The election may be over but fake news and conspiracy theories continue to take a toll on one Washington DC area pizzeria. This time, the issue escalated beyond wild speculation and internet harassment and into a very tangible threat.
For months now, internet conspiracy theorists on forums such as 4Chan and Reddit have been obsessed with a sinister connection between D.C. pizzeria Comet Ping Pong and a purported Clinton campaign sex ring.
The false headlines had resulted in trolling and harassment of restaurant employees, — until now: The New York Times reports a “Pizzagate” theorist named Edgar M. Welch was arrested on Sunday after he walked into the restaurant and fired a rifle. According to police, Welch, who lives in North Carolina, said he was there to “self-investigate” the sex ring theory. Following the gunshot, people inside the restaurant fled to a nearby shop while police surrounded the restaurant. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the incident.
The unfounded rumors began circulating after WikiLeaks mined and released Clinton aide John Podesta’s campaign emails in which Comet’s owner had corresponded about organizing a fundraiser. While the messages appear innocent, some far-right conspiracy theorists believe they’re written in code and refer to sex trafficking minors.
Comet Ping Pong’s owner James Alefantis addressed the shooting on their Facebook page on Sunday, writing, “I hope that those involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today, and stop promoting these falsehoods right away.”
Owners of neighboring restaurant Terasol also called out law enforcement officials for failing to adequately protect businesses along the street who’ve been subjected to “Pizzagate”-related harassment. “For the last month, we have ALL filed police reports, called the FBI and NOTHING had been done to address the daily attacks, the harassment and the death threats we all received,” the owner wrote. “The fake news MUST cease and MUST be taken down and the callers who attack us, the ones who are disparaging us online and blasting lies must be brought to justice.”