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What is Pizzagate? The Hillary Clinton conspiracy theory that led to a man opening fire in a restaurant

The man claimed that he was going to ‘self-investigate’ the reports, police said. But those reports had already been proven to be entirely baseless and conjured up on the internet

Andrew Griffin
Monday 05 December 2016 13:31 GMT
Fake news conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton led a man to open fire in a pizza parlour

A Washington pizzeria is the home of a child sex abuse ring that includes people including Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief John Podesta, reports claim. Those reports are entirely baseless and there is no actual evidence that the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant is anything but a popular pizza place, but that doesn’t matter.

At least the fact that it is entirely untrue doesn’t matter to the thousands of online conspiracy theorists and trolls who have promoted the false rumour. And nor did it matter to the man who walked into the restaurant late at night reportedly brandishing a firearm, hoping to “self-investigate” the reports.

Edgar Maddison Welch, 28 of Salisbury, North Carolina, walked into the front door of Comet Ping Pong and pointed a firearm in the direction of a restaurant employee, The Washington Post reported.

The employee was able to flee and notify police. Welch then fired the gun into the floor.

Police responded and arrested Welch without incident. They recovered an assault rifle, Brown said. Welch was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon.

He had come to look into the fictitious conspiracy theory, according to a police statement. But he was far from the first person to become activated by the claims that the pizza was harbouring a secret connection to abuse and the highest echelons of power.

The beginnings of the “pizzagate” conspiracy theory are murky. But they appear to have originated as long ago as October, when various anonymous Twitter accounts began posting false rumours that Anthony Weiner’s laptop had been recovered by the FBI, and that on it was proof that he had been involved in child sexual abuse.

That rumour took off quickly online, among supporters of Donald Trump and others who were convinced about a conspiracy or simply wanted to perpetuate the idea that there is one. And as it took off it grew, too – to take in suggestions that people including Hillary Clinton and John Podesta, her campaign manager, were involved.

Discussion soon turned to Mr Podesta’s emails, to Ms Clinton and others, which were published by WikiLeaks. Apparently unable to find any direct suggestion that anyone had been involved in child sexual abuse, those involved in promoting pizzagate began to claim that a code was being used – that code included references to junk food, including “pizza”, which was supposedly used in place of the word “girl”.

That came, apparently, from the fact that there seemed to more references to pizza and pizzerias than people had expected in the emails. Some of those messages have strange syntax, the proponents claim, apparently suggesting that pizza is being used as code for something else.

From there, it appears that the conspiracy became attached to an actual pizzeria. And from there it wasn't long that the supposed real location was found – the one owned by James Alefantis. He had previously been in a relationship with controversial right-wing commentator and recent Hillary Clinton supporter David Brock – and his pizzeria is in a leafy part of Washington – but it isn’t really clear why it had the misfortune of being falsely identified as the home of the conspiracy.

The pizzeria itself put out a statement condemning the events after the man came into the restaurant, as well as the weeks of suspicion and abuse that they have encountered. As it has throughout the events of pizzagate, it stressed that the rumours were putting those caught up in them in real danger.

“For now, I will simply say that we should all condemn the efforts of certain people to spread malicious and utterly false accusations about Comet Ping Pong, a venerated DC institution,” owner James Alefantis said in a statement.

“Let me state unequivocally: these stories are completely and entirely false, and there is no basis in fact to any of them. What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences.”

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