Say you have a great meal at Comet Ping Pong and want to leave the Upper Northwest restaurant a four- or five-star review. Before you can write that review you’ll have to review Yelp’s “Active Cleanup Alert” pop-up informing Yelp users when an establishment is battling a controversial news story.
That news story is that alt right conspiracy theorists have pegged the 10-year-old neighborhood pizza restaurant as both a pedophiliac sex ring and the meeting ground of a satanic cult—all based on an email exchange between Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis and Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta that surfaced in the latest Wikileaks dump. For confusing reasons, conspiracy theorists are especially concerned with the fact that Podesta owns a hanky with an image of a “pizza-related” map on it.
Despite the fact that the election is over, the alt right internet trash talk hasn’t ceased. Comet Ping Pong now has 84 one-star reviews on Facebook, which doesn’t have the same sort of pop-up alert.
These reviews are small potatoes compared to a much more troublesome problem, according to Alefantis.
“The most sickening part of this vicious attack has been the stealing of Instagram images, Facebook images of children, minors, aged 5, 7, and 8 years old that are then slapped across their chat boards as nothing but pawns,” Alefantis says. “Yes, it’s scary to be attacked, it’s dangerous for business, but it’s disgusting and filthy of these people to be posting photos on these websites. … Someone should be prosecuting these people.”
Alefantis says the photos have been lifted from his personal social media accounts, and those of his friends and employees—not from the restaurant. “Kids in the restaurant are completely safe, none of these people are going there, they’re cowards,” he says, emphasizing that this scandal only exists on the internet. Inside the restaurant it’s business as usual.
Alefantis says he’s even received intimidating direct messages on Facebook and so have others associated with the restaurant, including its purveyors. He calls the attackers “conspiracy theorist, white nationalists made up largely of racists, homophobic individuals who loosely tie together theories and do not attempt to find the truth, and when they do find truth that dispels their theories, they ignore it.”
While Alefantis says he can weather the storm, he’s concerned about others who may not have as much community backing as he does. “I personally worry for the individuals who are being attacked and smeared and slandered and maligned and for other independent businesses or restaurants who are less established than Comet.”
He says that now includes other places in the neighborhood as well as pizza joints across the country. “They’ve moved on to people in my block like Politics & Prose, TERASOL across the street,” Alefantis says. “Apparently there are networks of satanic tunnels built under the entire block. Across the street is an office that contains an NGO that works to save Haitian orphans, so they’re implicated.”
The election may be over, but Pizza Gate is still churning.