Posts baselessly link Obamas to Baltimore bridge collapse

Conspiracy-laden posts on X are attempting to link Barack and Michelle Obama to the bridge collapse in Baltimore, Maryland, by highlighting similarities between the disaster and a 2023 film produced by a company the former president and first lady launched. But there is no basis for the claims; while investigations are ongoing, authorities have described the collision as an accident and said the massive Singapore-flagged vessel lost power and propulsion.

"Oh my God. This can't be coincidence," said YouTuber Jimmy Corsetti in a March 26, 2024 post on X. "The Ship that crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore was headed to Sri Lanka The flag of Sri Lanka is a Lion. The Ship in the opening scene of Barrack Obama's 'Leave the World Behind' is named WHITE LION."

<span>Screenshot from X taken March 27, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken March 27, 2024

Far-right internet personality Matt Wallace, who has previously shared disinformation, echoed the narrative, posting an image that is edited to show Obama pointing at the crashed container ship.

"In 2023, the Obamas produced a movie called Leave the World Behind, where a cyberattack causes a massive container ship to lose power & crash," Wallace wrote. "Months later a massive container ship loses power & crashes into Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, CAUSING A DEADLY COLLAPSE."

In a subsequent post featuring an image of Obama shaking the hand of an unidentified man on a boat, Wallace added: "MY GOD… Barack Obama REVEALED PULLING THE STRINGS BEHIND EVERYTHING."

<span>Screenshot from X taken March 27, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken March 27, 2024
<span>Screenshot from X taken March 27, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken March 27, 2024

The narrative rocketed across X and other platforms such as Facebook and Instagram in the hours after a Singapore-flagged ship heading to Sri Lanka rammed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, blocking one of the busiest US commercial harbors and triggering a whirlwind of online conspiracy theories about the cause.

Posts blaming everything from Israel and Ukraine to cyberattacks and corporate diversity initiatives racked up interactions even as Maryland Governor Wes Moore and other authorities said there was no indication the collision was intentional or connected to terrorism.

The conspiratorial claims suggesting the Obamas were involved are also unfounded.

An apocalyptic film

The supposed connection to Barack and Michelle Obama hinges on "Leave The World Behind," a 2023 apocalyptic thriller executive produced by Higher Ground Productions, a company the couple founded in 2018.

A Netflix synopsis says the fictional film -- starring Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, and Ethan Hawke -- is about a family vacation "upended when two strangers arrive at night, seeking refuge from a cyberattack that grows more terrifying by the minute" (archived here and here). In one scene, a boat with the name "White Lion" barrels into a beach full of people (archived here).

But the movie is not the Obamas' original creation. It is an adaptation of a 2020 novel of the same name by Rumaan Alam. The Obamas are listed as two of six executive producers of the film, including Alam.

Addressing other conspiracy theories about the Obamas' involvement with the disaster flick, director Sam Esmail told the online entertainment website Collider: "President Obama really came on a couple of months before we started shooting, so the script had basically been written and done" (archived here).

"He obviously gave notes on the script, but the bones of the story and the sequences were already written," Esmail said, adding that claims that Barack Obama was "signaling" through the film are "pretty wrong."

The former president's feedback focused on trying to portray the book and its themes, Esmail said. The book was on Obama's recommended reading list in 2021 (archived here).

The picture Wallace, the far-right influencer, posted of Obama grabbing a man's hand also does not show the Dali, the ship that wrecked the Francis Scott Key Bridge, reverse image searches reveal.

The photo was taken as the Democrat boarded a boat tour in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in May 2023, according to the tour company's Instagram post sharing it (archived here and here).

Ship lost power, propulsion

Investigations are ongoing, but officials said shortly after the collapse that the Dali lost power and propulsion before plowing into one of the bridge's support columns.

CCTV footage shows the ship going dark twice in the minutes before the crash. A puff of smoke can also be seen.

As of March 28, it was not clear what caused the power outage, but authorities found no evidence terrorism was at play.

"Everything so far indicates that this was a terrible accident," President Joe Biden said during a March 26 briefing (archived here). "At this time, we have no other indication, no other reason to believe there was any intentional act here."

The Dali's crew issued a Mayday call requesting tug boats an action credited with likely saving lives as it gave police a chance to halt traffic from driving across. The pilot also ordered the rudder turned hard to the left and the anchor dropped in a last-ditch effort to avoid disaster.

"It was unable to maintain the desired heading and collided with the Francis Scott Key bridge," Singapore's Maritime and Port Authority said, citing the Synergy Marine Group that manages the ship.

The vessel passed two overseas inspections in 2023, the authority said.

Some experts suggested the bridge's support structures may not have been properly protected to withstand the impact of such a large ship.

AFP has debunked other misinformation about the "Leave The World Behind" film here, and the bridge's collapse here, here and here.