When ‘fake news’ turns deadly

Edgar Welch, a 28-year old resident of North Carolina, entered the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in northwest Washington, DC’s Cleveland Park on a quiet Sunday afternoon claiming to be some sort of citizen journalist who was “self-investigating” a bogus story floating around the Internet. The story, which has no merit, was amplified by social media during the recent presidential campaign. The story claimed that the pizza restaurant was some sort of nexus for a shadowy pedophile ring reaching into the inner circle of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Welch decided that part of his investigation of the “story” was to fire an assault rifle into the restaurant, which, on weekends, is crowded with families with young children who live in the surrounding Chevy Chase/Cleveland Park neighborhood. Restaurant employees and customers fled the restaurant, all escaping injury. Nearby businesses along Connecticut Avenue that also attract large numbers of weekend customers were put in lockdown mode. They included an Indian restaurant, a coffee shop, and a bar and grille, as well as the iconic Politics & Prose bookstore, which often features book talks by prominent authors. Ironically, a book event featuring Mark Shriver, the nephew of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, both felled by assassins’ bullets, was being held at the time the bookstore was placed into lockdown.

The so-called “Pizzagate” story had problems from the outset of its genesis on a few dubious websites. The vacuous story falsely claimed that the pizzeria was engaged in a pedophile operation with John Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager and former White House chief of staff for Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. There were baseless allegations that Podesta and his brother Tony, a prominent DC lobbyist, were the subjects of a Portuguese police sketch of two major suspects in the 2007 kidnapping of 3-year old Madeleine McCann from her family’s vacation apartment in Portugal. There were links to the kidnapping to the highest ranks of the British government, including the late Liberal MP, broadcaster, and humorist Sir Clement Freud, the grandson of psychopathology sex expert Dr. Sigmund Freud. However, after multiple painstaking investigations by some of Britain’s top media outlets, there has never even been a hint of the involvement of the Podestas in the still-unsolved crime.

The false story has its roots in an unconfirmed series of reports that child pornography was discovered on the laptop computer of former Representative Anthony Weiner. The former congressman and husband of Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin was under criminal investigation by the New York Police Department and FBI for “sexting” messages with a 15-year old North Carolina female. That story was combined by conspiracy fanatics with the disclosure of John Podesta’s leaked emails. There were unfounded allegations that the word “pizza,” which often appeared in Podesta’s emails, was code for young girls.

It did not help that the son of retired General Michael Flynn, president-elect Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser, retweeted stories regarding “Pizzagate.”

Podesta, who this editor has casually known for 30 years, is a veteran of a number of political and social cause campaigns. For the unindoctrinated, campaign workers, both paid and volunteer, almost exclusively subsist on pizzas during long working hours. Podesta’s fondness for pizza is apparently well-known to many of his colleagues in Washington.

The Pizzagate fable resulted in anonymous death threats against restaurant owner James Alefantis, his employees, as well as the owners and employees of nearby businesses, including the Little Red Fox café, which is next door to the pizzeria. The café received as many as 40 death threats. An NGO located in an office space across Connecticut Avenue, Beyond Borders, was falsely implicated in the fable merely because it works to assist Haitian orphans. Even the Washington Post reporters who wrote about the Welch shooting received death threats from conspiracy true believers.

According to the Post story, after firing his assault rifle into the restaurant, Welch entered the kitchen and asked about the “underground tunnels” where children were allegedly held prisoner and tortured. This is another area where the fake story loses any ounce of credibility. The only tunnel in the area is the Metro’s Red Line. There were also elements of the bogus story that alleged that torture occurred in an “abandoned” subway line. There are no abandoned subway lines in the Washington Metro subway system.

Numerous posts on Reddit and websites of questionable veracity claimed that Comet Ping Pong was linked underground by tunnels to other area businesses all engaged in child exploitation and torture. These included Besto Pizza, which used in its advertising a stylized symbol of two pizza slices with melted mozzarella cheese extending from their edges. For the crazy conspiracists, this symbol was the same one cited by the FBI as that used for man-boy love.

Another aspect of the fake story was that the Podestas had in their possession art work depicting child pornography. WMR was informed by a knowledgeable source that Tony Podesta’s home in the Lake Barcroft subdivision in Fairfax County, Virginia, at one time featured as part of its art exhibition a few nude images of 18 to 21 year olds. According to an official of the subdivision’s home owners’ association, the images have since been transferred to a private collector. While the artwork might be in bad taste for some, there is nothing illegal in its display or transfer.

The Pizzagate story does a great disservice to those reporters and others who have been investigating actual criminal conspiracies involving pedophiles. These include the extent of the pedophilia network cover-ups in Pennsylvania that resulted in the political prosecution of former Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Delaware that involved prosecutorial foot-dragging by that state’s Attorney General, the late Beau Biden, the son of Vice President Joe Biden.

As for Welch and other like-minded so-called “citizen journalists,” real investigative journalism does not involve assault rifles and believing everything found on the Internet. Nor does “media” include someone sitting in their mom’s basement with a computer, web camera, Internet connection, and YouTube account.

There is a stark lesson in the so-called Pizzagate for amateur journalists. The unfounded allegations against John Podesta and the owners of businesses along Connecticut Avenue are legal textbook definitions of what constitutes libel. In the United States, libel constitutes allegations made without proof that have the desired effect of causing harm to another person, natural or legal. In this case, real damage to the reputations of individuals and businesses has resulted from the phony Pizzagate story and those affected have a very good case in seeking damages from those who engaged in fallacious conspiracy-mongering.

Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.

Copyright © 2016 WayneMadenReport.com

Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).

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3 Responses to When ‘fake news’ turns deadly

  1. Pingback: News of Planet of the Apes, with Meria | Meria.net

  2. How come WikiLeaks never exposed Donald Trump’s pedophile ties? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkhqMbY5e9w

  3. Many of us are not convinced that Pizzagate is a smear comprised of unfounded allegations.