Over the weekend, Edgar Maddison Welch, a 28-year old from North Carolina who subscribes to the right-wing conspiracy theory that top Clinton campaign staffers are involved in a child trafficking ring (more on that in a minute), opened fire inside a Washington, D.C. area pizza shop/music venue. He was reportedly “self-investigating” this particular piece of bullshit clickbait for gullible morons, and was apprehended by police 45 minutes later.
The pizza shop, Comet Ping Pong, is a popular music venue as well as a restaurant, and has recently played host to local musicians like Ian Svenonius and members of Fugazi and traveling bands like Death Valley Girls, Two Inch Astronaut, Home Body, and Loose Tooth. But if you ask frequent visitors to fake news sites with names like The New Nationalist and The Vigilant Citizen, it’s also the hub of a fictional conspiracy known as “#pizzagate,” which is not nearly as fun as it sounds. No, it is based on the theory that every time Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief, John D. Podesta, made reference to “ordering a pizza” in the emails made public by Wikileaks earlier in the fall, he was actually ordering up a child prostitute. This snowballed into theories that Clinton herself was kidnapping and sexually abusing children, and that it was all taking place in the back room at Comet Ping Pong, because Podesta emailed the restaurant’s owner once.
Despite repeated debunking of this theory due to lack of anything resembling evidence that any of this was happening, “#pizzagate” grew in popularity with right-wing conspiracy theorists online (infamous Reddit page “The_Donald” is a reported epicenter of the theory), leading to a heavily armed Welch storming into Comet Ping Pong yesterday and pointing a gun at one of the employees. The employee was able to flee and called police, while Welch fired his rifle into the air. Eventually, Welch was led out into the street and apprehended without violence.
Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis says he has experienced constant harassment and death threats since the week before the presidential election, all of it coming from people who actually believe in “#pizzagate.” (Or they just think it’s funny, which is equally disturbing.) Alefantis’ employees and musicians who have played there are also being subjected to harassment and threats; one musician, Amanda Kleinman of the band Heavy Breathing, deleted her Twitter account after being flooded with abusive messages from “#pizzagate” theorists. And now children in the neighborhood are being targeted, with images pilfered from Facebook photos taken in the restaurant and from the personal accounts of those who have “liked” the page being used in threatening memes and messages—in the interest of protecting children from the beast Hillary Clinton, purportedly.
Alefantis has contacted local police and the FBI about the threats, but the theory continues to gain traction online with encouragement and validation from high-profile Trump loyalists like Michael G Flynn, son of incoming Trump national security advisor Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn. Alefantis won’t close the restaurant in the face of these threats, though. As he posted on Facebook last night: