Conspiracy Theories

The PizzaGate Gunman's Paranoid Rescue Fantasy Comes from a Long American Tradition

And that tradition hasn't been confined to the fringe.



On December 4, Edgar M. Welch carried a rifle into the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C. Welch had stumbled on the "PizzaGate" conspiracy theory, which claims that the restaurant is part of a sex-trafficking ring tied to Hillary Clinton and her associates; children are supposedly being held prisoner and transported through secret tunnels beneath the business. Welch was armed because he wanted to rescue the kids. He didn't find any prisoners there, but he wound up firing his weapon anyway. No one was injured, fortunately.

You've probably heard about that, since it's been all over the news this week. What hasn't been all over the news is the long American tradition that Welch belongs to. This is hardly the first time someone has filled up on fantasies that a conspiracy was holding innocents captive and exploiting them. It isn't the first time a fantasist has set off on a potentially bloody rescue mission either.

Take the mob that burned down the Ursuline convent and boarding school in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1834. The resentments toward that institution had very specific local roots, but the rumors that prompted the riot took an oft-told form: Girls were being held prisoner, and they needed to be saved. These stories were spread not just orally but via anonymous placards and handbills—if a pundit from late 2016 were somehow sent back to 1834, he'd probably call them "fake news"—that said things like this:

GO AHEAD! To Arms!! To Arms!! Ye brave and free Avenging Sword unshield!! Leave not one stone upon another of that curst Nunnery that prostitutes female virtue and liberty under the garb of holy Religion. When Bonaparte opened the Nunnerys in Europe he found cords of Infant sculls!!!!!!

New England Historical Society

That wasn't the only Catholic institution to be raided by would-be heroes. Throughout the era, paranoid Protestants became convinced that convents contained sex slaves, secret tunnels, and other staples of the modern pizzeria; more than once, they invaded intending to liberate the nuns. Nor was Catholicism the only faith to be afflicted by captivity rumors. A couple decades before the Ursuline Convent riots, for example, a youngster named Ithamar Johnson was "rescued" from a Shaker community in Ohio. He promptly returned the next day, and remained a Shaker until he died in his eighties. Much more recently, the cult scare that took off in the 1970s produced a whole profession of "deprogrammers," some of whom felt the best way to liberate a cultist was to kidnap and torture him until he declared himself cleansed of the religion's worldview.

The cult scare helped shape the Satanic panic of the 1980s and '90s, when the notion took hold that a web of devil-worshippers was raping, kidnapping, and even killing children. In this case, it wasn't vigilante deprogrammers who would browbeat an alleged victim into saying what they wanted to hear. It was agents of the state. In the most infamous case, the authorities embraced the idea that the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, was run by a coven of child molesters. Interrogators badgered the preschoolers into confirming their suspicions, and the children's imaginations then produced still more lurid details.

Naturally, there were tales of secret tunnels beneath the day care center. You'd think it was a convent or a pizza joint or something.

Moral Feature Film Co.

Not every captivity fantasy involved unpopular religions. In the white-slavery panic of the early 20th century, a flood of exposés—there's that "fake news" again—made lurid claims about prostitution, greatly exaggerating both the number of women coerced into the profession and the extent to which the trade was controlled by a centralized conspiracy. (In his 1914 book The Girl Who Disappeared, a former Chicago prosecutor called this sex syndicate a "hidden hand," claiming that "behind our city and state governments there is an unseen power which controls them.") As Thaddeus Russell has written in Reason, such stories "helped create, expand, and strengthen the police powers of an array of government agencies. Since the onset of the panic, those agencies have imprisoned and sterilized hundreds of thousands of women who worked as prostitutes, taken their children from them, forced them onto the streets and into dependent relationships with male criminals, and made their jobs among the most dangerous in the world." And as my colleague Elizabeth Nolan Brown regularly points out, modernized versions of the old white-slavery myths frequently turn up when police or the press discuss sex trafficking.

