Yesterday, a man was arrested after he entered a Washington D.C. pizzeria with an assault rifle, demanding answers about something called Pizzagate. The gun was fired, but thankfully no one was hurt, leaving the rest of the nation merely puzzled about what Pizzagate is and how it almost caused a tragedy.
Pizzagate rose from the Wikileaks emails hacked from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta. Some of the least interesting emails from Podesta were addressed to James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong, a Washington pizzeria popular with pols, especially for fundraisers.
These emails had titles like “What dish you wanna cook?” (Podesta volunteers to made a pasta course!) and “Comet Ping Pong and OBAMA…and Podesta?.” wherein Podesta agrees to make it to a fundraiser at 8:30 p.m., not 8:00 p.m. Again, they’re about as innocuous as personal communication gets, yet they inspired some on Reddit to find hidden codes that indicate child abuse was taking place at Comet with the Clinton campaign’s collaboration.
— chris hooks (@cd_hooks) December 5, 2016
In other words, it’s classic conspiracy theory nonsense. To say that there is “no evidence” of Pizzagate, as the New York Times did in its write-up of the incident, is to mistake a conspiracy theory for something else, something more legitimate, like fake news. To someone who believes in Pizzagate, there is nothing but evidence for it. Remember, these are people who believe that John Podesta writing “How about if I do a pasta course” counts as evidence of nefarious intent.
Meanwhile–and this is perhaps the strangest part of this whole strange story–while the U.S. media was busy reporting on the election and Donald Trump’s very real ascendancy to power, the Turkish media started picking up “new stories” from Pizzagate message boards.
Well, as Efe Kerem Sozeri reports, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing a scandal over his government’s connection with a foundation tied with child abuse. Carrying stories about child abuse in the U.S.–especially the splashy allegations of Pizzagate, which involve figures as prominent as President Barack Obama–makes Turkey’s actual abuse connections seem normal and more tolerable. Furthermore, there’s a deep level of anti-Americanism in Turkey today–83 percent of Turkish people disagree with the U.S. being Turkey’s friend and ally, for instance–so there is a receptive market in the country for news about Americans acting deplorably. By mid-November, all the major Turkish pro-government papers were carrying Pizzagate stories exactly as if they were actual news instead of just material essentially stolen from Reddit.
Back in the U.S., Alefantis and others at Comet were getting daily death threats and harassment. You can see one of Alefantis’s interactions with Pizzagate truthers below:
All of this came to head yesterday, with the 28-year-old gunman from North Carolina. His age puts him in exactly the target audience for a site like Reddit. Of course, there are other supporters as well, though the most prominent American may be Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who tweeted on November 2nd a linking to a “BREAKING BOMBSHELL” on Pizzagate, calling it a “MUST READ.”
This is all also reminiscent of last week, when President-elect Donald Trump tweeted about a different conspiracy theory. No guns were involved then though.