The InfoWar on pizza: On Alex Jones, Donald Trump and fact-free toppings

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I will begin today with a confession. Well, not actually a confession, because I am not guilty of anything, but some full disclosure before I get into what I’m going to write about today.

I moved to Austin four years ago. Before that I lived in Washington, D.C., for about 20 years. While living in Washington I went to Comet Ping Pong, a cool pizza restaurant with ping pong tables and live music in a back room, three times. Twice I went to hear music. Once I sat at the small bar up front and had pizza. As I recall it was good, but not life-changing.

I did not fraternize with any children while at Comet. I do not recall any sense of foreboding.

Since moving to Austin I have had pizza at a number of Austin  pizzerias and had some very good experiences. I took out from East Side pies a few times and liked their pizza. I did not fraternize with any children while at East Side Pies. I have not experienced any sense of foreboding picking up my pizzas at East Side Pies.

I am probably not the only person to have been to both Comet Ping Pong and East Side Pies, but I may be among a relative few. I am not sure if I am putting myself at risk by revealing this information. I know it doesn’t look good in a world in which there are no coincidences, only conspiracies.

As I thought about posting this, I realized that occasionally on Facebook friends will post a cute photo of one more of their children, and, on occasion, I have liked the post.

May God have mercy on my soul.

I assume you know the recent news  I’m referring to.

It’s a very strange situation, and last night, I sat down with an East Side pie and a couple of Southern Star Conspiracy Theory IPA’s and tried to puzzle it out.

 

 

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From the Washington Post:

December 6 at 8:34 PM

What was finally real was Edgar Welch, driving from North Carolina to Washington to rescue sexually abused children he believed were hidden in mysterious tunnels beneath a neighborhood pizza joint.

What was real was Welch — a father, former firefighter and sometime movie actor who was drawn to dark mysteries he found on the Internet — terrifying customers and workers with his ­assault-style rifle as he searched Comet Ping Pong, police said. He found no hidden children, no secret chambers, no evidence of a child sex ring run by the failed Democratic candidate for president of the United States, or by her campaign chief, or by the owner of the pizza place.

What was false were the rumors he had read, stories that crisscrossed the globe about a charming little pizza place that features ping-pong tables in its back room.

The story of Pizzagate is about what is fake and what is real. It’s a tale of a scandal that never was, and of a fear that has spread through channels that did not even exist until recently.

Pizzagate — the belief that code words and satanic symbols point to a sordid underground along an ordinary retail strip in the nation’s capital — is possible only because science has produced the most powerful tools ever invented to find and disseminate information.

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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.

From Matthew Odam yesterday in the Statesman.

East Side Pies co-owner Noah Polk first heard of the conspiracy theory known as “pizzagate” around the time of the presidential election. The fake news story was started by an online community, fueled by misinterpretations of emails released by WikiLeaks, that claimed associates of Hillary Clinton were behind a child sex-trafficking ring headquartered at the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. The fake story turned into a real crime scene on Sunday when a gunman walked into that Washington restaurant and fired a shot.

Now, Austin police are investigating harassment and vandalism that’s been waged against the local restaurant by believers of the “pizzagate” conspiracy.

For Polk’s restaurant, the conspiracy theory first hit home when someone he’d never met left a review on East Side Pies’ Facebook page. The comment mentioned “pizzagate” and Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis. It was the commenter’s second post in a few days. The first had referenced pedophilia.

That day Polk was also alerted to a thread on the message board Reddit suggesting East Side Pies might also be a part of the fictional sex-trafficking ring. Once he went down that internet rabbit hole, Polk was shocked to find myriad posts falsely tying East Side Pies to the debunked conspiracy theory.

East Side Pies is continuing to suffer sporadic harassment and name-calling via social media, and one of its delivery trucks was vandalized with a scrawled epithet.

The online posts have made wild and baseless accusations about East Side Pies. They 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.”

“This is absolutely insane and unfounded and ridiculous,” Polk said Tuesday of his thoughts after reading the initial posts. “The dots they are trying to connect are so ludicrous. I was not happy about it.”

Polk said he became worried about the safety of his employees, as well as his restaurant’s reputation, and he contacted Austin police and the FBI on Monday.

Austin police on Wednesday confirmed that a report for criminal mischief had been filed Tuesday involving one of the restaurant’s vehicles. A police spokesman said profane and sexual statements had been carved into the vehicle in the 5300 block of Airport Boulevard. The complete report on the incident and additional details weren’t immediately available Wednesday.

