On Sunday, a North Carolina man was detained outside of a Washington, DC, pizza restaurant and concert venue after allegedly entering the establishment with an assault rifle and firing one or more shots. So far, there have been no reports of injuries, but the restaurant, Comet Ping Pong, and several others nearby were put on lockdown for several hours, according to the Washington Post.
Police Chief Peter Newsham initially told the Post, "At this point we do not believe that it was terrorist related. And it's unclear right now what the motive is." A DC Police statement released late Sunday noted that the gunman had explained in a post-arrest interview that he was "self-investigating" what's come to be known as "pizzagate".
It didn't take an interview confession to figure that out, however. Since before last month's election, Comet Ping Pong has been at the center of a highly bleak fake-news garbage fire, in which right-wing conspiracy types have come to believe that the restaurant is at the center of a grand-scale pedophilia ring involving none other than Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign chair John Podesta.
The substance of the conspiracy is nuts even by the standards of right-wing conspiracy memes. It involves systems of tunnels and back rooms and coded symbols and language. It turns out that if you substitute in "child sex abuse" for "pizza" you can find a whole lot of evil in the world. Pizzagaters congregated for a time at Reddit—see archived thread here—but the topic was banned last month.
Among its followers, pizzagate includes none other than Michael Flynn, the retired general tapped to be President-elect Donald Trump's national security advisor.
Snopes went deep on the conspiracy theory last month, but, to give some perspective, much of it revolves around the frequent appearance of pizza in Podesta and Co's hacked emails and the existence of … a handkerchief featuring a "pizza-related" map on it. From Washington City Paper:
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." … To the alt right, though, "pizza" became a suspected code word for illegal sex trafficking. … In one 2008 email released by Wikileaks, Alefantis thanked Podesta for attending a fundraiser at the restaurant but regretted not making him a pizza. That drew amateur theorists' attention to the restaurant's murals, which they declared "creepy," and the sliding doors in front of the restaurant's bathrooms, dubbed "hidden rooms."
The DC Police statement identified the suspect as 28 year old Edgar Maddison Welch of Salisbury, NC. He's been charged with assault with a dangerous weapon.
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