PizzaGate is the latest conspiracy theory to strike Hillary Clinton, with some reports claiming that the failed Democratic presidential candidate is embroiled in a child sex scandal centered on a Washington pizzeria.
Clinton was a lightning rod for conspiracies during the 2016 election, with stories claiming she engineered election fraud in the Democratic primary and was part of a plot to murder young DNC staffer Seth Rich. The stories took hold among far-right blogs and conspiracy theory sites despite no evidence to support them, and now PizzaGate joins them.
The allegations, put most simply, are that Hillary Clinton and her former campaign manager John Podesta are part of a pedophile ring that operates out of a popular Washington, D.C., pizza place called Comet Ping Pong.
The story gets more twisted from there, with claims that the network of pedophiles extends across the political spectrum in Washington and allegations that the Clinton Foundation was involved as well. In a 4,770-word summary of the PizzaGate allegations posted on Reddit, user DumbScribblyUnctious explained how Comet Ping Pong appeared to be the epicenter of the underground ring.
"While initially not the central focus of the investigation at the onset, Comet Ping Pong is a much more overt and much more disturbing hub of coincidences," the post claimed. "Everyone associated with the business is making semi-overt, semi-tongue-in-cheek, and semi-sarcastic inferences towards sex with minors. The artists that work for and with the business also generate nothing but cultish imagery of disembodiment, blood, beheadings, sex, and of course pizza."But evidence for the outlandish claims appears to fall apart at a closer inspection. Many of the allegations are based around emails from John Podesta spilled to the internet from the document-sharing site WikiLeaks, which was accused of launching a politically motivated campaign to derail Hillary Clinton.
Some internet users seized on references that Podesta made to pizza throughout his emails. Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis told Washington City Paper that there's a logical and ultimately simple explanation for this --- John Podesta, like many people in the busy world of politics, just likes pizza.
"Late this week, Trump supporters on 4chan and Reddit began to focus on 'Pizzagate'— innocuous connections between Podesta and emails mentioning pizza that they claimed were far more sinister than they initially appeared.The fact-checking website PolitiFact dug into the allegations that Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation were involved in a child sex trafficking ring in early November. Though the story was just taking a turn into PizzaGate at this time, the site found that evidence for such a nefarious plan was non-existent and appeared to be based largely on stories from hyper-partisan political blogs with loose or no connection to reality.
"Why, they wondered, did Podesta have a handkerchief with a "pizza-related" map on it? And why did Podesta get so many emails about eating pizza?
"The answer to any reasonable person would be that Podesta eats pizza sometimes. Indeed, Alefantis says, 'pizza's always a big thing in politics.'"
"'Breaking: FBI confirms evidence of huge underground Clinton sex network,' the Conservative Daily Post said on Nov. 1.PolitiFact concluded that the story connecting Hillary Clinton to a child sex trafficking ring was "Pants on Fire" false.
"'A source from the FBI has indicated... that a massive child trafficking and pedophile sex ring operates in Washington, D.C.,' the website reports, saying 'there are at least six members of Congress and several leaders from federal agencies that partake in the pedophile ring, which they say was run directly with the Clinton Foundation as a front.'
"No sources are named. No documents are cited."
"We could find no evidence that such a network exists; there is definitely no evidence that the FBI has confirmed it. The blog post seems to be relying on an anonymous claim put up on an internet message board," the site noted.
In fact, many of the threads being cited as evidence for PizzaGate trace back to sources with a history of publishing fabricated stories or outlandish conspiracy theories. One of the earliest stories claiming that a "political pedophile sex ring" was exposed came from GodLikeProductions, a popular forum where conspiracy theorists discuss things like alien abduction or the Illuminati.
Other evidence comes from the internet site 4chan, an anonymous forum that has cooked up some of the most famous internet hoaxes. It was there that someone claiming to be an FBI agent "confirmed" that the seedy plot existed.
PizzaGate has gained skeptics even among conspiracy theorist communities. On Reddit's conspiracy subreddit, many pointed out the absurdity of taking information from 4chan --- a site famous for trolling --- as fact.
"I stopped at 'who posted on 4chan.' To people who believe this: what is your skepticism and discernment telling you?" one user wrote.
As PizzaGate starts to move from the conspiracy theorist fringes of the internet and more into the mainstream, there have been real-life consequences for some of those involved. Washington City Paper reported that Comet Ping Pong has come under attack online, with many people flooding Yelp and the pizzeria's Facebook page with negative reviews.Alefantis said he has received threatening messages on Facebook and that some of his neighbors are now being targeted.
"Apparently there are networks of satanic tunnels built under the entire block. Across the street is an office that contains an NGO that works to save Haitian orphans, so they're implicated," he said, adding that PizzaGate is the construct of "conspiracy theorist, white nationalists made up largely of racists, homophobic individuals who loosely tie together theories and do not attempt to find the truth, and when they do find truth that dispels their theories, they ignore it."
But despite the denials and the evidence debunking PizzaGate, it appears the conspiracy theory connecting Hillary Clinton to an underground pedophile ring is actually gaining steam. The #PizzaGate hashtag has started trending on Twitter and has been picked up by some Turkish news outlets, for some reason.
[Featured Image by Carolyn Kaster/AP Images]