A Return To #Pizzagate
#FakeNews has been a term tossed around a lot since the election, the sharing and promoting of articles and stories that are at best propaganda, but usually much closer to conspiracy theories. These stories can have real consequences. #Pizzagate was one such story. Unfortunately for our community, the anger and suspicion of this particular story did not disperse into the ether the way most do. Instead, an armed gunman arrived in our neighborhood to “investigate” the #Pizzagate claims.
Back in October John Podesta, Hilary Clinton’s campaign chairman, had his emails hacked by Russians and released by WikiLeaks. One of these emails was between Podesta and the owner of Comet Ping Pong, a pizza and ping pong restaurant in DC, about the possibility of hosting a fundraiser there. The internet, mostly 4Chan, got a hold of the email and began to weave intricate and derogatory stories about what must be going on at the restaurant. The winner: that Clinton and Podesta were running a child trafficking ring out of the restaurant. From 4Chan to the jumping off point of the alt-right and then out onto the wider web went this story. Just to be clear there is no such ring. As a frequenter of Comet for the last 10 years I can personally attest to that.
What’s the Matter Snowflake, Can’t Take a Little Joke?
What followed was basically a textbook case of middle school digital harassment. Nasty tweets, Facebook posts and email began pouring in. Pictures of customers and their children were posted online as “victims” of ring and used as evidence to justify further attacks. We have all seen this anonymous deluge of digital wrath that can pour down onto the heads of the unsuspecting and undeserving. These actions with respect to #Pizzagate would have been bad enough, but events did not stop there.
On December 4th a reader and believer of these false accounts, Edgar Madison Welch, decided to take in upon himself to drive to DC from North Carolina and rescue the children he knew were trapped in the ping pong parlor. He walked into the restaurant with a loaded AR-15, handgun, and a shotgun. He was ready and armed for Hilary Clinton and her child traffickers he expected to face, but the family restaurant was full of its typical Sunday afternoon crowd. Welch communicated before that he was “going to raid a pedo ring, possibly sacrificing the lives of a few for the lives of many.” After firing several shots inside the restaurant, he proceeded further into the alleged den of iniquity searching for something he would never find because it did not exist. Welch surrendered to authorities 45 minutes later and thankfully no one was hurt.
Two Months Later
After the incident, rather than abandoning Comet in fear of further attacks, the community has rallied around the restaurant. Several Facebook events were held in the following weeks with lines stretching around the block. While the the massive outpouring of support has dimmed some, the underlying emotions remain. I had some friends in from out of town this weekend and they asked where we should go for dinner in our neighborhood. My response was immediate “Come, let’s go to Comet Pizza, it is one of the places our community is most proud of and the food is pretty good too.” Not unusual for a Friday night the place was packed, filled with parents and their small children, college students, and those people who wear suits to happy hour.
Walking into Comet, you can feel an edge, and underlying current gripping the patrons. Watching all the small children run around moderately unsupervised made me realize that this edge may not be fear, much as I expected it to be. It is a steel, a determination, a resistance to a view of the world personified by the gunman who intruded into our community. Come to our city and you will witness a new determined inclusivity, a determination shared across the U.S, based in part upon our recognition that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Where all this will lead I cannot say, but I do know it is important that this is a choice we made as a group, not one the internet or anyone else made for us.