How The Bizarre Conspiracy Theory Behind "Pizzagate" Was Spread

A man was arrested Sunday for bringing a gun into a pizza place named in Clinton conspiracy rumors.

2. The unhinged conspiracy theory now known as “Pizzagate” has resulted in a man bringing an assault rifle to the DC bar named in the theory, according to local police.

“Pizzagate” claims that Democratic operatives placing orders at Comet Ping Pong were actually using code to talk about underage prostitutes.

This strange and convoluted conspiracy theory, which also involves allegations of occult rituals, has its origins in false accusations about the Clintons that began spreading in late October. The original theory claimed that the Clintons and other government figures were involved in a global human trafficking and pedophilia ring.

This one example shows how Trump supporters, members of 4chan and Reddit, and right-wing blogs in the US and in other countries combined to create and spread viral misinformation during the election season.

Here’s what happened:

3. 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.”

@DavidGoldbergNY / Twitter / Via Twitter: @DavidGoldbergNY

The account sent a similar tweet earlier in the day, but this second offering began to take hold online among pro-Trump tweeters.

The Facebook user whose comment is included in the tweet appears to live in Missouri, according to a recent Facebook status. She did not reply to a request for additional information from BuzzFeed News, nor did the “David Goldberg” Twitter account. (The avatar used in that account can be found in white supremacist forums.)

Keep in mind as we go down the rabbit hole that no law enforcement agency has said anything about these crazy claims. There is no evidence to back them up. The claims have been concocted and are being spread to misinform people.

4. Hours later, a member of the Godlike Productions message board, a hub for conspiracy theories and the “Lunatic Fringe,” posted a message saying a major pedophile sex ring was about to be exposed. The user claimed the Clinton Foundation was implicated. “Its [sic] about to come apart,” they warned.

Godlike Productions / Via godlikeproductions.com

5. The next day, Oct. 31, Sean Adl-Tabatabai, who used to work with British conspiracy theorist David Icke, took note of the message board post and the tweet. He wrote a post for his site, YourNewsWire.com. His story took another step by claiming an “FBI insider” had confirmed the claims.

Your News Wire / Via yournewswire.com

Where did this this new FBI source come from? Adl-Tabatabai cited a thread on a 4chan message board from back in July.

That thread started when an anonymous user invited questions after describing themself as “a person with intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Clinton case.” (Adl-Tabatabai did not respond to questions sent to him by BuzzFeed News.)

This 4chan user claimed there is a sex trafficking scandal involving the Clintons and others in government. Of course, they also predicted Bill Clinton will die this year, said “Blacks are violent and generally impulsive, but they are not all bad,” and also claimed that financier George Soros “funds, instructs, and influences every layer of US government. ®ight down to the tax code.”

6. OK, let’s do a quick recap. At this point we have:

  • One random account on Twitter and a woman in Missouri claiming that NYPD sources are telling them the Clintons are about to be brought down by a massive child trafficking/sex scandal.
  • An anonymous person in a 4chan thread who claimed to work in law enforcement and who said something similar a few months ago — before news of the FBI looking into emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop broke.
  • A conspiracy theorist who pulled these things into a post and used them to claim “evidence has emerged from the Clinton email investigation that a massive child trafficking and pedophile sex ring operates in Washington.”

What don’t we have? Any actual evidence of any of the above, or information from the FBI, NYPD, or any other officials.

Yes, this is how conspiracy theories are created. And now, this one was about to really take off.

7. The YourNewsWire.com story from Oct. 31 was soon noticed by right-wing and fringe blogs. They began to aggregate it and spread the claim of Clinton involvement in child trafficking and pedophilia.

BuzzFeed

For example, one site plagiarized the text from Adl-Tabatabai’s post and their version has racked up over 85,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook. (Adl-Tabatabai’s post has just over 23,000 Facebook interactions to date.)

