Pizzagate and Other Conspiracies
On wanting to be in the room where it didn't happenAlex Wong / Getty Politics Features Pizzagate
Hey! Psssh! Yeah! You there!
Did you know that there’s a pizza place in Washington, D.C. where unspeakable horrors are afoot? It’s called Comet Ping-Pong. It’s gonna be a big scandal when this busts open. “Pizzagate,” they call it. Some kind of sex ring. Vile deeds afoot. Did you know that this conspiracy is widespread throughout the whole Democratic Party? Did you know that there are clues throughout John Podesta’s emails? There’s a code you can find. It explains the entire thing!
Actually, you wanna know an even crazier story? Did you knew that the above is a false-as-hell conspiracy theory ginned up by the Internet? Did you know it’s been spread by the wise men of Reddit and 4chan?
I know! Can you believe it?
Did you know there’s absolutely no truth to it? Did you know that the D.C. Police Department, hardly a home of secret leftist cabals, has said publicly there is zero, absolutely nothing to the power of nonsense that is true about the entire mad tale? Hey buddy, didya know that the whole spiel was debunked thoroughly by Snopes, and if that’s not your taste, the New York Times and Fox News? Yeah.
Pretty nutty right? You wanna know the craziest thing?
(Looks in both directions, then leans in closer.)
Somebody actually tried to hurt somebody over this.
I SAW THE SIGN
Comet Ping Pong is a hip joint in D.C., famous for having a lot of families running around, kids having fun. Because it’s in D.C., it’s also tied into political fundraisers, like practically everywhere else in the District of Columbia.
The owner of the place, James Alefantis, was a supporter of Hillary, and once dated David Brock, the one-time conservative activist who is now a fervent supporter for HRC. The convoluted plot put together by Trump supporters is that Comet Pizza is actually the front for a child exploitation, managed at its highest point by the tip-top brass of the Democratic Party.
It started, as most stories do, on Reddit.
The original Pizzagate post on the site is fairly innocuous, using the typical “Just asking questions” defense. Trump supporters have been hunting for a connection between Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire who solicited an underage girl for prostitution, and Bill Clinton, a millionaire who used to be president. Which is strange, because there’s an even stronger tie between Trump and Epstein that never gets mentioned.
When the Podesta emails came out, the Epstein-hunters sprang upon them, claiming there was a large, super-secret, elaborate code. This kind of thinking will be familiar to anyone who was ever friends with a Pink Floyd fan in junior high. For those of us who have long been in the world, the Podesta emails were unsurprising: the boring, petty minutiae of the ruling class.
If that collection of communications showed anything, it proved once again that the American political elite is a collection of hapless boobs. No wonder Castro died at a ripe old age. There is no subtlety or art in any of those files. As Matt Christman pointed out, if these people had operated a ring of illicit solicitation, they wouldn’t have used code words; they would have stated it right out. They can’t even handle an election. Why do people think they could pull off a massive criminal conspiracy?
But the theorists were not to be put aside. They went to the Facebook pages of the friends and employees of Alefantis. The theorists actually took pictures of the children of Alefantis’ friends, and included them in a series of increasingly unhinged posts. Were the theorists being deliberately malicious or did they think, actually think, that they were saving people? Did it matter? This Sunday, a man named Edgar Welch drove from North Carolina and walked into Comet Ping Pong. He had three guns and fired a shot, and then surrendered.
Alefantis was most upset about the photos of children’s photos being used for such batshit purposes. From Washington City Paper:
Alefantis says the photos have been lifted from his personal social media accounts, and those of his friends and employees—not from the restaurant. “Kids in the restaurant are completely safe, none of these people are going there, they’re cowards,” he says, emphasizing that this scandal only exists on the internet. Inside the restaurant it’s business as usual … While Alefantis says he can weather the storm, he’s concerned about others who may not have as much community backing as he does. “I personally worry for the individuals who are being attacked and smeared and slandered and maligned and for other independent businesses or restaurants who are less established than Comet.”
