful” should also be called into question, given that many of the participants were not firing fireworks themselves, but rather, egging those who were doing so on.

Parallels can be drawn with a protest that took place in the United Kingdom recently, where police and media reported “peace” and “calm” despite protesters smashing up police cars and shutting down roads. Expectations, as RN reported in late December, have changed from just a few years ago, and therefore the frames of reference have been altered.

Despite video evidence from RN — edited by RN themselves — suggesting otherwise, another substantive claim against Breitbart London’s reporting on the matter is that the number of people was grossly overestimated.

Again, these claims came from the same German news outlets that are now describing our reporting as “fake news”.

The RN live blog reported: “At 11.45 pm, at least 1,000 mostly young men gathered at the square of Leeds in the center of Dortmund. At times there was risky handling of pyrotechnics. Rockets were held and fired with bare hands instead of being positioned safely on the ground. Several unknowns hurled bomber [fireworks] at policemen and fired pyrotechnics into the crowd, in which there were families with children. The police asked the crowd not to fire bombers and rockets into the crowd. Speaker announcements were ignored, however. On-call policemen followed several men, who were then arrested and searched”.

Again, this was not conjecture or “exaggeration” by Breitbart London. These are the words of the RN correspondent on the ground.

Mr. Bandermann took to RN for a Q&A to clarify his reporting from the night, where he began with describing the evening’s events as “no picnic” and explains:

“Between 18.45 and 01.30 hours, young foreign men in large and small groups traveled mostly through the city center. On the Leeds square [Dortmund] they formed a large group consisting of at least 1,000 people. Pyrotechnics were thrown into the crowds and on policemen. At the main station, an unknown person fired on a homeless man and hurt him badly. The fire brigade had to put out burning scaffolding at the St. Reinold’s Church. There were no sexual assaults like a year ago in Cologne”.

He adds, speaking of the “Allahu Akbar” shouts on the night:

“Allahu Akbar” stands for “God is great” in Islam. This statement is as normal in the Muslim faith as the “Amen” in the Church. However: terrorists abuse “Allahu Akbar” calls [during] attacks.

In reality, “Allahu Akbar” is a both a submissive statement to Allah as well as a war cry used to express the supremacy of Allah over all other gods and religions.

Contrast this with our own reporting:

At New Year’s Eve celebrations in Dortmund a mob of more than 1,000 men chanted ‘Allahu Akhbar’, launched fireworks at police, and set fire to a historic church.

Already by 7 pm a man was hospitalised with first-degree burns to his face and hands after fireworks were hurled at a group of homeless people outside the city’s main train station. More than two dozen people were injured at festivities in Dortmund, some seriously.

The events of the night were described as “quiet” by police in a statement, and as “normal” by a spokesman for the city government.

Even the N24/Welt news organisation notes, in a section entitled: “In Dortmund the scaffolding of a church burned”:

.”..1,000 ill-humored guests tried a rematch of the Cologne chaos of 2015. They fought battles with police, fireworks put the scaffolding of Reinoldikirche on fire, firefighters and rescue workers were hampered and the IS battle cry “Allahu akbar!” was chanted.”

THE FIRE AT THE CHURCH

Much of the media’s outcry over Breitbart News reports emanates from the scale of the fire at St. Reinold’s Church. Breitbart News is happy to correct one small part of its reporting of this incident. We referred to the church as “Germany’s oldest church”. In truth, while indeed an old church, this accolade belongs to the Cathedral of Trier.

But the substance of the objections to our reporting is predicated, apparently, on the scale and nature of the fire. 

No on-the-ground sources dispute the fact there was a fire on the scaffolding of the roof of the church, which is what we reported. Instead however, the objection to our report is that because the fire was “small” and was put out by the emergency services within 12 minutes, it did not merit a mention in our reporting. To not report such a thing would itself be “fake news” in my mind — failing to mention a salient point as relevant as homeless people being hurt, or policemen and women being targeted.

Again, the RN live blog states: 

The fireworks lasted 45 minutes, although the burning of pyrotechnics in the immediate vicinity of churches is forbidden. There stands St. Reinold’s Church. With a ladder, the fire brigade had to push forward from the Kleppingstraße [street] to the roof of the church. A rocket set fire to a network of scaffolding. A small fire was quickly extinguished.

