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What we know about the Pizzagate shooting at Comet Ping Pong

Police surround Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant

Police surround Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant that was the subject of a fake news story claiming it was the center of a child sex ring orchestrated by Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief, John Podesta, after a man with an assault rifle entered the restaurant in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. Photo Credit: EPA / JIM LO SCALZO

What is “Pizzagate?”

It’s the name that’s been given to the baseless conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza place, and the motivation for a North Carolina man to fire an assault rifle inside the restaurant Sunday, police say.

What is Comet Ping Pong?

It’s the name of the restaurant at the center of the theory, and where Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, North Carolina, walked in the front door and pointed a firearm in the direction of a restaurant employee. The employee fled and police said Welch then fired the gun into the floor, The Washington Post reported.

Welch told police he had come to the restaurant to “self-investigate” the false claim, which has come to be called Pizzagate.

Why did the theory focus on Comet Ping Pong?

Comet Ping Pong, a family-friendly pizzeria in the Chevy Chase neighborhood, was co-founded 10 years ago by James Alefantis.

The restaurant has been frequented by some politically-connected customers, including Tony Podesta, brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, the New York Times reported.

Alefantis, a Democratic donor, also boasts some high-profile connections. At one time he was in a relationship with David Brock, the founder of Media Matters for America, a website that tracks press coverage critical of the Clintons and debunks misinformation in the conservative press, according to the Times. In 2012, Alefantis was named 49 in GQ magazine’s list of the 50 most powerful people in Washington.

How did the Pizzagate theory gain traction?

The conspiracy theory can be dated back to early November, when WikiLeaks began releasing emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, reported. Users on the social media site Reddit and 4chan, an anonymous message board, began speculating about a connection between Clinton, Podesta and James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong and a Democratic donor, who appeared in the email dump in connection with fundraisers, according to the BBC.

Users on 4chan and Reddit theorized that words like “pizza” and “cheese” were code words used by Podesta. The Reddit community “Pizzagate” had as many as 20,000 subscribers, The New York Times reported, before it was banned from the site for the “proliferation of personal and confidential information” on the thread.

Several Twitter users soon seized on the Pizzagate conspiracy.

One right-wing user tweeted to his more than 130,000 followers a list of supposed code words with the caption: “We are uncovering a child sex ring.”

Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist who runs the website Infowars, tweeted Nov. 27: “#Pizzagate Is Real: Something Is Going On, But What?”

Another user posted on Nov. 20: “I won’t stop tweeting about #PizzaGate until I know for a fact that there aren’t children in danger being covered up by the US government.”

One Twitter user posted a screengrab of what appears to be a Podesta email with the line, “Ps. Do you think I’ll do better playing dominos on cheese than on pasta?”

Alefantis has since received a flood of abusive messages via Twitter and Facebook regarding the conspiracy, The New York Times reported in a Nov. 21 story.

“We should all condemn the efforts of certain people to spread malicious and utterly false accusations about Comet Ping Pong, a venerated DC institution,” Alefantis wrote in a statement after the incident Sunday. “Let me state unequivocally: These stories are completely and entirely false, and there is no basis in fact to any of them.”

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