Bigotry and Conspiracies Flourish Online After Baltimore Bridge Collapse

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Early on March 26, the Francis Scott Key Bridge, located in Baltimore, Maryland, collapsed after being struck by a cargo ship. The ship suffered a power issue and promptly issued a distress call to authorities, but was unable to adjust its course in time before the crash. As officials began releasing more information on the accident, both extremists and conspiracy theorists wasted no time in co-opting this event to spread their bigotry, including extreme racism like the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, harping against Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs, and claiming that the accident was an orchestrated attack against the United States.

Proud Boys Columbus posted an image on Telegram of Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott with the caption “Port’s closed due to AIDS.” It was also shared by the city’s state chapter, Proud Boys Ohio. The comments are seemingly a reference to Mayor Scott signing the Paris Declaration, a global effort to combat HIV and support residents affected by it, in July 2023. It’s also likely the Proud Boys, in their typical racist fashion, are aligning Mayor Scott with AIDS simply because he is Black.

The Proud Boys post a photo of Mayor Scott, captioned “Port’s closed due to AIDS” with a message saying “IYKYK,” short for “if you know, you know” below. (Source: Telegram)

The white nationalist online media network Red Ice TV posted that the cargo ship’s crew was “all Indian,” signifying what they believed to be the primary issue that caused the crash. This racist sentiment was echoed by many others, such as de facto leader of the Canadian white supremacist movement Diagolon, Jeremy Mackenzie, who said “look whos (sic) responsible for another totally avoidable disaster that can only be caused by people with a 76 IQ.” Another Canadian Telegram channel, “Punished Dissident,” likened this crash with recent safety issues with Boeing aircraft, saying “Between the DIE employees at Boeing and the parjeet captain of this ship, maybe keep it local for the foreseeable future.” Parjeet (or “jeet”) is a racist slur used against Southeast Asians.

Blackpilled, a far-right meme page on Telegram named after “pilling,” or the process of radicalizing someone into extremism, said the “Francis Scott Key Bridge disaster was brought to you by the same people dropping airplanes out of the sky,” referencing the previously-mentioned safety issues with Boeing aircraft (Boeing aircraft have not been falling out of the sky due to these issues, but components have fallen off in mid-flight in a series of recent incidents). Retards of TikTok, a page with over 24,000 subscribers, posted a video of Mayor Scott with an obscenely racist caption in an effort to delegitimize his response to the accident.

Retards of TikTok posts a video of Mayor Scott with a racist caption meant to mock the vernacular of Black people (Source: Telegram)

Within the slew of racist commentary from the far-right were allusions to the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, which falsely purports that the white population is being “replaced” by immigrants. Dries van Langenhove, a former Belgian parliamentarian and leader of the far-right youth group Schild & Vrienden, and who was recently sentenced to one year in prison for spreading “racist, hateful, Nazi and negationist speech,” posted a video of himself speaking to a crowd, captioned “The bridge collapsing in Baltimore and the Boeing planes and parts falling out of the sky remind me of a speech I recently gave about the collapse of the West.” In the video, van Langenhove said it was “Europeans that made America great,” and that “the less Christian and the less nationalistic, and more importantly the less European America becomes, the less great it will be.” He finished off his racist tirade by saying “if we let our enemies have their way… there will be nothing more left to conserve.” 

The far-right also continued their attacks against DEI programs, citing diversity as the reason the ship suffered a power failure. This campaign to advocate for the end of DEI is reflective of mainstream rhetoric pushed by organizations such as the Heritage Foundation (Read more about their authoritarian agenda, Project 2025, here). On Telegram, a neo-Nazi “Memewaffen” page posted a picture of Maryland Port Commissioner Karenthia A Barber, a Black woman, citing her experience in DEI audits and consulting as a reason for the crash, saying “she knows nothing about Ports.” One user belonging to the Telegram chat group for neo-Nazi online forum Frens Chan said that “DEI may still be a factor” in the crash, along with conspiracizing about a cyber attack.

A Frens Chan user claims that since Baltimore is full of “n*****s,” DEI may be responsible for the crash. (Source: Telegram)

Twitter was also being flooded with racist commentary, including accounts with well over 200,000 followers calling Mayor Scott a “DEI mayor,” and advising their followers “prepare accordingly” because “it’s going to get so, so much worse.” Another account tweeted a screenshot supposedly showing the shipping company’s webpage discussing their commitment to DEI, captioned “Company that owns the boat that crashed in Baltimore. Draw your own conclusions.” Stonetoss Comics, a racist and antisemitic webcomic, posted a comic blaming “foreign workers” for the crash. Trump ally Jack Posobiec posted a picture of the collapsed bridge captioned “at least your grandchildren will know you fought racism,” likely commenting on the crew being comprised of people of color. Far-right media outlet The Blaze published an article implicating the ship’s “all-Indian crew” and its management, which is “DEI-captive,” as relevant information regarding the crash.

Others on the far right alleged that this accident was an intentional attack against the United States by foreign actors. These include claims of a cyberattack and retaliations by both Ukraine and Israel. Jackson Hinkle, a MAGA Twitter influencer and recent attendee of anti-LGBTQ+ conferences in Russia, speculated that “something seems off” about the crash. Red Ice TV called the accident “very, very suspicious” while others were more direct with their allegations. Violent misogynist Andrew Tate, who has been banned across Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, claimed on Twitter that the ship was cyber-attacked by “foreign agents.” Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy theorist, endorsed this conspiracy by saying it “looks deliberate” and followed up with “WW3 has already started.” Maryland Governor Wes Moore has already clarified that authorities “haven’t seen any credible evidence of a terrorist attack.” 

Some online conspiracy theorists, thinking the Captain of the ship was Ukrainian, hypothesized that the ship crashed intentionally as retaliation for Ukraine not receiving additional U.S. aid, which is being blocked by congressional republicans, in their ongoing war with Russia. The neo-Nazi Telegram channel Alt Skull’s Charnel House, operating under the assumption that the Captain was Ukrainian, suggested that he bore “ultimate responsibility for everything that happens on the vessel.” Twitter users with large followings such as @MyLordBebo, @BGatesIsAPsycho and @ImMeme0 suggested that this apparent Captain was “upset with the aid delay,” that it is a “strange coincidence,” and that Ukrainians are “enjoying the news” of the bridge collapse since it is “punishment for not sending them more billions of our tax dollars.” Online records indicate that a Ukrainian man, who was being implicated as the Captain, only served as captain from March to July 2016.

Israel and Russia were also implicated as perpetrators of the crash. On 4chan, which is known for its virulent racism and antisemitism, users were suggesting Israel was retaliating against the United States for refusing to veto a ceasefire resolution passed by the United Nations Security Council, with one calling it a “Cohencidence.” The name Cohen originates from Hebrew.

A 4chan user insinuates Jews as conspiring to attack the United States by calling the accident a “Cohencidence.” (Source: 4chan)

Other users suggested Russia was responsible for the accident, even spreading disinformation that the FBI and NSA found that Russian hackers sabotaged the chip’s power systems “in retaliation for USA helping Ukraine in the ongoing war,” and warning of further escalation by saying “Putin seems to have lost patience and finally it seems that the gloves are off.” These claims are easily debunked, as Bill DelBagno, the FBI Special Agent in charge of the Baltimore Field Office, made it clear that “there is no specific or credible information to suggest that there are ties to terrorism in this incident.”

A 4chan user spreads disinformation about the FBI and NSA discovering that Russian hackers sabotaged the ship’s power system (Source: 4chan)

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