The claims were also soon picked up by at least two (1,2) pro-Trump websites run by young men in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. As detailed in a recent BuzzFeed News report, there are more than 100 of these websites operating in one small town. They aggregate sensationalized and often false pro-Trump content from US conservative sites in order to attract a US audience and earn money from ads.

8. While many sites simply repeated the details from Adl-Tabatabai, others introduced new, baseless claims. SubjectPolitics.com ran a story with the headline “IT’S OVER: NYPD Just Raided Hillary’s Property! What They Found Will RUIN HER LIFE.” Er no, the NYPD did *not* raid property belonging to Hillary Clinton.

Subject: Politics / Via subjectpolitics.com

The story, which was later removed by the site, uses that headline and an unrelated image of officers carrying seized property to create the impression the NYPD “raided” something belonging to the Clintons. The NYPD has not seized or raided Clinton property. (The story itself goes on to say that the “property” in question was any emails to or from Clinton that were on Weiner’s laptop.)

But that extra — and false — bit of information propelled the story to new heights on Facebook. It has generated over 107,000 shares, reactions, and comments on the social network.

This new, even more incorrect story then became the one other sites started pointing to. Red State Watcher copied it and also earned over 100,000 Facebook interactions.

9. Not to be outdone, True Pundit published a story the same day citing its own anonymous NYPD and FBI sources, and listing new allegations.

True Pundit / Via truepundit.com

The True Pundit domain was only registered in March of this year. Since then, the site has published many false stories, such as Hillary Clinton wearing an earpiece at a debate, her using hand signals with one of the debate moderators, and Clinton being drunk one morning before a campaign rally.

This latest unfounded report is True Pundit’s biggest hit ever, generating more than 110,000 Facebook interactions. And yes, just like with other reports, once this new story went live and started getting traction, other sites followed on.

Ending the Fed posted about the story and managed to generate significant engagement on Facebook. Ending the Fed is the website that briefly achieved fame when Facebook’s Trending algorithm promoted its false report about Fox News host Megyn Kelly being fired.

10. By now, three days had passed since the “David Goldberg” Twitter account helped kick off this baseless story. And finally, to complete the game of telephone it set off, the account tweeted the True Pundit story as proof that “My source was right!”

@DavidGoldbergNY / Twitter / Via Twitter: @DavidGoldbergNY

So, once again: The NYPD, FBI, and other official sources have said nothing about the Clintons or their foundation being investigated for child trafficking or these other allegations that have gone viral on Facebook. There is no evidence to support these claims. (The NYPD did not immediately respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment.)

And yet, thanks to just a few tweets, a couple of message board posts, and the help of some pro-Trump sites eager for traffic, this conspiracy theory generated hundreds of thousands of engagements on Facebook, reaching potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of people.

11. Meanwhile, these Twitter accounts and 4chan had moved on to the next tactic. Noted Trump trolls on Twitter started highlighting innocuous passages in leaked emails from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta to claim they contain code words about pedophilia and human trafficking.

BuzzFeed

A 4chan thread from Nov. 3 also shows people trying to create memes linking human trafficking and Hillary Clinton. And an earlier thread on Reddit pleaded with people to get the word out about the “world-wide Pedo-Ring connected to the CLINTON FOUNDATION, that just so happens to also be taking over the USA for good.”

Eventually, Comet Ping Pong was falsely named as a supposed hub where this nefarious activity was being coordinated. The bar’s owner and employees soon found themselves facing an onslaught of abusive social media comments. On Dec. 4, a man with an assault rifle approached the bar, and later told DC police that he “came to self-investigate ‘Pizzagate.’”

CORRECTION

The Facebook user whose comment was included in a tweet about Hillary Clinton lives in Missouri. This article originally said she was in Mississippi.

Check out more articles on BuzzFeed.com!

Craig Silverman is Media Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto.
Contact Craig Silverman at craig.silverman@buzzfeed.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.
 
 
Now Buzzing