#pizzagate | #WhatTheyVotedFor
The underlying question of the #trumpswindle seems at once both straightforward and incredibly twisted. It is, after all, a complicated question of expectation and interpretation, of what one says versus what one means, and it might be that Freud was correct and they’re all hung up on something about their mothers, or maybe object relations subsumes that neurotic array as some primary identification of something having to do with authority accommodated and assimilated. And while it is just as true that the preceding sentence is likely as vapid as it is correct, the simpler expression is that it never really was about all those other things because Donald Trump’s supporters are, at heart, after the thrill of wicked and vicious empowerment, which is the legendary birthright of every superior intellect and conscience.
If it seems really easy to overstate the #trumpswindle, remember why truth is stranger than fiction.
Let us start, then, at Slate, with Ben Mathis-Lilley:
In Florida, meanwhile, the Department of Justice has just announced the arrest of a Tampa, Florida–area woman who—believing, like [InfoWars host Alex] Jones, that the deaths at Sandy Hook were faked—threatened to kill one of the bereaved parents of a Sandy Hook victim ....
The parent in question, Len Pozner, is what New York magazine described in a September piece as “the de facto leader of the [Sandy Hook] anti-hoaxer movement”; he operates an advocacy organization for family members of mass-killing victims who’ve been harassed by truthers and has filed a lawsuit against one prominent Sandy Hook denier for invasion of privacy. Pozner told the magazine that he was actually once an Infowars listener himself before losing his 6-year-old son Noah in Newtown. Said Pozner: “I probably listened to an Alex Jones podcast after I dropped the kids off at school that morning” ....
The Slatest editor also offers an overview of the growing … er … ah … well, plot doesn’t seem quite the right word, unless―er … right. Still, the garden grows, though it’s not exactly a healthy crop:
The bizarre “Pizzagate” online hoax theory that Hillary Clinton operates a satanic pedophilia ring out of Comet pizza in Washington, D.C., has now expanded to encompass pizzerias in at least three other cities, local outlets report:
• In Austin, Texas, according to the Austin American-Statesman, the East Side Pies mini-chain has been the subject of online and phone harassment (and one incident of IRL vandalism) by individuals who have “interpreted the restaurant’s logo as a symbol of the ‘illuminati,’ questioned the meaning of photos of pizza-eating children on East Side Pies’ Facebook account, inferred that a picture of staffers with former Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell was proof of nefarious political ties and claimed co-owner Michael Freid, an alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America, had ‘connections to the CIA.'”
• DNAInfo writes that an employee of the Brooklyn pizza restaurant Roberta’s received a telephoned death threat after it was identified as a hub of satanic activity in a YouTube video posted by an individual who made similar claims about a restaurant in Amherst, New York, which is near Buffalo.
And now you know why Donald Trump is president.
The campaign promises will be broken. Donald Trump will not drain the swamp; he will not come up with something terrific to replace the PPACA; he will not lock her up. And while, for the most part, nation and world alike are better off for the president-elect not following through on the most part of his platform, what will remain is the bigotry and bullying, and that’s why Donald Trump is president. This is #WhatTheyVotedFor.
Except we started with something about pizza and mayhem, and Comet Ping Pong gunman Edgar M. “Maddison” Welch makes the specific point that he didn’t vote for Donald Trump. Or, as Adam Goldman explains for the New York Times:
What was his original plan?
Mr. Welch, the father of two daughters, said he woke up Sunday morning and told his family he had some things to do. He left “Smallsbury,” a nickname for his hometown, for the 350-mile drive to Washington with the intention of giving the restaurant a “closer look” and then returning home. He wanted to “shine some light on it.” As he made his way to Washington, he felt his “heart breaking over the thought of innocent people suffering.” Once he got to the pizzeria, there was an abrupt change of plans. Mr. Welch would not say why he took a military-style assault rifle inside the restaurant and fired it. According to court documents, Mr. Welch said he had come armed to help rescue the children.
What did he think when he discovered there were no children at the pizzeria?
“The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent,” he said. However, he refused to dismiss outright the claims in the online articles, conceding only that there were no children “inside that dwelling.” He also said that child slavery was a worldwide phenomenon.
