If only this was a joke: a 28-year-old walked into a Washington, D.C.-area pizza shop over the weekend, armed with an assault rifle, to investigate the right-wing conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton runs a child trafficking ring out of the restaurant.
The suspect, identified as Edgar Maddison Welch of Salisbury, NC, told police that he went to the Comet Ping Pong pizza shop in Chevy Chase, MD, as part of his own efforts to investigate “Pizzagate,” the deeply insane theory, which has flourished on 4chan, Reddit, and other far-right internet hubs, during Wikileaks’ dump of then-Clinton campaign manager John Podesta‘s stolen emails.
As the Washingtonian reports, Welch strolled into the restaurant around 3 p.m. local time on Sunday afternoon. Police said Welch pointed his weapon at an employee, who was able to flee, and fired one shot at the floor. No one was injured, and Welch has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon. Officers also said the suspect entered the restaurant with two guns and a third was recovered from his car.
To really properly delve into the semantics of what Pizzagate is would require John Nash-style diagrams and numerous links to YouTube videos of pale men breathlessly decoding the hidden messages they’ve read into Podesta’s emails. But the short version involves a sordid tale of Clinton and Podesta personally being involved in kidnapping, molesting, and trafficking children to other members of the Democratic elite out of the suburban restaurant. (Spoiler alert: none of this is true.)
And since the so-called alt-right’s tin hat crowd zeroed in on Comet Ping Pong, its owner and his employees have relentlessly been targeted by online death threats and menacing phone calls.
“From this insane, fabricated conspiracy theory, we’ve come under constant assault,” James Alefantis, the restaurant’s owner, told the New York Times last month. “I’ve done nothing for days but try to clean this up and protect my staff and friends from being terrorized.”
The conspiracy theory has also taken hold among some members of President-elect Donald Trump’s inner circle. Retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s incoming national security adviser, tweeted a link to a fake news story purporting that new emails linked Clinton and her associates to “Sex crimes with minors (children).”
On the day of the incident at Comet Ping Pong, Flynn’s son got even more direct about his Pizzagate suspicions.
Trump hasn’t tweeted about the incident, but did make his feelings known about one “sad” thing this weekend.