For months, 4chan and Reddit users have delved deep into the emails of John Podesta as they were released by Wikileaks and concluded that the emails contained coded language about a secret child-trafficking ring operating out of Comet Ping Pong, a Washington DC pizzeria -- a ring run by Podesta and former presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. The theory was known as "Pizzagate", and until recently it was just another of the internet's outlandish conspiracy theories. Two of pizzagate's loudest mouthpieces have backed off their support after a man armed with a AR-15, a Colt. 38 and a shotgun entered the restaurant to "investigate". And yet, pizzagate somehow trudges on, without them.
The Comet Ping Pong shooter Image: Sathi Soma via AP
(Pizzagate has been debunked by Snopes and the New York Times, and one of its biggest communities -- r/pizzagate -- was booted off Reddit for the repeated release of personally identifiable information, as Gizmodo reported last week.)
Two of the most vocal (and visible) entities propping up pizzagate's absurd claims were, predictably, arch-troll Mike Cernovich and the Alex Jones' Infowars. In a tweet yesterday, Cernovich claimed that pizzagate was not his story and that "I've even said not sure about it." A Periscope video he posted two weeks ago, however, is titled, "Yes #PizzaGate is true -- what fake news media won't report". A Twitter poll he conducted yesterday concluded that 60 per cent of his audience on the platform fully believes in the veracity of the pizzagate community's findings, a notion which is certainly helped by Cernovich treating idle speculation as reportable fact.
"You can't then just have people go through these things randomly and say 'oh this pizza place must be the centre of it all'" Jones -- a Gizmodo fan -- said in a video posted to Infowars' YouTube channel today. He took the opportunity to remind his 1.8 million viewers that "pizza" is "a super common word" which does not reasonably prove any connection to paedophilia. Previously, Infowars posted several videos on the topic -- most notably one titled "Pizzagate Is Real" -- racking up close to two million views total as a result of the conspiracy. "When I really caught up to it was about two weeks ago," Jones says in the same backpedalling nine-minute non-apology. The first Infowars video on the subject, which features Jones himself, was posted on November 5.
The core problem with riling up people susceptible to conspiracy theories is that even if movement agitators like Cernovich and Jones publicly renounce pizzagate, their followers are happy to keep up the investigation -- even after one of the believers discharges a weapon in a restaurant.
A moderator announcement from the "Worth Checking Out" room of Centipede Central.
A moderator on Centipede Central -- a Discord chat room for Reddit's Trump supporters -- was quick to point out that Comet gunman Edgar Welch had worked as an actor, letting the rest of the chat's 6000+ users decide what that meant. Meanwhile, the exiled pizzagate subreddit (which has since moved to Reddit's knockoff Voat) drummed up suspicion based on a traffic camera near Comet Ping Pong which they claim moved a day before the incident. The conspiracy theorists concluded that the entire event was staged in order to discredit their grassroots investigation. "If you ask me, I call that a false flag by the book. That means we are on the right track," Voat user Kodo wrote, "Lets keep digging and be clever."
There have always been people on the fringes making unsubstantiated claims and then covering their asses, just as there have always been angry, confused people willing to believe and forgive them. And while connections have been drawn by other outlets to Welch's associations as a possible motivation for entering an otherwise unassuming pizzeria with a small arms cache, the connection is unprovable. But, hopefully the risk of having emboldened a gunman might cause Cernovich, Jones and their ilk to reconsider fuelling the fires of internet conspiracies.
— Michael G Flynn?? (@mflynnJR) December 5, 2016
What we've all been learning during Trump's ascendance, though, is that the fringes are closer than ever to the centre of power in the US. Among the pizzagate truthers, as Politico reported yesterday, is Michael Flynn Jr, close adviser to his father Lt Gen Michael Flynn -- Trump's pick for national security adviser. The elder Flynn was also seen tweeting links to fake news sites claiming Clinton's supposed association to "child exploitation" and "sex crimes with minors (children)". Among his son's most retweeted accounts? Mike Cernovich.