I've long wished someone would break into an office at a place called "The Scandal Hotel" or at least the "Questionable Activities Inn" or even the "Nothing to See Here But I'm Still Going To Make a Big Scene Lodge." That way people might stop putting the suffix "-gate" on everything that gets their attention, "Pizzagate" being the latest offender.
I began watching the "Pizzagate" conspiracy a day after it was born. It is, seemingly, the hateful love-child of a Twitter account presenting itself as belonging to a New York lawyer, and a Facebook page whose post was captured in a screengrab and tweeted. The post claimed that the page owner's "NYPD source" knew of e-mails on Anthony Weiner's "device" that linked both Bill and Hillary Clinton to "an international child enslavement and sex ring."
I assume the e-mail was brought to my attention by various industrious trolls because it announced that, "Not even Hillary's most ardent supporters … will be able to excuse THIS!" Apparently, upon viewing it, anyone who had mocked Donald Trump was bound to say, "Oh, there's tweet evidence that it's actually Clinton who commits sexual assault and is generally unqualified to hold office? If there's twevidence of this, then I fold."
The tweet had one of the numerous #Podesta e-mail hashtags, the #pizzagate tag being just a glint in the tinfoil-behatted milkman's eye at this point.
In his telling of the Pizzagate origin story, Craig Silverman of Buzzfeed writes that the pedophilia-ring "news" item was posted the day after the tweet, on Oct. 31, by a long-time trader in the conspiracy theory market, Sean Adl-Tabatabai, on his site YourNewsWire.com. Adl-Tabatabai cited an "FBI insider" as confirmation of the story. That "insider" was an anonymous poster claiming to have "intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Clinton case" who had hosted a thread on the subject of the sex ring on the website 4chan back in July.
So, the "source" was someone answering questions on an imageboard, the single most defining feature of which is that no one posting there goes by even so much as a username.
Fake news is the proverbial snake that eats its own tail, an "ouroboros," as it is called, a creature that feeds upon itself to sustain life. In Norse mythology the Jörmungandr, a sea-serpent ouroboros, grows so large it surrounds the world. Do keep this image in mind as we follow Pizzagate's evolution.
Within three days of its Twitter conception, the story that Hillary Clinton's long-foretold arrest was imminent – on account of her child-sex crimes as well as those of the people with whom she associates – was plastered across the Internet. The website True Pundit reported that a joint NYPD/FBI investigation had gathered "enough evidence 'to put Hillary and her crew away for life.'"
The story's dad, the Twitter account that brought it into the world, proudly tweeted that True Pundit story as if it were his lad's glossy grad photo. That is the ouroboros in action.
Very quickly the idle hands of 4chan and Reddit began panning Clinton campaign manager John Podesta's leaked e-mails for evidence to support the beyond-outlandish allegations.
Unable to find any of those sex words we once combed the dictionary for in a more innocent time, the self-deputized investigators of Pizzagate suggested that when people e-mailed about food – pizza, ice-cream and the like – they were in fact speaking in code. In one of the many hints that all is not well in the sex lives of the Pizzagate-proliferating populace, references to food were quickly accepted as being code for sex, specifically sexual abuse of children.
Before long, a D.C. pizza and Ping-Pong restaurant, Comet Ping Pong, an establishment referenced – along with pizza itself – a few times in Podesta's e-mails, was named as the place where all these crimes were ordered or took place.
I shouldn't have to say this, no one should ever have to say this, but there's quite literally not one single shred of evidence of anything criminal going on at Comet Ping Pong. Or at least there wasn't until last week, when one Edgar Maddison Welch, age 28, of Salisbury, N.C., walked into the restaurant and reportedly fired an AR-15-style assault rifle. He was, he is said to have later told the arresting officers, attempting to "self-investigate" the alleged goings-on at Comet Ping Pong.
