Emails linked to the so-called "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory are continuing to attract the attention of online "researchers" and activists.
News of Pizzagate first broke in the days before the November 8 presidential election. James Alefantis, the owner of the DC pizza restaurant Comet Ping Pong, noticed "an unusual spike in the number of his Instagram followers," a New York Times article by Cecelia Kang reports.
"Within hours, menacing messages like 'we're on to you' began appearing in his Instagram feed," Kang writes. "In the ensuing days, hundreds of death threats — one read "I will kill you personally" — started arriving via texts, Facebook and Twitter. All of them alleged something that made Mr. Alefantis's jaw drop: that Comet Ping Pong was the home base of a child abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief, John D. Podesta."
The Consequences of 'Pizza Gate' are Real at Comet Ping Pong https://t.co/MmVFZ0PQw4 #pizzagate #spiritcooking #podesta #imwithherThe allegations against Alefantis, Podesta, Clinton, and others stem from the batches of hacked emails from Podesta's email account that were published by Wikileaks. People combing through the emails noticed several exchanges with seemingly bizarre references to pizza, pasta, and other food items. Some readers assumed the references must be code for something nefarious and began searching for connections between the Clinton campaign and pizza. That's when they happened upon Alefantis and Comet Ping Pong.
— E Meow (@emeowwww) November 16, 2016
It didn't help matters that Alefantis is the life partner of David Brock, the head of the liberal non-profit Media Matters for America and a staunch Clinton supporter.
Apparently these "clues," and a loose array of other assumptions based interpretations of artwork, company logos, social media photos, and professional associations, were enough to lead many to believe that something truly sinister was afoot.
Discussion of Pizzagate on the social media sites Reddit and 4Chan quickly led to publications like the alt-right website the New Nationalist and the symbology site the Vigilant Citizen releasing articles with headlines such as "Pizzagate: How 4Chan Uncovered the Sick World of Washington's Occult Elite."
Reddit banned the Pizzgate community forum earlier this week.
"This subreddit was banned due to a violation of our content policy," a note on the Pizzagate subreddit page read. "Specifically, the proliferation of personal and confidential information. We do not want witchhunts on our site."
Many Reddit users were, predictably, upset by the ban, particularly those on the r/The_Donald subreddit. That subreddit is popular among supporters of Republican President-elect Donald Trump and critics of former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
"One former moderator of the board dedicated to unraveling Pizzagate said that the 'entire mod team and everyone else is tightening up our opsec and putting on our battle-armor,'" a Washington Post article reported.
The former moderator didn't stop there.
"We have all made life insurance videos," they continued. "We have all vowed to continue this fight. You have only increased our number."
"This morning we were numerous, tonight we are legion," they added, according to the Washington Post.
The reference to "life insurance videos" may be an allusion to rumors that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was "silenced" due to the Pizzagate conspiracy.
The members of the Pizzagate subreddit have apparently relocated to Voat, a Reddit alternative.
Talk of Pizzagate hasn't completely fizzled out yet, though. A Google search for the term shows dozens of articles published on the topic in recent days, many of them dedicated to debunking the conspiracy.
That latest Washington Post article (quoted above), for instance, is headlined "'Pizzagate' shows how fake news hurts real people."
In the follow-up to the election, several publications such as Slate and Vanity Fair ran articles suggesting that fake news may have helped sway the election. Such suggestions are often married to the belief that Russian agents were behind the fake news.
Pizzagate is bound to die down eventually unless Wikileaks happens upon some truly incriminating emails. Until then, the Washington Post headline has a point. It does seem that in this case, fake news is hurting real people, particularly the employees of Comet Ping Pong.
[Featured Image by Tim Boyle/Getty Images]