Those mainstream misconceptions clearly influenced the PizzaGate crusade, just as surely as fringier fantasies did. The first time I mentioned Edgar Welch's Comet assault on this blog, I pointed out that PizzaGate is the latest variation on a decades-old sequence of rumors that claim the country is governed by secret pedophile rings. But that is hardly the only source for the PizzaGate story, and this is hardly the only time something like this happened. The most unusual thing about Welch's stupid misadventure may be that this time, nobody was hurt.

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  1. “He didn’t find any prisoners there, but he wound up firing his weapon anyway. No one was injured, fortunately.”

    Seems like something you’d do if you wanted to break the ring up. You fire a shot, you bring the attention of the public to the place, and at least they have to move the operation somewhere else, right? You’ve disrupted everything!

    He couldn’t go to the police because they surely already knew about it. They’re under the control of the Clintons, you see! The whole city is run by the federal government!

    That’s my guess at his thinking, anyway, but if the crazy actions of crazy people ever start to make a lot of sense to us, it’s probably a sign that we need professional help.

    1. It is one of the least crazy conspiracy theories out there. It may not be Comet Pizza itself, but if you look at the reaction of CTR on anything remotely pizzagate related, the “Fake News” (censorship) onslaught that coincided with it, Jeffrey Epstein’s Lolita Express, the other child-pedo rings in Britain and Netherlands, the Boys Town stuff from the 90s, the Catholic Church, etc, you have to start to at least question.

      Comet and Podesta and all those guys may not be pedophiles, but Podesta does have child-porn-like artwork hanging in the place he fucks his wife, and Alefantis is pretty sketchy along with many of his friends. Maybe they just think they’re being edgy, but they are weird enough to warrant serious questions especially with how widespread child trafficking and pedophilia seem to be.

      1. What the fuck is ‘child-porn-like’ art??

        1. Naked teenagers. There was a Wapo article about the Podestas (Tony) art collection.

          “At political events, there’s an inevitable awkwardness,” former Clinton administration official Sally Katzen said at a Women’s Campaign Fund dinner at the Podestas’ home this summer. “The art is an ice-breaker. It puts people at ease.”

          Not always. Folks attending a house tour in the Lake Barcroft neighborhood in Falls Church earlier this year got an eyeful when they walked into a bedroom at the Podesta residence hung with multiple color pictures by Katy Grannan, a photographer known for documentary-style pictures of naked teenagers in their parents’ suburban homes.

          “They were horrified,” Heather recalls, a grin spreading across her face.

          1. Thanks, Deven.

            1. And screw you, Shultz?

              Okay . . .

              Well up yours, too, Mongo!

              ; )

          2. How about the stuffed animals in his bedroom, next to the bed, across from his naked-children “artwork?”

            Bear (no pun intended) in mind that he has no children.

          3. No better way for me to picture myself, back in high school, than with a bunch of naked teens, of the opposite sex! My genitals always seemed to be at attention at a second’s notice!………….(;-P””””……… After a spinal cord injury, it is mostly a memory!

        2. Podesta’s sister, I think, is a performance artist, and she made some creepy shit for shock value.

          Remember the “Spirit Cooking” email?

          —-Washington Post

          I understand Podesta owns some of her work.

          1. Marina Abramovic – the performance artist – has no relation to the Podestas.

            1. Yeah, somehow, I must have remembered them being introduced through Podesta’s brother–and it must have stuck in my mind that she was his sister-in-law or something.

              Thank you for the correction.

              Point is, that performance artist is a big source for the conspiracy theories surrounding Podesta.

              1. Most people freak out just thinking about performance art.

      2. I’ll grant you this: The willful deceit by the Democrats over the last eight years, not to mention the Hillary campaign, and the dishonest way in which the media covered both Trump and Hillary has certainly lent itself to people believing the very worst possible interpretation of anything and anybody associated with Hillary’s campaign.

        Here are three statements.

        1) An operative of the Hillary campaign claims he was paid to instigate violence at Trump rallies.

        2) While Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State, she accepted money from foreign governments that had arms sales pending before her that required her approval.

        3) There’s a child trafficking ring being protected by Democratic party operatives in Washington DC.

        I know there is persuasive evidence that the first two are true. The first statement I saw made via a YouTube video in which the operative confessed this himself. The second statement is confined by both Clinton Foundation documents and the documents the Foundation filed with the State Department.

        Most people simply believe these things because they’ve been relayed to them by people they’ve decided to trust. Once you believe the first two statements in my list–which seem incredible–believing the third statement to be true doesn’t take as much effort.

        1. I’m not saying it is true or not. I’m saying it should be investigated. And the incontrovertible evidence of Party operatives or others in high places tied to pedophilia can be found in one location: Epstein. All the other stuff lends credence to something that was already verified (who exactly did the sexual acts and who just liked his company not verified).

          1. According to rumor, incontrovertible evidence was also found on Weiner’s laptop. I don’t think that story is done.

          2. A lot of this connection, too, is derived from an email that Wikileaks uncovered which went something like “The grandkids are coming over to go swimming–so I’m bringing the entertainment for evening”.

            The sites I saw were spinning that statement as if using the grand kids for “entertainment” was somehow untoward, but it just like he was saying that watching the kids play is a barrel full of monkeys.

            Again, the deceptive nature of the Clinton campaign, the dishonest way in which the media covered the Clinton campaign, etc. all lend credence to those who want to believe the very worst possible interpretation of anything they say.

            I haven’t seen anything that would constitute a reasonable suspicion, much less probable cause for a warrant. Because Podesta once associated with a weird-ass performance artist, campaigned for a lying corruption magnet, and benefited from a dishonest media machine–doesn’t mean any further investigation is warranted.

            . . . certainly not just because everything that we’ve seen can be interpreted in the worst possible way.

            1. From the Unz Review article:

              “For yet another coincidence, Lauren Silsby-Gayler is the former director of The New Life Children’s Refuge in Haiti. It is a matter of public record that she was caught, prosecuted, and sent to jail while in that role for trying to abduct dozens of children, most of whom had homes and families….

              …When the Clintons gained influence in the region, one of their first acts was to work to get Silsby-Gayler off the hook. Among the Podesta Wikileaks are State Department emails discussing their case….”

              1. Because Podesta discussed a case, there’s sufficient evidence for a warrant accusing him of being instrumental in a child trafficking ring?

                No. Not even close to probable cause.

                Why not spend this energy going after Hillary Clinton? She accepted money from foreign governments while she was the Secretary of State–by her own admission.

                Maybe that’s the problem. Because she did it out in the open, it doesn’t pique the interests of conspiracy theorists.

  2. There are secret tunnels hidden under Reason’s headquarters that lead straight to Washington DC’s hippest cocktail bars.

  3. You know what else used to be spread orally?

    1. Herpes?

    2. The lip-glossed mouth of the 13-year old hottie working in the backroom of an unnamed pizza joint?

    3. Saliva?

    4. Solanum Virus?

    5. The traditions and history of our people?

      1. Not for long. “Stop filling up my voicemail, dad! Just text me.”

    6. The law of Iceland?

  4. “More than once, they invaded intending to liberate the nuns. Nor was Catholicism the only faith to be afflicted by captivity rumors. A couple decades before the Ursuline Convent riots, for example, a youngster named Ithamar Johnson was “rescued” from a Shaker community in Ohio. He promptly returned the next day, and remained a Shaker until he died in his eighties.”

    This is, more or less, what happened in the FLDS raid on the YFZ Ranch in 2008.

    The state went in and seized 462 children from their parents–130 of which were under the age of 5.

    It was all because of a hoax phone call.

    “The girl who identified herself as “Sarah” was never found,[18] but investigators eventually established by tracing the calls that they were made by a much older woman, Rozita Swinton, who had been arrested for previous hoax calls posing as abused and victimized girls.”

    All the children were eventually ordered released back to their parents.

    1. Amazing what I learn watching the comments! Your story sounds very credible! And, it seems well documented.

  5. I’m going to liberate all of you whether you like it or not. (Apologies in advance.)

  6. I’ll leave this link again. Not because the author thinks it’s true (he’s not sure) but because he reminds us that this potential scandal is exactly where the Rotherham child sex ring story was a few months before it actually broke in the mainstream media.

    No way to know if it’s true or not right now.

