What is Pizzagate? This Hillary Clinton Conspiracy Theory Led to a Shooting in a Washington, D.C., Pizzeria

Comet Ping Pong
Comet Ping Pong in Washington, D.C. Deb Lindsey For The Washington Post via Getty Images

A fictitious conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate has been gaining attention after it apparently motivated a gunman to open fire on a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor, claiming he was “self-investigating” the fake story.

Hundreds of people are convinced that several high-level Democratic leaders, including Hillary Clinton, are operating an underground child sex ring out of Comet Ping Pong pizzeria.

Pizzagate started back in November when Wikileaks released a new set of emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Some people noticed that Podesta was communicating with James Alefantis, owner of Comet Ping Pong and a major supporter of the Democratic party, who has raised money for both Barack Obama and Clinton’s presidential campaigns.

John Podesta Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton arrives with her presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta (left), at the weekly Democratic Senate Policy Luncheon on July 14, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Between Podesta’s frequent references to pizza and his emails to Alefantis about fundraisers, people on 4chan, a message board known for originating several internet hoaxes, began to make up a story about a pedophilia ring run from the basement of the pizza shop. People speculated that pizza orders were actually code words for illegal activities, and that the eatery’s after-school club for kids was something much darker. Internet users believed they found clues in Alefantis’ social media and the artwork on the walls of the family-friendly restaurant.

From there, the theory spread to Reddit, Twitter and other websites and continued to metastasize. Several fake news websites jumped on the topic, hoping for clicks and ad revenue.

The far-fetched theory became much more terrifying on Sunday, December 4, when Edgar Maddison Welch drove from his home in North Carolina to Washington, D.C., to see for himself if there was anything suspicious happening at Comet Ping Pong. According to CNN, he allegedly walked inside and drew a weapon. He fired at least one shot before he was apprehended, and no one was hurt in the incident.

“During a post-arrest interview, the suspect revealed that he came to the establishment to self-investigate ‘Pizza Gate’ (a fictitious online conspiracy theory),” D.C. police said, according to CNN.

Per the news outlet, Alefantis responded to the claims in a statement on Sunday, December 4, saying, “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. 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.” 

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