French media are reporting today that an iconic symbol of the French Revolution—the 1830 Eugène Delacroix painting, Liberty Leading the People—was vandalized at the Louvre-Lens Museum. According to France 24, a 28-year-old woman allegedly scrawled "AE911" in black marker across the surface of the painting. The painting that inspired Les Misérables was not permanently damaged, according to reports. But a mystery remains: Was a U.S. fringe group involved in the attack?
French reports initially pinned the incident to Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, an organization that claims that structural evidence from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks proves that the World Trade Center's Twin Towers as well as 7 World Trade Center were brought down by explosives from within. The organization is led by Richard Gage, AIA—who vehemently denies any involvement. "I'm shocked and horrified," Gage says. "I don't know her or of her. She certainly does not represent us. We deplore the vandalism of any public or private property."
Gage was in Washington, D.C., last summer to screen his organization's documentary, 9/11: Explosive Evidence—Experts Speak Out. As Slate's Jeremy Stahl reported at the time, the screening attracted conspiracy theorists of various stripes, but few architects. The AIA has no relationship with Gage.
Members of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth organization frequently use "AE911" as shorthand to distinguish their particular brand of Trutherism from other related conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks. Gage says that this case of vandalism isn't the first to implicate his organization. "There was a defacing, there was graffiti on an overpass over a freeway in Connecticut," Gage says. He has not been contacted by French authorities, he says.
"It's possible that whoever wrote 'AE911' doesn't represent the group but is trying to get the group in trouble," says Mark Graham, a former member who served as a volunteer team leader for nearly three years before separating from the organization over its direction in December. "This is not the kind of thing that AE911Truth or anybody in the organization that I ever spoke to would advocate or do."
The Louvre-Lens, which opened less than two months ago, was designed by SANAA in an effort to revive the post-industrial town of Lens in northern France. French President François Hollande attended the museum's premier in December, and in three weeks' time the museum had registered its 100,000th visitor. “Louvre-Lens is indeed the museum of the new millennium and the future of the region,” Lens Mayor Guy Delcourt told Le Monde.