A man was arrested on Sunday for firing a gun inside a pizza restaurant that has been subject to a conspiracy theory known as "Pizzagate."
Edgar Welch had fired his rifle inside the Comet Ping Pong restaurant because he wanted to "self-investigate" the conspiracy theory, according to the New York Times.
What exactly is the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, and how did it start? Here is what you need to know about it.
Pizzagate began in the depths of the 4chan chat room in October, where members of the alt-right started speculating that the Comet Ping Pong restaurant is running some sort of child-sex ring and that the Clinton campaign was somehow involved. Like a virus, the conspiracy theory spread from 4chan to Reddit to being covered in Saudi Arabia and Turkey's media.
As is typical of conspiracy theories, there is no evidence to even indicate a child sex-ring was being run out of Comet Ping Pong. The theory is based off photographs that were supposedly from James Alefantis's – the restaurant owner – Instagram page that showed "a near constant assortment of different children of a variety of ages, intermingled between posts about gay bars, clubs, photos of common rape drugs, and piles of foreign currency" as well as code images laced on the restaurant, other nearby buildings owned by Alefantis, as well as buildings close by with Clinton connections.
The Clinton connection to Pizzagate comes from online users searching for a link between Bill Clinton and Jeffrey Epstein; they found emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta leaked by Wikileaks that set off their inner Alex Jones. The emails in question featured Podesta discussing pizza frequently, including some sort of pizza map handkerchief. An email from 2008 featured Alefantis expressing gratitude to Podesta "for attending a fundraiser at the restaurant but regretted not making him a pizza." Somehow the conspiracy theorists have decoded "pizza" to mean "girl." Further compounding the conspiracy theory was that Alefantis used to date Clinton attack dog David Brock.
Naturally, this is all speculation without any substance. The images can hardly be used as an indicator of a pedophile ring because, as Snopes points out, "Fear of 'pedophile code' imagery is occasionally the basis for panic, but law enforcement officials believed that the symbols themselves are used among adults to signal preferences, not as labels for children, not as markers placing them in any danger." The photos dug up by the online users that were supposedly creepy were a compilation of photos taken from Facebook commenters on Comet Ping Pong's Facebook page as well as Facebook friends who liked the page and other websites that are in no way affiliated with the restaurant.
Additionally, there is no reason to believe that pizza is somehow a code for pedophilia, especially since pizza is common among politicians. Alefantis has no direct ties to the Clinton campaign; his only ties to the Democrat Party are some notable Democrats. He is also not under investigation by law enforcement for any sort of child-sex ring.
That hasn't stopped the conspiracy theory from spreading like wildfire, as the restaurant's and Alefantis's social media pages have been flooded with threats, and the restaurant's Yelp page is on lockdown. Restaurant employees have to protect their accounts as well, since online commenters are using pictures of their children to try and give credence to the conspiracy theory, and now the conspiracy theory has culminated into a gunman shooting a rifle inside the restaurant.
This conspiracy theory has clearly grown out of control and needs to be quashed before anyone gets hurt. Reddit has already deleted a thread about Pizzagate and some 4chan commenters are regretting the conspiracy theory. Will others who promoted the conspiracy theory follow their lead?