And so the facts remain true: an ancient church’s roof, which scaffolding surrounded, was set alight, and without the quick thinking of the excessively deployed emergency services that night, this could have been a far worse incident. At the time we reported: 

Despite the prohibition of lighting pyrotechnics near churches, firemen had to intervene after fireworks were launched at St Reinolds, Germany’s oldest church, setting the roof alight.

Even the Bild newspaper, which attacked Breitbart’s coverage of the event, described the events of the night using the headline: “FIRE AT THE REINOLDIKIRCHE [St. Reinold’s Church]”, adding: “Shortly after midnight, some 1,000 people, including many North Africans and Syrians, had gathered in the square of Leeds”.

MUSLIM MIGRANTS RESPONSIBLE

Many of the articles attacking Breitbart News contain the word “Muslim” and “migrant”. These claims are both false and constitute a “strawman” argument on behalf of those who seek to damage the credibility of Breitbart News. 

In fact, shortly after the headline was written I asked my deputies at Breitbart London if — given what we knew from video evidence, live blogs, and police statements — the headline would be more accurate if it said “Migrant Mob” rather than “1,000-man mob”. The answer I received back was that while police sources had identified North Africans in their statements, using the word “migrant” to describe all of the people present would not be accurate. 

Despite this, outlets such as Mediaite, TeleSur, Sputnik, HuffPo, Media Matters, Deutsche Welle, the Washington Post and others decided to use words like “Muslim”, “migrant”, “Islam”, “Arab”, and “immigration” in their headlines or reporting on our story. Why? To stoke fears and division — and perhaps even to suggest that this behaviour would be somehow representative of all of the members of the aforementioned communities and backgrounds. That, to us, is the real “fake news” and “racism” and I am grateful that my journalists do not engage in that kind of scare-mongering.

THE POLICE AND POLITICAL COVER UP

Like the Rotherham rape scandal, the Hillsborough disaster, and even Cologne last year, police and politicians often collude in order to mask a true version of events that are inconvenient at best, or institutionally damning at worst. 

Much of the establishment media’s stance on the Breitbart London reporting is reliant on the following: 

“We shook our heads in ­disbelief when we saw how this operation was politicized”, said Gunnar Wortmann, a spokesman for the ­Dortmund police. 

The Washington Post added “by Breitbart” to his statement, outside of quotation marks, before burying at the bottom of their hit piece: “Police in Dortmund said that they did find the number of migrants gathered that night to be unusually high, but nevertheless described the evening as relatively calm”.

Additionally, the state’s justice minister Eva Kühne-Hörmann said that “the danger is that these stories spread with incredible speed and take on lives of their own”.

Ms. Kühne-Hörmann is a leading member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party.

Mr. Wortmann’s bosses would have been cognisant of the sacking of police chief Wolfgang Albers after last year’s attacks in Cologne, from which there have only been a handful of convictions to date — perhaps another sign of a country being unable to appropriately address criminality.

We also know that the new Berlin coalition government has — on the record — stated it would not be concerning itself with left-wing or Islamist extremism, choosing instead to focus on the “far right” in a document published just weeks after the truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market which saw the culprit escape police and cross all the way to Italy before luckily being randomly stopped.

In reality, there are few signs that the German state or its police forces have a grasp on a deteriorating crime situation in the country, underscored by statistics from the country’s own interior ministry that — as usual — saw little coverage in the international press.

Further still it is evident in contradictory reports from RN and the police that while they regarded the situation in Dortmund as “normal”, they did feel the need to deploy extra emergency services, create exclusion zones for fireworks, and indeed again, few arrests were made on the night. Video evidence (above) shows the police unable or unwilling to confront the large groups of men clearly breaking the law in the Leeds Square.

WHO TO BELIEVE?

Ultimately, this will be down to you, the readers. 

As far as we at Breitbart News are concerned, we take the utmost care to present facts. 

Many of these news outlets will no doubt be upset that it was in fact their own reporting that was used to back up the report by Breitbart London, and they are now lashing out in an attempt to distance themselves from a story which clearly damages their broader goal of fostering a mass migration, “multiculturalist” mindset. 

If the discussion comes down to tone or editorial positions (such as what “Allahu Akbar” means), it is an argument the establishment media, replete with its own long-standing biases, will struggle to win.

Raheem Kassam is the Editor in Chief of Breitbart London


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