The Pizzagate conspiracy theory degenerated yesterday with a literal bang, demonstrating that the dangers of fake news extend beyond readers taking in the phony copy as fact to those that then act on the fiction.
This is what led a North Carolina man, Edgar Maddison, to “self-investigate,” AR-15 assault-style rifle in tow, a Washington pizza place that had been at the center of a hallucinatory conspiracy theory that featured Comet Ping Pong as the nexus of a child abuse ring. We’ll just repeat again that this conspiracy theory is false.
The fictitious allegations had previously caused problems for Comet staff and its owner, James Alefantis, who had received death threats and a previous visit from a self-styled “investigator.”
In a statement, Alefantis said, “What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences. I hope that those involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today, and stop promoting these falsehoods right away.”
That doesn’t appear to be happening.
This morning, a panel on CNN’s New Day discussed just who have been some of conspiracy theory’s promoters. “The difference between a conspiracy theory and clippings in a newspaper in a paper bag is that we have people with actual prominence disseminating this information,” said Washington Post political reporter Abby Phillip. “To me, that’s been the most damaging thing about this cycle is seeing how far fake news can go being propelled by people with status and who should know better.”
That would be someone, as the panel goes on to specify, like Michael Flynn Jr., son of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the man who is Donald Trump‘s choice for national security advisor. Gen. Flynn himself doesn’t appear to have tweeted specifically about pizzagate, but there were plenty of other dubious stories that captured his attention.
And Phillip had a warning about sowing doubt where there should be no doubt sown:
Undermining truth as the foundation of how we interact with each other is really dangerous, and it’s not just dangerous for the people who happen to be on the other side of it right now. But it’s a risky thing for everyone to do. If you undermine truth today for someone else, it’s going to come back to your side.