Opinion: ‘Pizzagate’ Hits Home
How insane conspiracy theories work like disease
To state the obvious—that, as respectable observers have put it, “there’s no evidence” to support the absurd and absurdist conspiracy theory called “Pizzagate,” and that it’s nowhere near true, and that it’s not even possible in this dimension of reality, really—seems beside the point. Someone threw it onto the Internet, precise motivation unknown. Somebody else, a 28-year-old Rowan County man named Edgar Maddison Welch, decided it was worth checking out.
So he drove to Washington, D.C., with an assault rifle and a handgun and on Sunday afternoon shot off one or more rounds in a pizza joint. Only then, police said, having found “no evidence” that a basements or tunnels beneath or behind this pizza joint concealed some number of children held as sex slaves by the Democratic Party’s most recent nominee for President—a former First Lady, Secretary of State, and U.S. Senator—and her campaign chairman, a former White House chief of staff, did Welch consider his fact-finding mission complete and surrender without further incident.
Of course it’s FUBAR, as they say in the military. Law enforcement and journalists have been trying to make sense of it when there’s little sense to be made. The Washington Post sent me to Rowan County on Monday to knock on doors and dig up records at the courthouse in Salisbury. (Welch’s father, Harry Welch Jr., a former police officer and county Register of Deeds, answered the door and responded to my introduction with, “Please leave,” not that I blame him.) The records reveal a smattering of traffic offenses and a DWI that earned Maddison Welch a 60-day jail sentence but nothing to indicate this kind of thing was coming. He’s a kind, caring individual, extremely religious, with a special interest in protecting children, friends and family members say. So maybe there’s a kernel of something rational here. But then it split open and blossomed into madness. News organizations can fact-check from now until the end of time (which, at this rate, could be next week). It won’t make a bit of difference to people inclined to believe grotesqueries like this.
If there’s a motive behind the targeting of the pizza restaurant, Comet Ping Pong, it could be tied to its ownership by James Alefantis, a former boyfriend of David Brock, the ex-right wing writer-turned-founder of Media Matters for America. But that’s an educated guess, and it matters less than what Pizzagate appears to portend. Down through the decades, totalitarian governments have silenced their critics and opponents in part by imposing terror at random on seemingly innocent citizens, through detention, imprisonment, questioning, disappearance, death.
The modern era of manufactured reality seems to augur a new age of terror committed at random not just against innocent people but, in a sense, by innocent people; at some point on or after October 30, Maddison Welch, quoter of scripture and lover of children, caught a disease from the web, and it metastasized in his mind, and the illness reached its acute stage on Sunday, armed with a rifle and handgun. From here, it seems almost foolish to hope for something like this not to happen again, with casualties.