Where did he learn about the fake news involving Comet?
He said it was through word of mouth. After recently having internet service installed at his house, he was “really able to look into it.” He said that substantial evidence from a combination of sources had left him with the “impression something nefarious was happening.” He said one article on the subject led to another and then another. He said he did not like the term fake news, believing it was meant to diminish stories outside the mainstream media, which he does not completely trust. He also said he was not political. While once a registered Republican, he did not vote for Donald J. Trump. He also did not vote for Mrs. Clinton. But he is praying that Mr. Trump takes the country in the “right direction.”
Mr. Welch did go on to say, “I regret how I handled the situation.” And any number of retorts might go here, but that only makes it easier to miss the point. Well, a point. A certain point. A seemingly important point. Via the Washington Post:
On Nov. 7, the hashtag #pizzagate first appeared on Twitter. Over the next several weeks, it would be tweeted and retweeted hundreds or thousands of times each day.
An oddly disproportionate share of the tweets about Pizzagate appear to have come from, of all places, the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Vietnam, said Jonathan Albright, an assistant professor of media analytics at Elon University in North Carolina. In some cases, the most avid retweeters appeared to be bots, programs designed to amplify certain news and information.
“What bots are doing is really getting this thing trending on Twitter,” Albright said. “These bots are providing the online crowds that are providing legitimacy.”
Mr. Welch might not be a Trump voter, per se, and we might certainly wonder at a man who just wanted to have a “closer look” and “shine some light” on a scandal he believed was true, who describes a change of plan, but who also came armed in the first place because he intended to intervene. And while not everything about that explanation can be simultaneously true, perhaps the more important thing here is that Maddison Welch is a tool.
Mr. Trump’s supporters do not seem to care; indeed, plenty happily play along, too, unwitting but complaisant assets to the machinations of international interests. This manner of mayhem and chaos is, ultimately, #WhatTheyVotedFor. Maddison Welch took up arms against Hillary Clinton, and in the process terrorized a bunch of people at a place that, just coincidentally, conservatives don’t like.
What makes Comet such a distinct place—a beloved haven for outside-the-mainstream people and art—is what has whet the appetites of alt-right fanatics looking for an outlet for their hate. In a large-scale gestural mural of people and faces by an artist who’s played the Comet stage, conspiracy theorists see a depiction of a child being strangled. In run-of-the-mill bathroom graffiti, they see secret sexual messages. In the lack of labeling for the gender-neutral bathrooms, haters with a political agenda see “secret rooms.” In Heavy Breathing, a band composed of decade-plus veterans of the D.C. music scene that traffics in stylized, abrasive, tongue-in-cheek electro-punk—only the truly humorless would not receive it as such—they see child-abusing satanists. In the venue’s all-ages policy, a time-honored practice of radical inclusion in the D.C. punk scene, they see a cover for pedophilia.
And in Josh Vogelsong—who has been bartending and helping book shows at Comet since 2011 and also performs in drag as Donna Slash—and his fellow drag queens who’ve performed at the venue, the alt-right sees degenerate weirdos who represent an America they’d like to destroy. For weeks, Vogelsong has been harassed and received death threats on Instagram from #pizzagate believers. User @rb.sad called him a “dumb bitch, or whatever the fuck you are” and a “fucking tranny,” he told Slate. User @debbieoconnell_ called him a “PAEDOPHILE CHILD MOLESTING ASS PIECE OF GARBAGE.” Other internet trolls have threatened “Hillary will be dead soon and so will you” and “we’re gonna slit your throat and bathe in your blood.”
“There’s just so much on Instagram—me in drag, photos of drag queens covered in blood, and bands doing weird shit—that it’s easy for people to see it and be like, ‘Oh my God!'” Vogelsong said. D.C. drag queen Summer Camp, who once appeared covered in red fluid in an Instagram photo for a Halloween event at Comet, has also been threatened by members of the alt-right in recent weeks. So has Cis Jenner, another local queen who performed at Comet years ago and now gets Facebook messages calling her a “Satanist homo.” “Hope I get to watch u bleed out n get a hard on from it,” one said.
