D.C. Residents Will Eat Pizza To #StandWithComet, The Restaurant At The Center Of Pizzagate

Employees at Comet have received death threats from Pizzagate conspiracy theorists.

Conspiracy theorists have long sought comfort and acceptance from like-minded people on the internet. Since Donald Trump's rise as a viable, wildly unconventional candidate for president, the right-leaning among them, encouraged by his flirtation with some of their theories, flocked to the real estate mogul. 

Among the conspiracy theories floating around the pro-Trump trenches of the internet, Pizzagate emerged as one of the most irrational and absurd of them all. The Pizzagate hoax claims that Comet Ping Pong, a Washington, D.C. pizzeria, is actually a front for a child trafficking ring run by Hillary Clinton and other Democratic operatives. 

Debunked by Snopes.com, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, Pizzagate heated up in the wake of the election, and took a violent turn on Monday. Edgar Welch, 28, drove six hours from his home in Salisbury, North Carolina, to "self-investigate" the conspiracy at Comet Ping Pong — with an AR15 assault-like rifle. He fired at a locked door, and reportedly aimed his weapon at an employee. 

Welch caused a flurry of panic in the neighborhood and was later arrested by police. The Times reported that Welch told the authorities he was armed to rescue children, but surrendered peacefully after uncovering no proof that "children were being harbored in the restaurant."

Comet closed its doors on Monday, but is set to reopen in the coming days. James Alefantis, the owner, addressed Pizzagate and the incident on the restaurant's business Facebook page. "Let me state unequivocally: these stories are completely and entirely false, and there is no basis in fact to any of them," Alefantis wrote. "What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences."


The incident prompted outrage and disbelief among those concerned about fake news' growing sway in our sources of information. Erick Sanchez, a Comet Ping Pong patron and a public relations consultant, was similarly sickened. "I, like many Washingtonians, was shocked and appalled to hear that the impact of fake news drove an armed individual into a family friendly restaurant," Sanchez told A Plus in an email.

Sanchez decided that he'd show Comet some love, and created the event #StandWithComet inviting people to dine at the pizzeria on Friday. Calling Comet a "beloved D.C. establishment," Sanchez noted that he gave employees a heads up about the expected increase in foot traffic that day. 

"No doubt this awful event and the malicious mistruths spread beforehand have left the staff feeling unsafe and on edge," Sanchez wrote in the event description. "They need a little light in all this darkness." Since the event was created on Sunday, more than 1,500 people have marked "going" on the Facebook event page, and 5,300 as "interested."

Unsubstantiated, disproven rumors of the Clintons running a child trafficking ring have been thrown around by fake news websites and white supremacist Twitter accounts for months. Then Trump supporters dug into leaked emails from Clinton's campaign chair John Podesta and found out that Podesta mentioned pizza more than once, and they deduced from his emails words they claimed were code for human trafficking and pedophilia. 

Pizzagate theorists then made the between Comet Ping Pong and the Clinton-run child trafficking ring hoax through Alefantis, who was once involved with David Brock, a right-wing journalist-turned-avowed-Clinton-supporter. 

Even among far-reaching conspiracies, Pizzagate seems like a stretch. Pizzagate believers point to Comet Ping Pong serving customers who are prominent D.C. journalists and politicians, and Alefantis' casual communication with Podesta in the past as — typically mundane points about a restauranteur loosely engaged in the political world — as further evidence that it is true. 

Days before the election, Alefantis and Comet employees were threatened on social media, some even received death threats. Alefantis contacted the FBI, D.C. police, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to ask them to remove fake news articles about Pizzagate. But at the rate fake news is being generated and disseminated, people either find it difficult to parse through what's real and what isn't, or simply don't care to at all.

Fake news has been further bolstered by Michael Flynn, Trump's choice for national security adviser, and his son, Michael Flynn Jr. As reported by The New York Times, they both have spread fake news stories about Clinton conspiracy theories, including those about child trafficking rings and other hoaxes. Trump himself has played an invaluable part in validating these outrageous theories by retweeting them and alluding to them at campaign rallies.

For Comet Ping Pong, at least, the D.C. community is rallying around them to show their support. Many have taken to Twitter to tweet under #StandWithComet, and to call out fake news.

Sanchez told A Plus that he hoped those who work at Comet and the surrounding businesses know the community is there for them. "We're very appreciative of the service they've provided in the city," he added. "Washingtonians are resilient. We will not be deterred from the establishments we cherish by threats or intimidation."


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