The online targeting of East Side Pies had gained steam Saturday when Owen Shroyer — who hosts a live-streaming podcast called “Engage Liberty” and makes videos for the Austin-based conspiracy-fueled website Infowars.com — hosted a 21/2-hour broadcast detailing his visits to multiple East Side Pies locations.

In the broadcast uploaded to YouTube, Shroyer said he was “weirded out and creeped out” by his visits to East Side Pies. What he saw, he says, left him “gripping my gun tighter every night.”

The “weird stuff” he encountered? Employees with large-gauge piercings and blue hair, a “weird locked-up grate in the back” of one location, disturbing rock music and band fliers with “satanic” symbols. The “coup de grace,” according to Shroyer: two children playing dominoes in the presence of an adult.

He also thought the restaurant’s logo, a pizza in the shape of an eye, with the catchphrase “We know what you want,” was a nod to the Illuminati.

Earlier this week, Jones had a man on the show  – Sharif Silmi – who had  been a customer eyewitness to Edgar Welch’s scene at Comet Pizza, and placed some of the responsibility on Jones.

 

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Jones:

We’ve got to be careful about stuff like this because, look, I’m one of the middle of the road guys, and I’m being accused of being involved in it now. So this is serious now. We do not need violence. We do not need people marching  into pizza places with guns. We need to investigate exactly what’s going on.

But he wasn’t giving much ground..

Jones:

I‘m sick and tired of this obsession on the one thing. There has been some weird stuff going on there, I don’t know if you’ve researched  it ….

And he’s off …

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Jones:

But I’m not saying they’re involved in anything. I’m sure Podesta is a wonderful person. I’m being sarcastic now.

Jones:

I say it looks really bad, but I’m not saying anything is going on. It needs to be investigated by law enforcement.

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I can tell you, in the compendium of our coverage I cannot tell you what’s going on at Ping Pong pizza. I’ve reached out and I will reach out again to say that I will come there to actually debunk this if it’s not true.

That’s what I’m trying to do, but we did not create this. We simply responded to one of the biggest stories on the internet and covered it from different perspectives.

Ah yes, that’s what’s missing from this story – the arrival of Alex Jones, conspiracy debunker.

 

 

 

 

 

But compared to InfoWars reporter and sometime Jones’ on-air sidekick Owen Shroyer, Jones is the Amazing Randi and Sherlock Holmes rolled into one.

(It appears Shroyer’s video has now been taken down.)

From Shroyer’s report on Saturday night.

I’m going into this open minded … Boy was I wrong …. If I am creeped out by what I am going to talk about tonight, then explain it,  just explain it. It’s that simple.

There was “all this weird stuff” – the people who worked there, the art, the ambience, the bands that posted notices there.

It’s exactly what you would expect to see at Comet Pizza.

 

More Shroyer:

I didn’t even know how to handle this but  folks, it was so real I felt I  just had to come here and do a live broadcast if for nothing else but I was so weirded out and gripping my gun tighter every night.

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I’m kidding you not folks. I’m kidding you not

And then there was the woman at the outside table reading to two kids.

It didn’t look like it was their mom.

And then the kids want to play dominoes.

  And they start playing dominoes.

The sinister significance of dominoes eludes me. When I think about dominoes I think Latinos, not Satanists or pedophiles.

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(Sign above urinal at Cuban restaurant in South Austin)

I didn’t want to do this on my Saturday, Shroyer said.  I was supposed to be playing basketball.

But, he said, I had to drive around and investigate some weird pizza place that people think is associated with Comet Pizza that people think is associated with you know what.

Then, this might be the weirdest thing.

On his drive from one East Side Pies to another he passed a “weird abandoned building” with a “very strange pizza slice painted on the side.”

Not an East Side Pies. Just a seemingly abandoned building along the way, with surveillance cameras in its  parking lot.

This was just another random building that I happened to run into on the way, so who knows.

Am i digging too deep here?

Yeah, maybe

And then this other random morsel of irrelevant information.

There was a cemetery by both the East Side pizzas, if you want to take anything from that.

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I’m in touch with the world and I’m in touch with my senses and they were all screaming when I walked into there.

I really enjoy pizza. I cannot even say that now without wanting to vomit in my mouth.

I actually enjoy the actual food of the Italian cuisine of pizza.

But, perhaps, no more.