At some point in the future, a book will be written about Pizzagate. It will be not unlike one long, very dark, chapter of Charles Mackay's 1841 Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, which claimed to document various episodes of collective madness, and the best we can hope for is that, when that happens, no one believes in Pizzagate.
I like to think that one day the idea that a not-exactly-small segment of the (mostly) American populace was once gripped with an insatiable appetite for lurid tales, stories that they seemed to sincerely believe, of secret underground rooms at a pizza restaurant to which Hillary Clinton and those in her circle routinely brought kidnapped children, will be laughed at. Maybe it will be, but right now photos of children sourced from around the Internet – to give faces to the "victims," who Pizzagaters insist are being tortured for sexual pleasure, sacrificed in Satanic rituals, and/or literally eaten by Hillary Clinton – are shared in tones both horrified and sanctimonious.
There are a fair number of allegations of organ-harvesting thrown around as well. Terrorists pop into the narrative from time to time and foreign powers factor in, along with blood-drinking specifically and witchcraft in general, but mostly there is sexual abuse. The collected texts of Pizzagate are best described as political pedophilic fan-fiction.
The answer to anyone who points out that none of their allegations make any sense, that there is no evidence of any of this is, "Well, where is the evidence that it's not true?" This is said as if that kind evidence were just sitting in a filing cabinet in an editor's office along, with, I suppose, evidence that the questioner isn't just three pizza-hating dogs in a trenchcoat.
Given the fevered discussion around Comet Ping Pong – the establishment had already been the target of serious harassment – it felt like there was an inevitability to some sort of an attack on the restaurant. Given that these people are conspiracy theorists, the response to the attack was equally predictable. Within moments of the story breaking that a gunman had walked into Comet Ping Pong, the incident was, of course, pronounced a "false flag operation" designed to shut down Pizzagate.
There was no cry of "We've gone too far!" There was only "We're getting too close for them!" and "He has an unnamed extras credit on IMDB! Clearly a paid actor!"
Everything that happens anywhere is taken as proof that they're onto something. The term "fake news" was devised, they complain, by the mainstream media in an attempt to maintain their monopoly and suppress the truth because Pizzagate knows too much.
This column is also proof, because while the mainstream media not reporting on Pizzagate was proof that it was real, the mainstream media reporting on Pizzagate (and the gunman rather made that necessary) is also proof it's real. The self-proclaimed "alt-media" of Pizzagate busily posts YouTubes and blogs about Pizzagate.
Donald Trump has pushed numerous conspiracy theories. On Nov. 3, his choice for national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, tweeted "NYPD Blows Whistle on New Hillary Emails: Money Laundering, Sex Crimes w Children, etc...MUST READ!" Maybe Pizzagate is the Peace Corps for the Trump presidency.
The volunteers of Pizzagate studiously parse the texts of dull-as-ditchwater e-mails and study the modernist murals on Comet Ping Pong walls, the Instagram feeds of the staff, and the menus for evidence of evil and they proudly share their findings with the community.
They do this although, according to the doctrines of Pizzagate, the very lack of any evidence of wrongdoing is definitive proof of just how deep and wide the cover-up must go. Why, after all, would so many people put so much work into hiding crimes, shrouding them to the point that they don't seem to have happened at all, if they weren't concealing the very wickedest of sins?
There are parallels here to the daycare and ritual-abuse hysteria of the 1980s. Those 400 children alleged to have been sexually abused at the McMartin Preschool were also, entirely groundlessly, said to have been abused in tunnels. That moral panic, I've long thought, was a reaction to women entering the workforce in large numbers. This year, a woman ran for president and the subterranean satanic child molesters are back.
We're watching a morality play about the unnaturalness of women seeking power, certainly, but there's also a vacuum in people's lives that Pizzagate is filling. Sometimes one senses in their fervency, even through all the bile and prejudice so often apparent in the phenomena, that which Leonard Cohen called a "spiritual thirst."
These people seem to feel a desperate need to belong to something. Understandable, and yet, as Mr. Mackay wrote in Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, "Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."