Last week, Arrington de Dionyso played a secret show at Comet Ping Pong that was, shall we say, a fuck you to the alt-right.
With his free jazz collective, This Saxophone Kills Fascists, de Dionyso took to the stage at the little pizza parlor in Washington, DC that's now become synonymous with the weird little term, "pizzagate." Flanking him was a wall where, six years ago, de Dionyso painted a mural. The mural, in the back room of the pizza parlor, featured six figures—two of the figures have antlers sprouting from their skulls and are holding free floating heads. The massive painting coated the wall for over a year until, in 2011, it was painted over.
The jazz musician and visual artist had no idea that somehow, someway, over half a decade later, that, now non-existent, mural would be the catalyst which brought the wrath of some of the internet's dumbest people down upon him. All because of a batshit, surreal, and frothingly angry conspiracy theory.
For those of us uninitiated on the pizzagate, well, tl;dr: it's a theory that Democratic elites (mainly Clinton and those connected to her) are a part of a massive underground child rape syndicate. It primarily comes from 4chan and Reddit sleuths who looked far too deep into Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails (which were allegedly hacked by Russians and certainly Wikileaks released en mass) and deduced that any mention of pizza was code for some sort of pedophilia. In the emails, a certain DC pizza parlour, Comet Ping Pong, is mentioned, and in early November of last year these Sherlocks figured that it must be the centre of the whole child raping plot.
This of course meant that anything associated, even in the slightest way, was a part of that conspiracy. So, when some theorists saw some older photos featuring the mythologically inspired work by de Dionyso he was immediately looked upon as a co-conspirator and, well, they let him know what they thought..
"There were a lot of harassing things on there, calling me a faggot, calling me a satanist, calling me a pedophile, you know, all these kinds of stupid harassing things," de Dionyso told VICE. "There was one account on Twitter that dug up my old MySpace account where they thought a woman I was dating [at the time] looked like Chelsea Clinton. So they put this whole post up saying 'de Dionyso had an inside connection with the Clinton family.'"
"Like, what the fuck man… what the fuck?"
Isn't pizzagate swell?
The fun folks dove deep into symbolism that didn't exist in de Dionyso's art. They focused primarily on the antlers and the heads separated from torsos. They took these elements of the mural, and by tying in what they found to be existing theories (both pizzagate and illuminati based,) they thought they figured it out. The conclusion they came to indicated that de Dionyso was, for lack of a better term, an agent in this conspiracy. Essentially they viewed the mural as a vessel for satanism—it's all very dumb.
"[De Dionyso's] work often contains MK ULTRA-related themes such as dual personalities (two heads), the exploitation of children—often mixed with occult symbolism," reads one of the many blog pieces on the mural.
Now, these trolls weren't targeting an unknown. The Washington state-based artist has been around for years, even earning a profile in the New York Times in 2015. His art has hung in galleries across America and he's taken the stage with his bands Old Time Relijun and Malaikat dan Singa countrywide. As a fuck-you to the resurgence of the far-right in the US (in particular the pizzagaters), he's currently touring the country with his This Saxophone Kills Fascists act.
When the theorists first started targeting de Dionyso, he almost didn't realize. He's not a heavy social media user, so by the time he opened his Twitter account, a few weeks after the conspiracy kicked off, to post an update he was inundated by harassment. The most intense of the deluge read: "The 'artist' is Arrington de Dionyso. I say we lock and load and pay this sick fuck a visit. #pizzagate."
These fun folks, as they often do, took their paranoid ramblings to YouTube. Within one week, three separate YouTube videos on de Dionyso went up. In the videos the creators took screenshots of his darker art—the work is of a similar style as the mural but features people fucking and getting just straight up mutilated—and insinuated that he was a pervert. Alongside the art, they also used photos of de Dionyso's friends and family.
Once de Dionyso realized what was going on (it took him a while because, you know, there aren't Google alerts for this kind of thing) he did what most of us would and locked down all his accounts. But the posts kept coming, and the pizzagaters dug into his work with more depth than even the most well-researched art critic.
"It was crazy, they were really paying attention to shit, but all in the wrong way," said de Dionyso. "I would have loved to have gotten that type of scrutiny at the last art opening I did."
"There was some really bizarre conjectures that were being made, like analyzing symbols from ancient Egyptian and esoteric ancient religions. But the way they would pull in these interpretations was so nefarious and just completely motivated by this kind of bloodlust you would find in a witch hunt from the Middle Ages."
The threats and harassment didn't relent. On every online platform de Dionyso was a part of became full of insanity—to this day he said it still comes in waves. When the posts went to far he would report them to Twitter, getting one account deleted, but for the most part he tried to pretend it wasn't happening. That all changed when, in December of last year, a man "investigating" pizzagate walked into Comet Ping Pong with a rifle and fired three times into the wall.
"I felt like that was a line that got crossed where I wasn't just going to wait for it to go away when that happened," said de Dionyso. "There were completely innocent people working at this restaurant, people that have nothing to do with anything eating at this restaurant. All of them had to go on lockdown because this gunman had to shoot at a wall that he thought held a secret tunnel or something."
Furthermore, the conspiracy theorists had also targeted some friends and fellow artists of de Dionyso who had played in Comet Ping Pong—in particular three women whose bands had played the venue. De Dionyso said the shit that he went through was nothing compared to what happened to these women. The three were doxxed by the trolls and inundated with extremely graphic and very specific rape threats. It was, as de Dionyso explained, a "very motivating factor to hit the horn very loud."
Shortly after the shooting, De Dionyso fired back at the trolls by coming out very publicly about his experience and creating the most politicized art of his career. De Dionyso said his politics haven't changed that much due to this experience but they have started influencing his art to a much larger extent. After this politicized shift something unexpected happened, something he said "scared the hell out of the trolls"—de Dionyso started selling far more work than before all the pizzagate bullshit.
"If their intended effect was to provoke intimidation or to make me stop making art or to make me afraid or something, they were actually doing me an enormous favour—the opposite effect was happening," said de Dionyso.
So, for a multitude of reasons, de Dionyso isn't backing down.
That's why last week he took to the stage for the secret show at Comet Ping Pong, the place this all began, readied himself and looked out of his audience—some of which were other artists targeted by pizzagate—and lifted his saxophone to his lips.
From that stage, next to the wall that used to hold his mural, Arrington de Dionyso played a sweet fuck you to the alt-right.
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