On Sunday, December 4, 2016, a shooting incident occurred at a pizza shop in northwestern Washington D.C. during the middle of the day. This was in a busy but peaceful shopping district, and the shop was filled with families. A man brought a rifle into the shop and began shooting. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the suspect was arrested, but the motive for this crime and the circumstances that triggered it were shocking.
The pizza shop, called Comet Ping Pong, had become embroiled in a strange situation due to an event that had occurred about one month earlier. There were false tweets widely spread on the net claiming that this pizza shop was the base for a pedophile sex ring involving Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, a former Secretary of State, and members of her campaign. The operators of the pizza shop began receiving threats from right wing activists who believed that the reports were true.
According to The Washington Post, the trigger was the announcement on October 28 about the resumption of the investigation by the Federal Bureau of investigation (“FBI”) into the issue of the use of private e-mail by Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State. Two days later, there was a large volume of tweets about newly-discovered e-mail related to a pedophile sex ring. These posts were spread on anonymous bulletin board sites and via social media; and there were many abusive videos directed at Ms. Clinton posted on extreme-right-wing sites. Two days before the election, the FBI announced that they had reached a conclusion that they would not seek prosecution of Ms. Clinton.
The anonymous bulletin board sites then focused their attention on the pizza shop called Comet Ping Pong, which was frequently mentioned in the e-mail of John Podesta, head of the Clinton campaign, whose e-mails were being successively leaked on the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks at about this same time. This escalated into posts that this shop was the site of child sex trafficking. The day before the voting in the presidential election, the hashtag “#pizzagate” appeared. Even after Ms. Clinton’s defeat the following day, the tweets did not subside, and instead continued to expand. It was reported that the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) had determined that there were cyber-attacks on the e-mail of Democratic Party officials, like Mr. Podesta, indicating that there was intervention from Russia aimed at ensuring that Mr. Trump would win the election; and President Obama demanded a thorough investigation of the government intelligence agencies before his own retirement.
As the number of people who believed in the “pizzagate” conspiracy grew, and the threats directed at the pizza shop increased, the shops in the neighborhood also became involved. The operators of the pizza shop and surrounding businesses said they became frightened by more and more confrontations with people who believed the fake news. Although social media subsequently banned posts related to pizzagate, the threats did not stop, culminating in the appearance of a 28-year-old man from North Carolina, who showed up at the shop with a rifle to do his own “investigation.” According to a New York Times interview with the suspect after his capture, he was a soft-spoken, polite man who intended to rescue the children trapped in the shop.