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Pizzagate: the conspiracy theory that won't go away
Image Comics

Comic Books

Pizzagate: the conspiracy theory that won’t go away

It led to much bigger things.

James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds’ Image Comics series The Department of Truth only briefly mentions Pizzagate in issue #18, but unfortunately, in real life, Pizzagate was anything but a small, circumstantial event. It’s had a lasting impression that many aren’t even aware of.

In October 2016, with the presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump gearing up, rumors of a sex scandal at a popular Washington, D.C. pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong began circulating online. These rumors came from the WikiLeaks hack into the emails of Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta. A biased and uncritical reading of the emails soon formed into an internet trolling joke that insisted children were trafficked and sexually abused in the basement of Comet Ping Pong by high-ranking members of the Democratic party, including Clinton and then-President Barrack Obama himself. And of course, Satanism got its fair mention in the plot as well.

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Pizzagate in "The Department of Truth"

Image Comics

Pizzagate started on the imageboard 4Chan and then metastasized to Reddit and eventually platforms like Facebook and Twitter. “Cheese Pizza” was in fact a code word for child pornography on 4Chan, leading some posters there to the far-fetched conclusion that emails about Comet Ping Pong were more sinister than they seemed. But in the Podesta emails, there was no actual mention of cheese pizza, only pizza. And to think that high-level officials would be using 4Chan slang for pedophilia is pretty ridiculous. Other Podesta emails that mentioned “walnut sauce” and “white handkerchiefs” were read as being further code words for other nefarious and occasionally criminal sex acts.

Alex Jones, the loud-mouthed, unhinged host of InfoWars, made statements on his show that someone needed to investigate Pizzagate. One of his listeneres heeded the call to action on December 1, 2016, when Edgar Maddison Welch from Salisbury, North Carolina, drove up to Comet Ping Pong equipped with an AR-15 rifle. Packed with adults and children when Welch arrived, the pizzeria was quickly evacuated, and no one was injured despite shots being fired into the walls. Welch discovered to his extreme embarrassment that Comet Ping Pong didn’t even have a basement. He was recently released from prison after serving a four-year sentence for his “investigation.”

Jones wasn’t the only propagator of Pizzagate’s nonsense — the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer hopped aboard as well. When faced with a potential lawsuit from James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong, Jones issued an apology, which we can all assume was definitely from the heart and not at all a cowardly way to avoid taking blame for stochastic terrorism.

While it might seem to the general public that Pizzagate vanished after 2016, there are still adherents, and it’s even made a resurgence on TikTok in recent years, infecting a whole new generation of minds. Comet Ping Pong and Alefantis has been the targets of multiple threats since Pizzagate first took off, and terror attempts have been perpetrated against the business as recently as 2019.

In 2020, Pizzagate turned into WayfairGate, in which “keen-eyed researchers” with too much time on their hands decided that expensive cabinets with human-sounding names were actually children. Several cabinets on the online furniture store Wayfair were said to match the names of children listed as missing. Some of these supposed missing children made viral videos decrying their attachment to this ridiculous idea, loudly announcing that they weren’t missing at all.

Worst of all, Pizzagate led directly to QAnon, which led directly to the events at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. QAnon might have seemed like a somewhat harmless LARP when it first began, with followers trying to decipher cryptic clues dubbed “Q Drops,” but now there are QAnon and Q-adjacent politicians (Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Jim Jordan, Paul Gosar, etc.) currently in office and many others running, including the number one suspect for Q himself, Ron Watkins. Perhaps even more shocking is the recent revelation that Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, may be sympathetic to this dangerous ideology.

Pizzagate: the conspiracy theory that won't go away

Image Comics

Though it might seem like a footnote in the history of conspiracy theories, Pizzagate never really went away; it laid the groundwork for and morphed into QAnon. And despite the lack of Q Drops over the last year and half, QAnon never went away either, as many of its talking points have disturbingly worked their way into mainstream politics.

Special thanks to QAnon expert Mike Rains, AKA “Poker & Politics,” for his input and assistance with this article.

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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