Fake news about Hillary Clinton running a child sex-trafficking ring leads gunman to pizza restaurant

The consequences of a viral fake news story got very real and scary for a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant over the weekend.

On Sunday afternoon, D.C. police arrested a 28-year-old North Carolina man after he fired a rifle inside Comet Ping Pong, the center of a fictitious conspiracy theory that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and campaign chairman John Podesta were running a child-trafficking ring out of the restaurant, police said.

The gunman, Edgar Maddison Welch, told the Metropolitan Police Department after the arrest that he went there to investigate the conspiracy theory.

No one was injured, but police said Welch pointed a gun at a restaurant employee, who was able to flee and call law enforcement. Police recovered two guns inside the pizzeria and another firearm inside Welch’s car.

Social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, have been contending with what their responsibility is to stop misinformation from spreading to the masses. While some have blamed social media sites for Donald Trump’s presidential victory, there’s been a debate about how much influence fake news had over the election.

“For now, I will simply say that we should all condemn the efforts of certain people to spread malicious and utterly false accusations about Comet Ping Pong, a venerated DC institution,” restaurant owner James Alefantis said in a statement to the Associated Press. “Let me state unequivocally: these stories are completely and entirely false, and there is no basis in fact to any of them. What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences.”

Comet Ping Pong was receiving death threats because of the false “Pizzagate” story, the New York Times reported last month, but this was the first report of a shooter entering the restaurant to investigate the conspiracy theory.

In November, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook is exploring ways to combat fake news and takes its responsibility seriously. The Menlo Park tech firm, which has said repeatedly it isn’t a media company, faced more criticism that it was evading its responsibilities after Zuckerberg said that fake news made up a small percentage of all the content on the social network and thought the idea that Facebook influenced the outcomes of the election was “pretty crazy.”

Last week, Facebook Vice President of Communications and Public Policy Elliot Schrage also said during a conference that the tech firm “resisted having standards about whether something’s newsworthy because we did not consider ourselves a service that was predominantly for the distribution of news.” Schrage added “that was wrong.”

Reddit banned a “Pizzagate” conspiracy board from the site, but that irked some Trump supporters, who started targeting the company’s CEO with abusive comments.

Despite there being no evidence that the Pizzagate conspiracy theory is true, some high-ranking conservatives — including Trump’s pick for national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn —  have been spreading the story around on Twitter.

On Sunday, Flynn’s son questioned whether the conspiracy theory was false.


But for some, Sunday’s shooting highlighted the impact fake news has on politics.

On Monday, after the arrest, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that there was “no denying the corrosive effect that some of these false reports have had on our political debate.”

“That’s concerning in a political context,” Earnest said. “It’s deeply troubling that some of those false reports could lead to violence.”

Photo: Meighan Stone places a support banner with flowers outside the door of Comet Ping Pong pizza shop, in Washington, D.C., Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. A fake news story prompted a man to fire a rifle inside the pizza place as he attempted to “self-investigate” a conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring from there, police said. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)


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  • Orson Welles

    The level of propaganda that cloaks itself in the veneer of real news has become absolutely insane. This really should have been addressed 10 years ago when paid foreign internet trolls began this campaign of misinformation. Even Huff Post and some print media outlets did a couple of articles on it and the rest of the mainstream media ignored the seriousness of it, instead focusing on garbage like Kim Kardashian’s butt pics. Also, someone should do something about the click-bait phony news stories that are just ads. Personally, I blame the big networks like CBS, MSNBC, ABC, and CNN for not casting a spotlight on these unscrupulous and ultimately damaging practices of creating faux news articles.

    • CxChawitterS

      Are you a child abuser?

  • greg

    These fake news stories are believed by many people i interact with. It is clear that people who are unhappy with the status quo “want” to believe.

    The “media” has gorged on the eyeballs and has delighted in repeating outrageous accusations to titillate viewers, to stir emotions and to keep viewers engaged and coming back.
    It does not matter which 24 hour station you pick each one spent the last year putting Trump’s words and thoughts in front of viewer non stop, repeating his name many hundreds of times day and repeating his retweets, tweets, postings, and allowing him and his alt right haters unprecedented access to our TV screens.

    Only in the closing days did CNN or MSNBC even attempt to re take control of thier own shows. Trump supporters where allowed to state lies as facts, for days, weeks months without any real pushback.
    Week after week, month after month 24 news chased confrontation, chased drama, gossip etc and ignored their responsibility to viewers. It was not until the closing days that media even attempted stop Trump’s abuse of their services.

    But much worse instead of ignoring Trump and his staffs lies , they repeated them. even when they were patently false. We had 6 months of Trump shouting about emails, when all the media needed to do was not bother repeating his claims. But they could not resist the easy and dramatic material, it kept viewer tuning in, and MSNBC CNN seemed to delight in treating Hillary’s flaws as if they were comparable to Trump’s disgusting antics.

    I am completely disgusted with our 24 hour news media. They disgraced themselves.

    • CxChawitterS

      Your denial is suspicious

  • CxChawitterS

    Any comments on the child abuse innuendo of the Instagrams of the pizza owners?