    1. Thanks for the link. I checked it out yesterday (see my comment below) and couldn’t recall who here had posted it.

      That thing about the Portugese kidnapping and the police sketches is one of the craziest things I have ever seen in my life. I remember when that girl’s kidnapping was being reported on the radio years ago. Otherwise I would think I had entered some very vast, very bizarre internet hoax recently, because the police sketch thing is so unbelievable.

      1. Yeah, I saw the police sketch and thought someone must have photoshopped that shit. Come to find out those are the actual police sketches. I think it is probably a coincidence, those are two fairly common looking white dudes, but still, would be interesting to see where the Podestas actually were on that day.

  7. It’s not paranoia. I thought the Pizzagate thing was silly ‘conspiracy theory’ until yesterday when I read a thoughtful, not-entirely-credulous article on Unz Review. I was surprised and disturbed.

    Even if they are not running a ‘pedophile ring’ or whatever, these people (people in the circle of Podesta and other Democrat bigwigs) clearly think it is funny or provocative to joke about or otherwise take lightly such things as Satanism, serial killing, child rape, etc. They do it through so-called artwork, music, social media photos etc.When you deliberately act provocative, don’t act surprised when someone is actually provoked.

    When I was a teenager, I was your classic “wigger.” As I grew into a man, I had to come to terms that acting like a typical “street thug” was silly to some people, but quite convincing to others. In other words, act like a gangster long enough and soon you’ll be treated like one.

    So these “progressive/hipster/liberal” whatever the fucks who think it’s funny or harmless to take Lucifer lightly (pun intended) shouldn’t act surprised when people start believing their posturing regarding transgressive sex and Satanism.

    1. ….these people clearly think it is funny or provocative to joke about or otherwise take lightly such things as Satanism, serial killing, child rape, etc. They do it through so-called artwork, music, social media photos etc.When you deliberately act provocative, don’t act surprised when someone is actually provoked.

      Take your time.

      1. Neil Gaiman and John Carmack? Obviously Devil worshippers.

      2. This reply is too clever for me, HOD; brevity being the soul of wit, as you have demonstrated here today.

        In the future, please try to remember that I am stupid, and dumb it down a shake.

        1. I was poking fun at the context. I can see perhaps why the quoted bit could made sense, in another time and another place. Reading that quote in the context of here, on the other hand, highlights a few potential flaws in the logic.

          I’m trying to be funny, while saying I think you could be wrong, without being a dick about it. It’s harder than it looks. Here, take two.

          ” …joke about or otherwise take lightly such things as Satanism, serial killing, child rape…”

    2. It’s not paranoia.

      When the evidence consists things like “The owner of the restaurant likes creepy art” and “The following people are linked to Jeffrey Epstein, who is not in any way connected to this restaurant” and “What if we decide these words are actually code words?” then yeah, I think it’s pretty paranoid. There are real conspiracies in the world. The chances that this is one of them are vanishingly small.

      1. There are real conspiracies in the world.

        Like the Reptilians who run the world, right?

      2. Did you even read the article linked by LurkinaBuildin, Jesse?

        There is a pretty clear picture of people who are either into pedophilia or think it is edgy humor or edgy art. That Epstein is linked to many of these same people by 1 degree or less makes a sane person think that there is a possibility that something more sinister than being edgy is going on.

        #chickenlover. No code words there, amirite?

        1. 1 degree or less *facepalm*

  8. Satanic panic

    Great metal band name. Or a metal album.

    1. People might confuse it with the other band “Manic Hispanic”.

    2. Not sure if a metal band would be panicked by Satanism though.

      On the other hand there are a few overtly Christian metal bands.

      1. +1 Stryper

    3. Don’t overlook Manic Mechanic (ZZ Top)

  9. sex slaves, secret tunnels, and other staples of the modern pizzeria

    *prolonged applause*

  10. like Dawn replied I’m shocked that someone able to profit $8730 in a few weeks on the
    As Harold said I am startled that a student can get paid $7187 in four weeks on the internet .
    hop over to this site

  11. Expose #pizzagate, free the people! ^_^…..dgame-pt-1

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