After the election, I did a First Reading and story on Jennifer Mercieca who is wring a book, The Rhetorical Brilliance of Donald Trump, in which she described a favored Trump technique, which also gets quite a workout at InfoWars

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The post-election question is whether Trump is going to grow into the office of the presidency – you know a little more dignity, some more gravitas, a little less gratuitous tweeting, a teensy weensy bit less petty.

So maybe not.

 

But all the more reason why Alex Jones needs to rise to the occasion, to bear his new burdens – awesome responsibilities that he no more asked for than Donald Trump seriously asked for or thought, until sometime after the polls closed on election night, he was going to have bear.

Alex Jones is now responsible for projecting and explaining the world as Donald Trump, if recent experience is any guide, will most probably come to see and understand it. You, Alex Jones, are the architect of Trump’s reality and, it is not too much to say, the fate of the world depends on you executing that responsibility with some relative probity.

Adam Goldman, in yesterday’s New York Times, had a poignant jailhouse interview with Edgar Welch.

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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.”

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Mr. Welch was soft-spoken and polite, and said he liked the outdoors. He was cautious when speaking about what happened, sometimes citing advice he had received from his lawyer. He said he did not believe in conspiracy theories, but then added that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks needed to be re-examined. He has listened to Alex Jones, whose radio show traffics in conspiracy theories and who once said that Mrs. Clinton “has personally murdered and chopped up” children. “He’s a bit eccentric,” Mr. Welch said. “He touches on some issues that are viable but goes off the deep end on some things.

And then there’s Lucy Richards.

 

By in People.

A Tampa, Florida woman was indicted Monday on four counts of transmitting threats to a Sandy Hook parent, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Lucy Richards, 57, is a Sandy Hook “truther” — someone who believes the infamous school shooting was a hoax.

Richards made an initial court appearance before United States Magistrate Judge Mark Pizzo in Florida and is scheduled to appear in a Fort Lauderdale, Florida court on Dec. 19.

USA Today reports that Richards made a series of death threats against the parent of a child who was killed in the Dec. 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook School in Newton, Connecticut. The parent, Len Pozner, resides in South Florida, according to Today.

“We are comforted to know that the system is working to protect the victims of violent crime from re-victimization by potentially violent hoaxers,” Pozner said in a statement obtained by CBS News.

Richards was allegedly motivated to threaten the parent because she thought the elementary school shooting never happened, according to Time.

The threats were made in January 2016 and included messages such as, “You gonna die, death is coming to you real soon,” and “LOOK BEHIND YOU IT IS DEATH,” according to CBS News.

The Sandy Hook shooting resulted in the death of 20 children and six adults. If convicted, each count carries a maximum term of five years’ imprisonment.

Alex. Look in the eyes of that women and ask yourself, but for you would there even be such a thing as a Sandy Hook truther.

From Erica Lafferty in USA Today on Nov. 25.

This Thanksgiving, I sat at a dinner table with an empty seat. It’s the very seat where my mother, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, should be. Smiling, laughing and enjoying a holiday meal with her daughters and grandchildren. Instead, my mom wasn’t there because nearly four years ago, she was murdered in Newtown, Conn., along with five of her colleagues and 20 first-graders. That day, as the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, she died a hero trying to protect her innocent students.

My heart — and my dinner table — reflect the hole in my life that will never be repaired. And while I’ve chosen a path of gun safety advocacy that not everyone agrees with, some opponents of gun violence prevention follow a different, darker path. A fringe movement of “Sandy Hook truthers” promotes hateful conspiracy theories that the shooting never took place. My Thanksgiving table tells a different story. And so does the reality of the families who had their loved ones ripped out of their arms by senseless gun violence.

The most prominent popularizer of the “Sandy Hook hoax” theory is the radio and Web personality Alex Jones. He is the kind of person you’d expect to be confined to the darkest echo chambers of the Internet. Yet, Jones has been bolstered by the very man who has proclaimed he’ll make our country great again: President-elect Donald Trump.

Jones has been in a paroxysm of paralipsis on Sandy Hook for sometime.

“I said that’s what people have said,” he said yesterday, before launching into a riff about how CNN anchor Anderson Cooper is CIA and that, while reporting on Sandy Hook, “got caught in a blue/green screen with his nose disappearing.”

“They got caught doing fake satellite interviews,” Jones said.

But, of course, you say, there will be people surrounding President Trump who will keep him on the straight and narrow.

Hmmm.

From Paul Farhi in the Washington Post:

Among those perpetuating the Pizzagate meme are Alex Jones, the proprietor of Infowars, a one-stop shop for conspiracies and false-flag claims. As a candidate, Donald Trump appeared on Jones’s syndicated radio program and praised Jones for his “amazing” reputation.

