Speculation abounded online in the wake of the horrific van attack in Toronto, and one voice did its utmost to ensure that speculation had an anti-Muslim tinge: foreign right-wing media and pundits.

While we know the attacker was: a) not Muslim, b) raised in Canada, and c) not linked to any terrorist operation, none of these facts fit the right-wing narrative which demonizes Muslims.

When the facts undermine your claims, one option is to make up your own facts — which is exactly what happened. Right-wing propagandists immediately began spreading misinformation about the attack online, using Twitter to insist that the perpetrator of the crime was Muslim and likely linked to a terror group.

Breitbart, the command centre of the global right-wing propaganda machine, kicked off the routine. Their article on the attack characterized the perpetrator as “angry and Middle-Eastern looking”.

Paul Joseph Watson, a UK-based right wing YouTube personality with 1.2 million subscribers and a regular on Alex Jones’ InfoWars show, immediately blamed the attack on a “jihadist” and criticized Mayor John Tory for “virtue signalling”.

The presence of these two key words — “jihadist” and “virtue signalling” — is a clear sign of a right-winger who is interested in pushing their ideological agenda rather than the facts.

Philip Schuyler, a right-wing U.S. commentator with over 100,000 followers, said the attacker was Syrian and labelled him a terrorist.

The claim that the attacker was Syrian is important to the right wing propaganda machine because they want to undermine Canada’s policy of welcoming Syrian refugees.

Closer to home, Gavin McInnes — a former Rebel Media contributor who has been accused of making racist statements on numerous occasions — claimed that the cause of the attack was Toronto’s Muslim population.

More frightening is the implication of McInnes’ claim that any city which has a Muslim population of sufficient size will be the site of terrorism. This is an obvious lie, but if one believes it to be true, then what horrifying response would it justify? We can only speculate what McInnes and his ilk would propose.

As the right-wing media machine spun into overdrive pinning this attack on Muslims, their followers joined the fray, contributing to the misinformation being spread online. This tweet from Mike Zollo is just one of many claiming the attack was perpetrated by a Muslim terrorist.

The global right wing propaganda machine has a mission: convince as many people as possible that Muslims — and immigrants in general — are dangerous and must be kept out of our countries.

They exploit tragic incidents like the one in Toronto to spread this narrative.

And in the immediate aftermath of any crime — when the facts aren’t yet clear — many people fall prey to their lies.

It’s more important than ever to recognize this for what it is — hateful, anti-Muslim propaganda — and to call out these people for what they are: lying propagandists exploiting a tragedy to advance their political agenda.