Patrick Coffin and the Case of the Arsonist that Wasn’t

Patrick Coffin and the Case of the Arsonist that Wasn’t April 15, 2019


To begin with, I need to state that the firefighters working to put out the fire at Notre Dame today were wearing white or off-white hats. That’s the color of the hat that the fireman depicted in the photo of the (thankfully mostly undamaged) interior at Notre Dame was wearing. I don’t own the rights to that photo, but I shared it publicly on Twitter here.

You can see that he’s wearing a badly smudged, round whitish hat that isn’t shaped exactly like the fire hats used in the United States. It reminds me more of an army helmet at this angle. Also, thanks be to God, you can see that the interior of Notre Dame is mostly intact, which is near miraculous. The stone vault held.  She can be repaired. This is a tragedy, but not as dire a we thought. I wish I could spend this entire post exalting that the cathedral is still there, but I have to talk about fire hats and loopy conspiracy theories for the moment. Please note that that French fire fighter is wearing a white or off-white round fire hat, and a tan bulky set of coveralls.

The reason I’m bringing up his outfit is that a short video was taken of a person, whom I assumed to be male due to the height, wearing some kind of bulky tan coveralls and a round shiny white helmet, walking calmly around the upper part of the facade of Notre Dame while it was burning. He walked across what I assume is a balcony and into a door, quickly but deliberately as if he was used to surveying burning buildings. You know, like a fire fighter would do.

This video was shared to a particularly embarrassing conspiracy page.

And then the apologist, podcast host and all around Catholic celebrity, Patrick Coffin, formerly of Catholic Answers Live, retweeted it claiming it “looks like a Muslim.”

“Okay, the fact that this looks like a Muslim… makes me wonder about CGI. Are we looking at an arsonist or a false flag PR effort?”

A Muslim, an arsonist, a false flag?

Is that what a Muslim looks like? A person wearing coveralls and a shiny white hat at a fire? Do you also think Muslims climb hook-and-ladders, spray things with hoses, live in firehouses and keep dalmatians? Do they visit Kindergartens and teach kids to stop, drop and roll? Well, those Muslims who work as fire fighters do, and thank you for your service. I also suppose Muslims who work as chefs wear chef shoes and Muslim surgeons wear surgical masks. But in general? As a specifically Muslim trait?

How can anyone’s first reaction to seeing a man in protective gear at the scene of a fire be to wonder whether he’s an arsonist Muslim or just a CGI false flag of a Muslim?

I understand that tempers are very high right now. We’re all sickened and traumatized by the fire at Notre Dame. It’s easy to wonder if this was an act of arson– I pray it wasn’t. I don’t think it was. What I’ve seen so far says it was likely an accident. But it’s natural to wonder.

But we have to remember that our Muslim brothers and sisters suffer from a great deal of prejudice and bigotry directed at them. They’re not treated the same way members of other religions are treated. If one day Mary Pezzulo the Catholic blogger lost her mind and committed arson, for example, no one would want to persecute Catholics because of it. They would blame some other aspect of my poor character. If an Evangelical person loses his mind and burns down an abortion clinic or the like, people don’t talk about banning Evangelical immigrants to the country, deporting the ones who are already here and doing nasty things to natural-born Evangelicals as well. But they do talk that way about anyone who practices Islam– and indeed, I’ve heard such rhetoric used about people who are nominally Muslims but not really active in their faith who commit crimes.

If you publicly allege in the absence of evidence that a person at the scene of a crime– supposing for the moment that the fire at Notre Dame was the result of a crime and not an accident– is a Muslim, at this point in history, you’re putting Muslims everywhere in danger of retaliation. For that matter, you’re also putting Sikhs and anybody who looks more or less Middle Eastern in danger as well–  even though Sikhs aren’t Muslims, not all Middle Easterners are Muslim, and not all Muslims are from the Middle East, because that’s how prejudice works. You put a whole host of innocent people in danger.

Patrick Coffin did this publicly on Twitter, where he hawks his trade as a professional Catholic and claims to represent our faith. I am a Catholic blogger (though not an apologist) and I can attest that trying to sound witty on social media is absolutely a part of our job.

The presence of a man in a fire hat in a burning building does not implicate Muslims in the fire at Notre Dame. But publicly spreading unfounded conspiracy theories that could put vulnerable people in danger, in your day job as a Catholic apologist, does make Catholics look awfully seedy.

Shame on anyone who spreads this kind of speculation. And particularly on my fellow Catholics whom Christ called to follow the Golden Rule.

(image via Pixabay) 

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