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Breitbart News last Tuesday wrote a report that stated a mob of more than 1,000 set fire to a historic church in Dortmund, Germany while chanting “Allahu Akbar” during a New Year’s Eve celebration.
In the Breitbart story, author Virginia Hale wrote a “large number of young men from North Africa” aggressively began throwing fireworks into crowds of revelers. After police asked them to stop, the mob began tossing them toward officers. Eventually, the fireworks set fire to the roof of St. Reinold’s, Germany’s oldest church. That article was shared more than 16,000 times on Facebook and inspired more than 4,000 comments.
But as the Guardian reported Saturday morning, police said there were no “extraordinary or spectacular” incidents that occurred on New Year’s Eve. Ruhr Nachrichten, the local newspaper, also said that its reporting, which was aggregated by Breitbart, had been distorted and combined with other unrelated incidents to produce “fake news, hate, and propaganda.”
Fireworks apparently did start a fire. But the German paper reported that the flames only appeared on the netting that was covering church scaffolding, and it was extinguished in 12 minutes without causing any damage. St. Reinold’s also is not Germany’s oldest church. The police said the night was “rather average to quiet.”
“We shook our heads in disbelief when we saw how this operation was politicized” by Breitbart, Dortmund police spokesman Gunnar Wortmann told the Washington Post.
Said Eva Kühne-Hörmann, the justice minister of the German state of Hesse, “The danger is that these stories spread with incredible speed and take on lives of their own.”
Breitbart did not comment to the Guardian, and it didn’t respond to a Daily Dot message.
Josh Katzowitz is a staff writer at the Daily Dot specializing in YouTube and boxing. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. A longtime sports writer, he's covered the NFL for CBSSports.com and boxing for Forbes. His work has been noted twice in the Best American Sports Writing book series.