Mark Robinson said Obama was "cousins" with ISIS, falsely blamed Muslims for burning down Notre Dame

Robinson, North Carolina's lieutenant governor, frequently posted Islamophobic and homophobic content on Facebook

Published May 15, 2024 11:14AM (EDT)

North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson |  A fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson | A fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

First, you see the enraged bright chestnut flames blazing through Paris’ medieval Catholic cathedral. Then you notice the flames race to demolish the Cathédrale Notre-Dame’s tall wooden spire as grand clouds of smoke fill the air. The burning exemplar of French Gothic architecture lights up the skies while the YouTube video plays a superimposed audio clip of a man yelling “Allahu Akbar,” which is Arabic for “God is Great.” 

The video – a fake – quickly spread on social media, along with related conspiracy theories from far-right influencers like Richard Spencer and Jack Posobiec, who falsely suggested that Muslims were to blame for the fire. Also, promoting an Islamophobic spin on what investigators say was an accidental fire? North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a pro-Trump Republican who is now his party’s nominee to lead the state.

“Notre Dame was a ‘historic cathedral’ that caught fire and burned accidentally. The other suspicious fires and acts of vandalism at ‘houses of worship’ across France have no connection whatsoever to the Notre Dame fire,” Robinson wrote in an April 2019 Facebook post.

The same day, Robinson continued implying that Islam was to blame for the fire.“Based on current trends I guess Churches, Easter, ‘Easter Worshipers’ will have to be banned to prevent future attacks by Mus… I mean Militants,” he wrote.

To be clear, there is no evidence that Notre Dame was a victim of arson. Investigators suggest two possible culprits: a short circuit in the electrical system or a cigarette.

But Robinson has a long history of using his Facebook page to make inflammatory and indeed bigoted comments about news and politics, some of which has been previously reported. Just four years ago, when Robinson was running for his current position of lieutenant governor, he said he would “absolutely” like to return to a time when the 19th Amendment did not exist. 

“I absolutely want to go back to the America where women couldn’t vote,” Robinson said at a March 2020 event hosted by the Republican Women of Pitt County.

Robinson’s record of bigoted comments has given Democrats hope that they can win this cycle. Polls suggest his Democratic rival, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, currently enjoys a narrow lead in a state that went for Donald Trump in 2020 by fewer than 80,000 votes.

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While Robinson’s use of Facebook has garnered attention before, a review of his page shows numerous inflammatory comments that have not been previously reported.

For example, in an April 2016 post he appeared to be open about his distaste for religious and sexual minorities: “Who came up with the words ‘homophobic’ and ‘Islamophobic?’ I’m not afraid of Islam or men.” Robinson has drawn unfavorable parallels between LGBTQ people and Muslim people before. 

“The question is not ‘When is the last time you saw anyone but a Muslim holding a severed head and smiling,’” he wrote in a 2017 Facebook post. “The question is, when is the last time you saw a Muslim protesting against a Muslim who severed a head, or bombed a shopping mall, or ran down a group of humans with a truck, or shot up a nightclub, or burned someone alive.....”

In another, 2014 post, he wrote: “Note to all gays considering ‘coming out’; You wanna be a hero or show how brave you are? ‘Come out’ in a Muslim nation. See how that works out for you. #somebodywillgetsomehead.”

The hashtag in question certainly isn’t the 55-year-old evangelical Christian’s only foray into risque humor.  Over the years, Robinson, whose weapon of choice seems to be Facebook posts, has revealed an alarming pattern of hate and conspiracy. The first Black man to hold the office of lieutenant governor in North Carolina has left a large digital footprint filled with disinformation

In 2016, Robinson shared a meme asserting that President Barack Obama was “cousins” with the Islamic State, premised on the false claim, popular in conservative circles, that the Democrat was secretly a Muslim. The post read: “Beating these guys is gonna be tough, as long as one of their cousins is in the White House.”

In response to a comment, Robinson said he didn't stumble across the image. "I make them," he said.

Another meme Robinson posted said: “The barbarians are at the gate,” referring to ISIS. It was paired with a photo of Obama and the text: “This fool is trying to find a way to let them in.”

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Robinson frequently returned to the subject of Islam, at times using it to deflect from criticism of Trump and the Republican base.

“I've said this once and I'm saying it again; Some of you damned idiots will still be making excuses for these radical Muslims as they are cutting your empty heads off,” he wrote in a January 2017 Facebook post. In another, he posted, “The same idiots who claim ‘angry whites’ put Trump in office, are the same idiots who REFUSE to acknowledge the ANGRY RADICAL MUSLIM TERRORIST who hack off heads, blow people up, and run over people with trucks.”

Robinson’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

There are about 130,00 Muslims in North Carolina, making them a powerful voting bloc in the November election. In an almost cinematic coincidence, they will be heading to the polls just weeks before Notre Dame reopens after five years of repairs.

By Nandika Chatterjee

Nandika Chatterjee is a News Fellow at Salon. In 2022 she moved to New York after graduating from the University of Illinois, Urbana- Champaign where she pursued a B. A in Communication and a B.S. in Psychology. She is currently an M.A. in Journalism candidate at NYU, pursuing the Magazine and Digital Storytelling program, and was previously an Editorial Fellow at Adweek.

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