“No, Brigitte Macron is not a man.” The headline of a French national newspaper aptly sums up the latest dilemma of the French presidential campaign and the almost Trumpist connotations it takes: a rumor that the French first lady was born male, emerged from small groups conspiracy linked to the far right, anti-synchronist websites and the anti-vaccine movement are starting to spread so much through social media that serious media nationals feel obliged to deny manifestly false information which, in this way, paradoxically obtains more circulation. So much so that the wife of President Emmanuel Macron, the real target of this entire campaign of fake news, filed a complaint with the courts.
The story, in itself, is so ridiculous that it went 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 of Jean-Michel Trogneux and years later the sex changed and the 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 soap opera, Facts and documents. It began to spread on social networks after an anti-machronist Twitter account, Macronie’s Journal, will relaunch it on November 7 with the label #JeanMichelTrogneux, according to the newspaper To free.
But the real impetus was given by a four-hour interview Rey gave to self-proclaimed anti-machronist and anti-vaccination medium, Amandine Roy, on December 10, and which according to the French press has been seen nearly a half -million times. before the YouTube platform publishes it. remove. Shortly after, the label #JeanMichelTrogneux was gaining strength on social networks, retweeted, among others, by the far-right ideologue and several times condemned for anti-Semitism Alain Soral, as well as by the controversial actor Dieudonné, as well as by several testimonies from yellow vests and anti-vaccine groups, according to the BFMTV network.
In the middle of the month, there were tens of thousands of tweets and for several days it was one of the most discussed topics on the social network in France. This is when Brigitte Macron decides to take legal action, while practically all the national media echo the story, even if it is to deny it or warn against it. 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 hold of the story, helping to disseminate 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, in a way, feeds these types of theories, even if they do not do it with malicious intent,” explains 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 making of a story, and if the media are involved in the making of a counter-story, they risk feeding this beast. But it is also true that the imaginary conspiracy permeates our society so much that it is not an issue that can be avoided, ”he analyzes.
The phenomenon is not new. Michelle Obama had already been the victim of a similar theory during the tenure of her husband Barack Obama (2009-2017), the first black president of the United States. Indeed, as the director of the observatory against conspiracies Conspiracy Watch, Rudy Reichstadt, recalls in the magazine Maverick, the stratagem 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, Jérôme Corsi, of the extreme right, “had prepared the ground two years earlier in 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 only a facade.
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The problem is that behind many of these seemingly laughable hoaxes, there is a potential danger, as demonstrated earlier this year by the assault on Capitol Hill in Washington promoted by supporters of conspiracy theories. , encouraged from the White House by Donald Trump, convinced that Democrat Joe Biden had stolen the elections. Already in 2016, another violent incident occurred, the so-called PizzaGate, when a man, convinced of a theory that then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was the head of a network pedophile run from a Washington pizzeria, armed stormed into the restaurant.
In France, last October, Rémy Daillet-Wiedermann, a conspirator who became famous in the spring for having organized the kidnapping of a girl whose mother, also a follower of conspiracy theories, had lost her power, was accused of leading an underground organization which was preparing “coup d’etat plans and other actions violent ”. He remains in preventive detention pending trial.
For Peltier, this move to violent action was only a matter of time. However, he specifies, the attackers of the Capitol or the Daillet are only a “symptom”. “The real mistake is not to properly appreciate the global nature of this political problem,” he warns. “The plot 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 fight against these hoaxes? In 2018, Macron promoted an anti-fake news law that aims to stop the dissemination of “deliberately false information” in the three months leading up to an election. But the “disease” of conspiracies is not cured by law alone, but requires an alternate (and compelling) story, Peltier explains.
“We are coming out of a twentieth century where great ideologies have been shattered, we have left religion and also everything that structured us as a society after World War II, the story of ‘never again’, of anti-fascism. We are in a time when, especially the younger generation, need to see the world in one way or another, to say what is happening to them, especially after the pandemic. And there, the conspiracy theories, whatever we may say, offer a story, point out culprits, heroes, pretend to see behind the scenes of the story, and it’s very attractive, so to fight against that he You also have to come up with a sort of story, a story, ”Peltier explains.
But “it’s as if the democratic or progressive field, let’s call it what we want, was all the time in reactive mode instead of proposing a counter-discourse, it is not capable of proposing a vision capable of bringing people together. and that can excite, he laments. “This is the real task, which is political and does not concern only politicians or journalists, but also citizens, it concerns us all. This is where we fail not only in France, in general in Europe ”.
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