‘Pizzagate’: Can You Top This?

During the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, Americans spent too much time on the roller coaster and got addicted to it.

We are now in the post-election phase of our national life, starring President-elect Donald Trump and his victory-and-transition magical mystery tour. Every day, we feel more and more in the land of Oz — the one in “Wicked” (minus “Defying Gravity”).

We are talking about the Black Net. Black Flags. Seriously, we are talking about “Black Flags,” the dissemination of false news as true stories over the internet. And not just any old false news — things so preposterous that not even the most gullible earthling would believe it.

Just ask the folks at Comet Ping Pong, a busy and very original little pizza parlor on an upscale portion of Connecticut Avenue, which it shares with a BP gas station, a CVS, the one remaining great book store in Washington and other small businesses.

Comet Ping Pong shows music videos, has a back area where children can play ping pong and boasts a menu of you-choose-all-the-ingredients pizzas. On weekends, it’s an active, high-energy family place, filled with kids’ soccer aftermaths. After Saturday chores, my wife and I have often dropped by for Caesar salad, white pizza and a root beer float.

Did you know that Comet Ping Pong is part of a child sex-trafficking ring apparently sponsored by Hillary Rodham Clinton, that children are transported through a tunnel running beneath the block, that pizza is actually a code word for child molestation? Neither did we, and neither did Comet owner Joseph Alefantis. Buzz along these lines has been sparking around the internet, generated by the rumor mill that fired up when new Clinton emails, as well as Podesta emails, came to light.

The net, especially so-called alt-right social media and websites, went viral with the tale. A key site was Infowars, run by Alex Jones, a big Trump supporter who got a personal visit from the then-candidate, who praised him profusely on air.

By last weekend, Pizzagate had become a thing, complete with angry phone calls to employees and other establishments on the block.

Then, on Sunday, Dec. 4, it became a nightmare.

A 28-year-old man named Edgar Maddison Welch from Salisbury, North Carolina, walked into Comet Ping Pong carrying an AK-47. He arrived on the Connecticut Avenue block on a mission to “self-investigate” the massive internet palaver. As customers ran away, he fired at least one shot, perhaps more, then searched the premises.

When he left, a substantial gathering of police awaited him outside. He dropped the rifle, turned his back on the officers, raised his hands and surrendered.

While many of his North Carolina friends considered him a “loving” man, and were shocked to hear what he had done, it’s best to describe Welch for what he was, whatever his knight-errant intention to save the children. He terrorized people in a neighborhood pizza place, employees and customers both. He shocked those who heard the news (everyone, before long), and sent out a wave of fear.

The “Pizzagate gunman” embodied the consequences of lies taken at face value for truth, when facts are merely a hindrance to embracing what you already know — exactly the kind of things that have characterized, and continue to characterize, our political, media and social-media culture.

The fact that nobody was injured, or hurt, doesn’t mitigate how terrorizing the entrance of a man with a gun into a family restaurant is. It is more than a puzzling intrusion, an odd little event.

Welch, who has custody of his three young children and has been arrested several times in North Carolina, apparently became obsessed by the internet stories he’d passionately ingested. According to news reports, he later told police he was convinced that no children were being harmed at Comet Ping Pong. This sounded a little bit like Donald Trump acknowledging, after years of spreading rumors indicating otherwise, that President Barack Obama was a U.S. citizen.

We bring up the president-elect for a reason. Amid the transition whirlwind of comings and goings, tweets and cabinet selections, it became known that Michael Flynn Jr., son of retired General Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick for national security advisor, had been an avid disseminator of the Comet-as-sex-trafficking-center narrative. He persisted in it, tweeting “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story. The left seems to forget #Podesta Emails and the many ‘coincidences’ tied to it.” Flynn Jr. has since been removed from his transition job as chief of staff to his father. Flynn Sr. had also tweeted about the story, just before the election.

The world of daily tweets and the endless amount of false information — competing with facts and what conservatives like to call the lamestream media — has become a hallmark of our political process. And it hasn’t stopped just because the election is more or less over. False stories work somewhat like mistakes made in regular stories — everyone remembers the mistake, even if it’s a mistake, and no one reads the retraction.

False-flag stories are journalistic mistakes on steroids. They appear to require no connection to any facts, reality or requirements of proof. Even Pope Francis has railed against them, somewhat colorfully but emphatically.

What’s out there now resembles the behavior of those folks that flew the old black, skull-and-crossbones flag.

Believe this: Finland already has a political party that calls itself the Pirate party, and it almost took power. I tweet you not.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *