Monday, December 05, 2016


It's all fun and games until someone takes you seriously enough to do this:
A North Carolina man was arrested Sunday after he walked into a popular pizza restaurant in Northwest Washington carrying an assault rifle and fired one or more shots, D.C. police said. The man told police he had come to the restaurant to “self-investigate” a false election-related conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton that spread online during her presidential campaign....

Police said 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch, of Salisbury, N.C., walked in the front door of Comet Ping Pong and pointed a firearm in the direction of a restaurant employee. The employee was able to flee and notify police. Police said Welch proceeded to discharge the rifle inside the restaurant; they think that all other occupants had fled when Welch began shooting....

The restaurant’s owner and employees were threatened on social media in the days before the election after fake news stories circulated claiming that then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief were running a child sex ring from the restaurant’s backrooms. Even Michael Flynn, a retired general whom President-elect Donald Trump has tapped to advise him on national security, shared stories about another anti-Clinton conspiracy theory involving pedophilia. None of them were true.
A lot of people spread the "Pizzagate" story -- you could read about it at 4Chan and on Facebook, and at a sites such as the New Nationalist and the Vigilant Citizen. Reddit was a hotbed of Pizzagate posts until the site banned the topic.

And then there's Alex Jones's InfoWars. Edgar Maddison Welch's "likes" on Facebook included both Jones and InfoWars -- for whom the story was an obsession:

Here's part of the description posted by the Alex Jones Channel for one of its YouTube videos on Pizzagate:
The FBI has long known the symbols pedophiles are using to operate. An FBI Unclassified document from wikileaks reveals "Symbols and Logos Used by Pedophiles to Identify Sexual Preferences.... to include those who sexually abuse children as well as those who produce, distribute, and trade child pornography, are using various types of identification logos or symbols to recognize one another and distinguish their sexual preferences. To specifically indicate the pedophile's gender preference, members of pedophilic organizations encourage the use of descriptions such as "boylove", "girllove", and "childlove." ...

Now...clues. The menu from Comet Ping Pong. Notice the symbol of the ping pong paddles and its clever resemblance to the FBI documents symbol for Child Love.
The owner of Comet Ping Pong received death threats after this story spread, and his employees were subject to abusive messages. And now this gunman.

So where's our Peter Thiel? Where's the rich person who'll bankroll a massive lawsuit on Comet's behalf against media outlets that spread this story, the Alex Jones empire in particular?

Corporations can sue for defamation, although in D.C. a business, no matter how small, is considered a public figure for the purposes of such lawsuits, which means that plaintiffs must demonstrate actual malice -- that is, it must be shown that the defamer knew the story was false or acted with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity. It's a high but not impossibly high bar to clear.

I can understand why Comet's owner wouldn't want to go to court -- the deplorables are making his life miserable now, so imagine what they'd do if he sued Alex Jones.

But it seems to me that this is precisely the sort of abuse that libel and defamation laws are meant to prevent. It would not chill free speech to punish a media outlet that willfully accuses an innocent small-business owner of being part of a pedophile ring knowing full well that that's not true.

I'd be surprised if a suit of this kind is ever filed. But it would be a good thing.


Buford said...

We no longer live in America...Where we are, I have no clue...all I know is, the hate, the fear, the threats, the violence all are what Trumpism represents...that is Trumpism in all of his ugliness...

Philo Vaihinger said...

Just the sort of real American that Trump and Bannon and the rest want on their side.

Just the sort of real American the loonies have just put in the White House.

Never Ben Better said...

I must disagree, Buford: We do indeed live in America -- the America that not only engaged in slavery with extreme atrocity and cruelty, but that preached it from the pulpit as God's ordained order; the America that smashed unions and other protesters like the Bonus Army with Army troops and corporate goon armies; the America that damned the "deviants" to hell and turned a blind eye when they were beaten and murdered; the America that believed the only good injun was a dead injun, and acted accordingly as the white Christian masters spread across the continent; the America that tore itself apart in a civil war whose wounds have never fully healed.

All this and more is just as much "America" as those lofty ideals we got taught in school, that some of us still believe in, and that the Trumpistas mouth piously even as they smite the wicked and trample their rights underfoot. We're just seeing it all with the polite veneer stripped away.

RickM said...

Never mind OUR Peter Thiel; where's the existing Peter Thiel on this? The obvious (if unstated) reason he wanted to destroy Gawker is that they outed him; you'd think he'd be just as upset that lives are in danger because of a fake story "based" on nothing other than "the owner of Comet is gay so there MUST be pedophilia going on."

Unless, of course, Peter Thiel is a whiny adolescent who doesn't mind people getting shot as long as it helps his preferred candidate win an election.