Many of the #pizzagate blog posts claiming to find circumstantial evidence of a pedophilia ring at Comet have specifically referenced the sexuality and gender identities of the owner, who is gay, and staff. Conspiracy theorists who have gone through Vogelsong’s Instagram, where he advertised his shifts to friends with a photo of two buff men scarfing down a single slice, now claim his posts are code for gay men doing obscene things to children.
It is not so much that we could not see it coming but, as with so many niceties of human relations in a society so prominently featuring American political conservatism, we did not expect it to go so far because, damn it, we just should not think so lowly of our neighbors.
No, really, just try it. Look around for one of your conspiracist friends or relatives and then say to yourself: Okay, so they’re looking for mad libs in which “cheese” and “pasta” refer to little girls and boys respectively, “sauce” can only mean “orgy”, and for some reason “map” is the word they think indicates “semen”.
Craig Silverman of BuzzFeed tried explaining how it got that far:
On Oct. 30, a white supremacy Twitter account that presents itself as belonging to a Jewish lawyer in New York tweeted that the NYPD was looking into evidence that emails from Anthony Weiner’s laptop contained evidence of Clinton involvement in an “international child enslavement ring.”
The alleged New York Jewish lawyer is also connected to a white supremacist social media account; the message he tweeted came from a user in Missouri claiming contacts in New York. Which, in turn, gets promoted by mysterious overseas interests, and, there are plenty ready to gobble it up. As the WaPo report explains:
On Oct. 28, FBI Director James B. Comey told Congress that he was reopening the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. New emails had been found on a computer belonging to disgraced former New York congressman Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Two days later, someone tweeting under the handle @DavidGoldbergNY cited rumors that the new emails “point to a pedophilia ring and @HillaryClinton is at the center.” The rumor was retweeted more than 6,000 times.
The notion quickly moved to other social-media platforms, including 4chan and Reddit, mostly through anonymous or pseudonymous posts. On the far-right site Infowars, talk-show host Alex Jones repeatedly suggested that Clinton was involved in a child sex ring and that her campaign chairman, John Podesta, indulged in satanic rituals.
“When I think about all the children Hillary Clinton has personally murdered and chopped up and raped, I have zero fear standing up against her,” Jones said in a YouTube video posted on Nov. 4. “Yeah, you heard me right. Hillary Clinton has personally murdered children. I just can’t hold back the truth anymore.” Jones eventually tied his comments about Clinton to U.S. policy in Syria.
Because, you know, this is perfectly believable to someone you know. A white supremacist identifying as a New York Jew citing a woman in Missouri claiming contacts in New York picked up and exponentially inflated by president elect Donald Trump’s favorite (ahem!) “news” source and promoted by a strange and mysterious cabal of international twittery amid our election, thus so tormenting Maddison Wright that he just had to take a closer look and shine some light on it but his heart broke and it was a good thing he brought a rifle with him to rescue the children with because … why?
This is #WhatTheyVotedFor. This is what they want. This is why Donald Trump is president.
Image note: Edgar M. ‘Maddison’ Welch surrenders to police in Washington, D.C., after firing a gun outside Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in support of an internationally-driven conspiracy theory intended to defame former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 3 December 2016. (Photo: Sathi Soma/AP Photo)
Cauterucci, Christina and Jonathan L. Fischer. “Comet Is D.C.’s Weirdo Pizza Place. Maybe That’s Why It’s a Target.” Slate. 6 December 2016.
Fischer, Marc, John Woodrow Cox, and Peter Hermann. “Pizzagate: From rumor, to hashtag, to gunfire in D.C.” The Washington Post. 6 December 2016.
Goldman, Adam. “The Comet Ping Pong Gunman Answers Our Reporter’s Questions”. The New York Times. 7 December 2016.
Mathis-LIlley, Ben. “Pizzerias in Austin and New York Are Now Also Being Accused of Abetting Satanic Pedophilia”. Slate. 7 December 2016.
—————. “Sandy Hook Truther Arrested for Threatening to Kill Parent of Murdered Child”. Slate. 7 December 2016.
Silverman, Craig. “How The Bizarre Conspiracy Theory Behind “Pizzagate” Was Spread”. BuzzFeed. 4 November 2016.