France: Brigitte Macron, the new victim of hoaxes | International

“No, Brigitte Macron is not a man.” The headline of a French national newspaper sums up well the latest dilemma of the French presidential campaign and the almost Trumpist overtones that it is taking: a rumor that affirms that the French first lady was born a man, emerged from small groups conspiracy linked to the extreme right, anti-synchronist websites and the anti-vaccine movement begins to spread so much through social networks that serious media nationals feel obliged to deny clearly false information that, in this way, paradoxically obtains more dissemination. To such an extent that the wife of President Emmanuel Macron, the true target of this entire campaign of fake news, has filed a complaint in court.

The story, itself, is so ridiculous that it had gone largely unnoticed when it began to emerge, at the end of September: Brigitte Macron would be a transsexual woman who would have been born under the name Jean-Michel Trogneux and only years later was sex changed and name. Behind the hoax is Natacha Rey, a woman linked to anti-Semitic and anti-vaccine conspiracy circles, who published her “investigations” in a far-right serial, Facts and Documents. It began to spread on social media after an antimachronist Twitter account, Macronie’s Journal, will relaunch it on November 7 with the hashtag #JeanMichelTrogneux, according to the newspaper Release.

But the real impetus was provided by a four-hour interview that Rey gave to a self-proclaimed anti-machronist and anti-vaccine medium, Amandine Roy, on December 10, and which according to the French press was viewed almost half a million times before the YouTube platform. withdraw. Shortly after, the #JeanMichelTrogneux hashtag was gaining strength on social media, retweeted by, among others, the far-right ideologue and several times condemned for anti-Semitism Alain Soral, as well as the controversial comedian Dieudonné, as well as by several accounts from yellow vests and anti-vaccine groups, according to the BFMTV network.

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By the middle of the month, there were tens of thousands of tweets and for several days it was one of the most talked about topics on the social network in France. It was at that moment that Brigitte Macron decided to file a lawsuit, while practically all the national media echoed the story, even if it was to deny it or warn of the danger that conspiracy theories could infect the French presidential campaign as they did with the American. Since then, the international press has also taken up the story, thus helping to spread it even more.

This process poses a dilemma for Belgian historian and conspiracy theorist Marie Peltier. “There is no simple answer, there are many situations in which the media feed, in some way, these types of theories, even if they do not do so with malicious intent,” says the author of The era of conspiracy, the disease of a fractured society (The era of conspiracy theories, the disease of a fractured society). “Conspiracy theories are the fabrication of a story, and if the media participates in the fabrication of a counter-story, they risk feeding that beast. But it is also true that the conspiracy imaginary so permeates our society that it is not an issue that we can avoid ”, he analyzes.

The phenomen is not new. Michelle Obama was already the victim of a similar theory during the term of her husband Barack Obama (2009-2017), the first black president of the United States. In fact, as the director of the observatory against conspiracies Conspiracy Watch, Rudy Reichstadt, recalls in the magazine Maverick, the scheme of the French hoax seems a carbon copy of the American one: before the American Alex Jones launched the transphobic hoax against Michelle Obama in 2014, Jerome Corsi, of the extreme right, “had prepared the ground two years earlier by suggesting that Barack Obama was gay and kept it a secret ”. Also in France, on the eve of the 2017 elections, the hoax was launched that Emmanuel Macron was gay and that his marriage to Brigitte, 24 years his senior, was a mere facade.

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Potential danger

The problem is that behind many of these hoaxes, which may seem laughable, there is a potential danger, as demonstrated earlier this year by the assault on the Capitol in Washington promoted by followers of conspiracy theories, encouraged from the White House by Donald Trump, convinced that Democrat Joe Biden had stolen the election. Already in 2016 another violent incident occurred, the so-called PizzaGate, when a man, convinced of a theory that claimed that the then Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, was in charge of a pedophile network that was managed from a Washington pizzeria, broke in armed in the restaurant.

In France, last October, Rémy Daillet-Wiedermann, a conspiranoic who became famous in the spring for organizing the kidnapping of a girl whose mother, also an adept of conspiracy theories, had lost her power, was accused of leading a clandestine organization that planned “coup projects and other violent actions ”. He remains in preventive detention awaiting trial.

For Peltier, this move to violent action was just a matter of time. However, he points out, the assailants from the Capitol or Daillet are nothing more than a “symptom.” “The real mistake is not measuring well the global nature of this political problem,” he warns. “Conspiracyism is very dangerous for the good of society, and I think it is a front-line political danger, it can be a strong threat in the French presidential elections.”

How to combat these hoaxes? In 2018, Macron promoted an anti law “fake news” which seeks to stop the dissemination of “deliberately false information” during the three months prior to an election. But the “disease” of conspiracies is not cured by law alone, it requires an alternative (and attractive) story, says Peltier.

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“We come out of a twentieth century where the great ideologies have been broken, we have come out of the religious and also of everything that structured us as a society after the Second World War, the story of ‘never again’, of antifascism. We are in a time where, especially the younger generation, needs to see the world in some way, to tell what happens to them, especially after the pandemic. And there, conspiracy theories, whatever is said about them, offer a story, point out culprits, heroes, pretend to see behind the scenes of history, and that is very seductive, so to fight against that You also have to propose some kind of story, narrative, ”explains Peltier.

But “it is as if the democratic or progressive field, let’s call it what we want, is all the time in reactive mode instead of proposing a counter-discourse, it is not capable of offering a vision capable of federating people and that can excite”, he laments. “That is the real task, which is political and does not concern only politicians or journalists, but also citizens, it concerns us all. That is where we are failing not only in France, in general in Europe ”.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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