Defiant locals are turning out in droves today to support the embattled Comet Ping Pong pizzeria and other small businesses on the block which have been victim to death threats and even a real-life gunman due to a vicious online rumor known as Pizzagate.
“I’m here to support Comet Ping Pong just to show that the crazies out there can’t bully the rest of us normal folks,” says a neighbor woman who only wished to be referred to as “Jean.” “These are just neighborhood places, and unfortunately there are a lot of conspiracy theorists who are targeting Washington D.C. in particular because of the rhetoric that came out of Donald Trump’s mouth.”
Alleged Comet shooter Edgar Maddison Welch, who gave himself up to police after he found no evidence of child trafficking according to the criminal complaint, now faces four gun-related charges.
“Before there was any investigation into whether or not the [Podesta] emails had any validity … that guy shows up with a gun,” local Dick Laughter says. “No one should threaten someone else with a gun, that’s taking the law into your own hands, that’s being a genuinely shitty person. But it also turned this whole event into just that.”
Laughter, who wore a “Make America Great Again” hat, says he stopped by Comet just to see what was going on. While he doesn’t think the pizzeria housed anything like a child trafficking ring, he still wants the FBI to investigate for other illegal activity.
For the uninitiated, Pizzagate is ia debunked conspiracy theory that spawned in the depths of online message board 4chan. Pizzagate features an eclectic and burgeoning cast of characters including Hillary Clinton, Podesta, Satanists, and various punk bands. Even local events blog Brightest Young Things and Washingtonian magazine were accused of being involved. According to supporters, the unassuming Chevy Chase pizzeria headquarters an international child sex trafficking ring that serves the elite (you can read our in-depth explainer here).
“[I’m] just visiting the businesses. You know the [Comet gunman incident] that happened the other day was extremely scary for this community. We want to reassure them that this is a safe area and it’s going to continue to be a safe area. That was something that was out of the ordinary,” interim D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham says. “I think really the moral of the story is, you know these fake news things that go out, some people think it’s funny … it’s not funny. It’s serious, and it can have very, very serious consequences.”
The “Stand With Comet” event, organized by Erick Sanchez (who also put together the “Thank You, Uncle Joe” rally that Vice President Biden attended) and food writer Nevin Martell, was originally scheduled for today but has been extended to all this weekend due to the overwhelming interest. Owner James Alefantis was not available for comment today.
“Washingtonians are resilient. We won’t be threatened or deterred by attacks by the misled,” Sanchez says. “Here in Chevy Chase, there is a famous neighbor that they have, Vice President-elect Mike Pence. I think if his administration wants to get serious about standing up to fake news I would hope that he would come down here … to denounce those remarks and support small business.”
Comet, which has launched a GoFundMe page for increased security expenses and lost wages, is not the only business that has been subject to threats and harassment.
“We were seeing and still are seeing threatening messages on social media, we were getting phone calls. Obviously Comet Ping Pong was at the center of all of this but really most of the businesses in this block have been affected one way or the other.” says Jon Purves, director of marketing at Politics and Prose. The combination cafe and bookstore was crowded with people. “What we’ve actually seen this week is all kinds of messages of support, messages of perseverance, of defiance. People aren’t going to let this affect them and if you look at this block today … people are really turning out.”
Matt Carr, owner of neighboring restaurant Little Red Fox, says his business has been similarly harassed via Instagram, Twitter, Google reviews, emails, and phone calls.
“What [callers] said was they wanted to line us up in front of a firing squad and other stuff, calling us pedophiles,” Carr says. “We stopped answering after about ten calls … we’re definitely not getting it as bad as other businesses on the street.” Carr says nonetheless, his restaurant has had an exceptionally busy week and was grateful for the support.
Community members are reaching out in other ways as well. One local woman, who wished only to be referred to by her first name “Basil,” brought a card and was collecting signatures and messages of support for the owner of the nearby Besta Pizza, which neighbors say has received so many harassing calls it has been difficult for the carry-out establishment to run its business.
“I wanted to get him a card so that he knows that the community is thinking of him too and that we don’t accept this violence, not the shooting, not any of this,” Basil says.