“Pizzagate” appears like too attractive of a name for a conspiracy theory that’s boomed to epic proportions to the point that an armed guy in fact drove up the East Coast to “self-investigate” whether a D.C. pizza restaurant had a mystery pedophilia dungeon in its basement, ending with him shooting his assault rifle within the restaurant and being imprisoned.
But the name caught. The tale appeared like a hilarious curiosity in the weeks prior to the presidential election. Taking the so-called Pizzagaters seriously appeared about as sensible as taking the likelihood of a Donald Trump presidency seriously, and both appeared like fairly safe targets for poking fun.
But just as many anticipated a return to the rational world after Trump’s defeat, only to wake up on November 9 residing in Trump’s world, this strange pizza-pedophilia piece of make-believe appears to have struck the right kind of nerve in this simultaneously easily fooled and paranoid time to become a lasting, significant issue.
Oftentimes a slice is just a slice
Pizzagate began, as so many things have in the last few months, with Wikileaks. When Wikileaks revealed emails from ex – Hillary Clinton 2016 Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s account, most commentators honed in on the ones demonstrating Clinton allies talking candidly and oftentimes disparagingly about the candidate and her associates, along with policies like a federal $15 minimum wage.
But a small amount of individuals on message boards like 4chan and Reddit were more fascinated in seemingly mundane emails about small social gatherings and parties hosted by Podesta and his friends. Particularly, they discovered that these emails described pizza a few times.
Plainly ignoring the simple justification that the emailers, like most Americans, eat pizza frequently and find it to be an simple food to serve and eat while socializing, self-appointed Internet detectives made the decision that “pizza” was a complex code for pedophilia. Utilizing this code, Pizzagaters claim, Podesta and his well-heeled pals could brazenly talk about their plans for throwing horrible sex parties exploiting enslaved children, in between conversations about Clinton’s campaign strategy and setting up conference calls.
It’s essential to observe that since the theories that would become Pizzagate started on 4chan and Reddit, websites recognized for trolling people with cruel, challenging pranks, it’s probable that many of the conspiracy theory’s originators were joking – coming up with absurdities to amuse themselves.
But it took a very limited time for /r/Pizzagate, the now-closed Pizzagate-focused Reddit subforum, or subreddit, to fill with folks who seemed to be true believers. The concept also became common on Reddit’s “The Donald,” a hub for Trump supporters. From there, Pizzagate caught the interest of conservative fake news sites, minor white supremacist celebrities, and proponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It’s been amplified for unidentified factors by Twitter bots traced to the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Vietnam.
Everyone’s in on it
The ideas grew to engulf pretty much everything that could be associated with Podesta, or anyone who had ever connected with him. That’s how they landed on Comet Ping Pong, a well-known family-friendly pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C., that also offers occasional punk shows. James Alefantis, owner of Comet as well as other close by restaurants, utilized to date David Brock, head of a pro-Clinton group, and John Podesta realized Alefantis and ate at the restaurant. If “pizza” is code for pedophilia, the gossip mongers reasoned, obviously a pizza restaurant is the dungeon where all the horrors go down.
Though the whole concept of the conspiracy was obviously unhinged from the launch, this is where things became particularly personal and frightening. Conspiracy theorists started pouncing on any social media articles relating to children, adding foul comments trying to read abuse into innocent photographs.
Threatening phone calls frequently harassed and terrified employees of many restaurants near Comet, and additional pizza places in D.C. that theorists decided must be associated with the pedophilia ring because they also serve pizza. Anything they determined looked “creepy” or “wrong” was thrown into the information bin without question, from the dark album art of a band that had played at Comet, which they considered satanic, to an email talking about a handkerchief with “a map that seems pizza-related.” Even modern-art murals on the walls of the restaurant were suggested as a factor. Anyone distantly linked to a piece of so-called proof became a target for threatening phone calls and social media messages.
In one particularly strange occurrence, a participant in /r/Pizzagate stated to have hacked the website of a D.C. pizza restaurant called WeThePizza with a colleague who was killed or grabbed in the process, and discovered an genuine menu of child sex services available, as well as child pornography. Shockingly trusting conspiracy enthusiasts seemingly downloaded the files this person supplied before noticing that “I was investigating pizzagate” would not be a great defense against criminal child pornography charges, and publicly panicked on the forum.
From frightening to violent
It was almost inescapable in this environment, where every mundane aspect was twisted into a damning piece of proof that powerful folks were running a child sex ring and the professionals could not care less, that someone would determine that violence was an appropriate reaction. And right on cue, Edgar Welch, obviously Internet-addicted and delusional, made the decision he would drive up from North Carolina and free the children locked up in Comet’s basement. Fortunately, he was focused enough on his goal to not harm patrons or staff until he had discovered the children, so he utilized the threat of his guns to keep anyone from touching him while he shot the lock off a door and generally researched to his heart’s content. After he understood there was nothing to find, he gave himself up to law enforcement.
And that’s the legacy of this whole chaos in the end. Hoaxsters and the crazed collaborated to produce a compelling and nonsensical tale about depraved, satanic elites operating with impunity. This struck a chord with folks who have long observed the mainstream media and politically powerful and well-connected folks as manipulative and evil – a public very much like the one that assisted Trump to victory on a wave of anti-elite emotion.
And for all their discussion of protecting children, the conspiracy theorists are the reason a man with a gun jeopardized the security of dozens of individuals, which includes children and families, on a Sunday afternoon. They are the reason individuals are combing the Internet for photographs of children to project dark concepts of rape and torture onto. They are the reason men and women in D.C. are worried for their lives when they show up to work at a restaurant. Conspiracy theories like these appear immune to debunking, and if someone really is convinced there’s satanic darkness at the heart of this lie, maybe there’s no measure too extreme for them to take in reaction.
These People Are A Danger To Themselves And Others! Wake Up!!!!!!
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