THE MEN IN THE SHADOWS
What are we to make of the paranoid men who pushed this theory? Let us assume that the theorists are operating in genuine faith, and believe a pizza parlor owner is at the head of a strange, predatory cabal.
The unspoken irony of the entire sad affair? That the conspiracy theorists are engaged in a classic case of projection. The plain fact is that conspiracy theorists are children in all but age. It takes the faith of a child to assume the world is governed as smoothly as a trolley car running down silver rails; it requires the vanity of a child to think that people in the next room or the hidden castle are always talking about you. It requires the empathy and universal humanity of a child to disregard titles and expertise, and to trust the screaming man on a box has as much insight into the workings of the world as anyone who has ever written a book.
Most of all, the unquestioned trust a child vests in his parents is the loyalty a conspiracy theorist gives to his own bogeymen. The gnomes of Zurich, or the Bilderbergers, or Bohemian Grove are the adults in the theorist’s imaginings, and have all of the mighty powers that children give to adults: they are all-present, all-knowing, all-powerful. In reality, most of the wealthy people in the world are dull; most of the powerful people can barely stay ahead of events; and most of the competent people are busy elsewhere.
Far from questioning leaders, conspiracy theorists are accepting of the commonplace yoke of authority: the poorly-informed bore. You become a conspiracy theorist not because you are skeptical, but because you are gullible; your heart says you care, but your thinking is careless. Only children are duped as easily as a conspiracy theorist; only a child can so easily muddy the difference between evidence and speculation.
Humans are bad at recognizing true randomness. It is understandable that seeking out order from chaos makes people feel better, feel less anxious. It is infinitely more comforting to think there is a hand driving the world than to think nobody is in charge and that nobody can see all of the angles.
It is more pleasing to think that the world is deliberately designed to be this crazy, instead of being the outcome of seven billion people tugging at the steering wheel of history simultaneously. If I had to choose between believing that A) flying cars existed and were being kept hidden from me or B) flying cars didn’t exist at all, I would gladly choose B. I would prefer to live in a world where human technology and human deception had been brought to the point of perfection, than to live on a planet where neither was practiced very well.
When I first moved to Atlanta, I had an Uber drive who informed me, quite insistently, that FEMA had concentration camps open. My laughter didn’t seem to discomfort him. He was insistent on these and other points. Oh, he had much merchandise in the same line. Unfortunately for him, he failed to close his car’s sun roof and so the rushing air passing over his minivan drowned out most of his revelation. I suspect he was just as happy to yell to the wind and the night as he was to another person. In a time when ordinary citizens have far too little power, some persons pursue politics-as-performance.
Michael Shermer, writing for Scientific American, discusses what makes up a conspiracy theory:
“A conspiracy theory, Uscinski and Parent explain, is defined by four characteristics: ’(1) a group (2) acting in secret (3) to alter institutions, usurp power, hide truth, or gain utility (4) at the expense of the common good.’”
My driver didn’t have much to say about climate change, nor anything to say about how influence is really used in the world. A greater irony still: if the theorists wanted to fight abusive concentrations of power, there is no shortage of those in America. The most wicked acts are rarely done in the shadows. If you are willing to follow evidence, and stick to the facts, there are no shortage of dragons to fight.
The Dakota Pipeline is not a conspiracy; outsourcing is not a conspiracy, the melting icecaps are not a conspiracy, the American foreign policy and drone warfare and Gitmo are not conspiracies; the inequality of our society is not a conspiracy. They are public facts; they are not the results of immense chess-like plans, but the boring, predictable results of institutionalized, self-serving power.
None of this is secret, or surprising. But isn’t it much more relaxing—easier—to think there is a gigantic power behind it? If the end of education is self-knowledge—and since theorists so obviously lack self-awareness—then the hunt for the Illuminati is a really a hunt for the self. And that is the nature of conspiracy buffs: people forever looking for a secretive, plotting, suspicious circle of men in a closed room, never realizing that they are reaching for a mirror.