Billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk has come under fire online for seemingly trying to revive the widely debunked conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate” online.
The self-described “free-speech absolutist” recently shared posts on his social media platform X, questioning aspects of the strange online theory, which resulted in a shooting at a Washington DC restaurant in 2016 and was seen as a precursor to the QAnon conspiracy.
Here’s what you need to know about Pizzagate:
What is Pizzagate?
Pizzagate is a conspiracy theory that claims high profile Democrats, including former presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, run a child sex trafficking ring.
The claims allege that Ms Clinton and her campaign manager John Podesta ran a criminal operation out of the basement of Washington DC pizza joint Comet Ping Pong.
The theory spread widely on 4chan, Reddit, Twitter (now known as X) and other platforms in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election.
How did it start?
The conspiracy theory began after hacked emails from Mr Podesta were released by WikiLeaks. The letter mentions James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong and a prominent Democratic donor.
The emails discussed the possibility of a fundraiser for the Clinton campaign, organized by Mr Alefantis.
What are the claims?
Members of the anonymous message board 4Chan, an internet message board known for promoting extreme beliefs, later targeted Mr Alefantis’ social media, citing pictures of children and construction in the restaurant’s basement. as evidence of wrongdoing.
It was also claimed that some words in emails sent by Mr Alefantis, such as “pizza” and “cheese”, were code words for criminal activity. Some link “cheese pizza” to the initials “cp” which are reportedly used on dark web forums to denote “child pornography”.
Other foods, including “hotdog” and “pasta” are also used as inappropriate codewords aimed at minors.
The restaurant’s signage is linked to satanic symbols, prompting speculation of satanic rituals and cannibalism at the restaurant.
What are the consequences?
The claims continued to spread online, later migrating to more mainstream sites such as Facebook and spreading as far as the UK and Saudi Arabia.
Alefantis and staff members at Comet Ping Pong received hundreds of death threats online, along with threats made to set fire to the pizzeria.
At one point protesters also gathered outside the restaurant questioning Mr Alefantis and accusing him of involvement in the alleged crimes.
It also resulted in a non-fatal shooting at the restaurant.
On 4 December 2016, 29-year-old Edgar Welch, of North Carolina, armed with an AR-15 assault rifle and two other weapons, entered the pizzeria, which was filled with employees, customers and children.
Welch encountered a locked room and tried to force the door open, first with a butter knife and then by smashing his assault rifle several times through the door.
The occupants of the building escaped, and no one was injured during the incident. Welsh eventually left his weapons inside the restaurant and was arrested.
He later told the police that he had come to investigate claims that the pizzeria was hiding child sex slaves in its basement, despite the fact that Comet Ping Pong had no basement.
Welch pleaded guilty to a federal charge of interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition, and a District of Columbia charge of assault with a dangerous weapon in 2017.
He was sentenced to four years in prison and was released in 2021.
According to a New York Times article that seeks to debunk the main theories of Pizzagate, the shooting “did not put the theory to rest” and the mainstream media later blamed the conspirators for covering up the alleged crime ring.
Pizzagate later became a pillar of the now-famous far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, a vast web of baseless theories that attracted thousands of followers.
QAnon centers around a mysterious figure, known only as “Q”, who posts cryptic messages on internet forums that followers believe foreshadow a coming “deep state” purge, which will supposedly be led by nor former president Donald Trump and his allies. .
The theory goes that this purge will lead to a day of reckoning for various prominent people such as the Clintons, Oprah Winfrey, the late Jeffrey Epstein, and countless other elite and largely leftist figures.