Breitbart.com appears to have falsely reported that “a mob of more than 1,000 men chanted ‘Allahu Akhbar’” while attacking police and setting a church on fire during New Year’s Eve festivities in Dortmund, Germany. Breitbart is engaged in an ongoing effort to amplify anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe in order to support the rise of xenophobic, far-right political parties and movements.
Breitbart reported on January 3 that “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.” The article cites “a livewire published by the Ruhr Nachrichten.”
But according to Ruhr Nachrichten, almost nothing Breitbart reported is true. While Breitbart claimed that a mob set the church roof on fire, the reality was that while more than 1,000 people were gathered to celebrate the New Year, some set off fireworks and one firework started a small fire on the netting around the church's scaffolding; the fire was quickly extinguished. The site’s editor, Peter Bandermann, published a piece the next day explaining that foreign media outlets like Breitbart and social media users twisted the Ruhr Nachrichten report “for fake news, hatred, and propaganda.”
The German English-language news site The Local reported on January 5:
Ruhr Nachrichten pointed out how Breitbart attributed separate unconnected incidents to a larger, collective “mob” .
There was in fact a total of around 1,000 people gathered to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Leeds Square, including “large and small groups” of young, foreign men as well as families with children, according to Ruhr Nachrichten.
The original report by the local news site from that night describes how some individuals did start launching fireworks from within the crowd towards police, who told them to stop but were ignored. Broadcaster WDR reported that officers then issued orders for some people to leave and took some into custody.
While Breitbart wrote that the “mob” set the roof of Germany's oldest church on fire, Ruhr Nachrichten pointed out that this was also not accurate.
St. Reinold is not Germany's oldest church - that would be the Cathedral of Trier - and a small fire had started on some netting on scaffolding around the church, not the roof, due to one firework.
And while Breitbart states that the “fireworks were launched at” the church, there was no indication from local news outlets or from the fire services that the fire had been started intentionally.
The fire was small and lasted 12 minutes before firefighters put it out, Ruhr Nachrichten reports.
Police told local media that overall it was a quiet night.
Breitbart chairman (and incoming Trump senior counselor) Steve Bannon has deployed the website in support of far-right European political parties in service of what he calls “a center-right populist movement of really the middle class, the working men and women in the world who are just tired of being dictated to by what we call the party of Davos.” As part of that effort, Breitbart has frequently attacked Muslim communities in European nations and highlighted friction between those communities and white Europeans.
Breitbart, which already has operations in London and Jerusalem, has now announced plans to expand to France and Germany ahead of those countries’ elections. Blaming German Chancellor Angela Merkel for incidents of immigrant violence is a key part of the strategy for her far-right political opposition.