On Sunday afternoon, a man armed with an assault rifle reportedly entered a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant called Comet Ping Pong. Fortunately, no one was injured, police confirmed. After D.C. law enforcement promptly arrested the 28-year-old outside of the establishment, the armed man explained he was there to "self-investigate" something called "Pizzagate." And as far as fake news goes, this so-called "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory is about as fake — and dangerous — as they come. The man is being charged with assault with a serious weapon, according to a statement released by Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Kevin Donahue.
"Pizzagate" refers to the completely unproven conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, and other high-echelon Democrats allegedly discussed a child-trafficking ring in code at Comet Ping Pong. Far right-wing conspiracy theorists took it a step further by claiming the ring's headquarters is none other than the backrooms of Comet Ping Pong itself. Of course, this theory hold absolutely no validity. As if it needs to be stated, there are no witnesses, victims, proof of any sort, or investigation on the nonexistent matter. The same can be said for Comet Ping Pong's alleged involvement in a scandal that — it's safe to say — never happened.
The fake news story was fabricated when Wikileaks released a batch of John Podesta's emails after his account had reportedly been hacked. In fact, the dark allegations central to "Pizzagate" were wildly spun off of an email containing a conversation about a Clinton fundraiser between Podesta and Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis. 4chan users took the convo and ran with it in the worst way possible way. Later, Reddit even banned discussion over "Pizzagate."
Though "Pizzagate" sounds ridiculous, it's important to remember that this conspiracy theory has inspired more than one legitimately frightening and potentially even life-threatening occurrence. Aside from Sunday's arrest, according to The Washington Post, the restaurant has been targeted by death threats related to "Pizzagate." The Post published a statement from Alefantis that illustrates the seriousness of fake news' influence:
What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences. I hope that those involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today, and stop promoting these falsehoods right away.
As early as Nov. 21, The New York Times published a story on "Pizzagate," explaining that unlike fake news outlets suggest, Comet Ping Pong is actually a family restaurant tailored to helping children have fun. Though it's incredibly unfortunate that utterly untrue theories such as "Pizzagate" see the light of day, rumors and their ability to spread should not be underestimated.