The story has also been pushed by Michael Flynn Jr., the son and sometime adviser of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s pick for national security adviser. “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story,” he tweeted on Sunday.

Flynn linked to the Twitter account of Jack Posobiec, who describes himself as the special projects director of a group called Citizens4Trump. Among his many comments on the subject, Posobiec tweeted, “False flag. Planted Comet Pizza Gunman will be used to push for censorship of independent news sources that are not corporate owned.”

And of Michael Flynn, the father, this from Michael Waldman writing in the Washington Post

But to put it plainly, Michael Flynn is a crackpot.

You guys are good. Damn right.

Let’s do a quick rundown. Flynn, who was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was fired by President Obama for a number of reasons, including mismanagement. His staff got so used to him believing things that were obviously false that they began referring to them as “Flynn Facts.” Nevertheless, he had a complete certainty in his own rightness. At one meeting, “Mr. Flynn said that the first thing everyone needed to know was that he was always right. His staff would know they were right, he said, when their views melded to his.” Furthermore, “Some also described him as a Captain Queeg-like character, paranoid that his staff members were undercutting him and credulous of conspiracy theories.”

You can see it in his statements and writings since his retirement. Flynn believes that Islam is “a malignant cancer” that is actually “a political ideology” that “hides behind this notion of it being a religion.” He has tweeted that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL” while posting an anti-Islamic video and asking people to “please forward this to others.” On his Twitter feed, he has a propensity for spreading fake news stories from the right-wing fever swamps. As Bryan Bender and Andrew Hanna report:

But Flynn himself has used social media to promote a series of outrageous conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama and their inner circles in recent months — pushing dubious factoids at least 16 times since Aug. 9, according to a POLITICO review of his Twitter posts.

Flynn, who has 106,000 Twitter followers, has used the platform to retweet accusations that Clinton is involved with child sex trafficking and has “secretly waged war” on the Catholic Church, as well as charges that Obama is a “jihadi” who “laundered” money for Muslim terrorists.

Some of the looniest conspiracy theories Flynn has propagated have to do with stolen emails from John Podesta, the chair of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Right-wing conspiracy-mongers took a word here or there from some of the emails and spun them into allegations that Clinton and Podesta were involved in a Satanic cult and were running a child sex slavery ring out of a Washington pizza parlor. That might be funny, were it not for the fact that the restaurant and nearby establishments have been deluged with death threats and one guy took it seriously enough to drive to D.C. with his assault rifle in an attempt to “rescue” the children he thought were being held in the restaurant’s basement.

We can debate how troubling the spread of fake news is, and what it says about our society that people are willing to believe that Hillary Clinton is connected to a pedophilia ring. What we can’t debate is that no one who believes that kind of lunacy should be allowed anywhere near the Oval Office. But Michael Flynn does. He has retweeted links to insane stories like that one, and his son and chief of staff — who may or may not be part of the Trump transition team, depending on who’s answering the question at a particular moment — has gone even farther down the rabbit hole.

Here’s why this is so important. The national security adviser’s job is to coordinate policy between the multiple agencies whose work touches on national security — the Pentagon, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and others — and make sure that the president has the best, clearest, and most accurate information with which to make decisions. For a President Trump’s unique combination of ignorance, inexperience, and impulsiveness, it’s particularly vital to have a national security adviser who can encourage calm and thoughtfulness, and not be distracted by what’s irrelevant or downright false.

At some point early in his presidency, Trump is going to confront some kind of national security crisis. Every president does. Maybe it will be a terrorist attack, or a coup in a country in a volatile region, or an aggressive move by an adversary, or a conflict between two nations that the United States might get sucked into. He may have to make decisions quickly, with information that is partial and changing from hour to hour. He’ll get advice from all those different people, and when it’s over, Mike Flynn will be one of the last people in the room telling him what he should do. Trump trusts Flynn, and his words will carry particular weight — perhaps more than anyone else working on the crisis.

And when that happens, is Flynn going to look down at his phone, see that his son has just sent him a link to some story on Infowars with a ludicrous theory about what’s really going on, and say, “Hold on, Mr. President, this is something we need to consider”? It’s clear already that Flynn has prejudices that skew his ability to see the world accurately, and is lacking in the critical faculties that enable sensible people, whatever their political ideology, to distinguish what’s true from what’s false. So what happens then?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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