The new year started out on a very weird note for John Legend and his wife Chrissy Teigen, who woke up on Saturday (Dec. 30) to find that they had somehow been dragged into the bizarre, horrifying mess known as Pizzagate.
The conspiracy theory allegedly cooked up by a cabal of white supremacists, Trump supporters and right wing bloggers in late 2016 claimed that a pizza joint in Washington, D.C. called Comet Ping Pong was actually a front for a child prostitution ring run by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and some fellow Democrats.
Then, somehow, more than a year after the whole thing had been thoroughly debunked, Teigen and Legend were pulled into the maw by a self-proclaimed investigative writer named Liz Conkin, who alleged that pictures of the couple’s 1-year-old daughter Luna in Halloween costumes was proof that they are somehow involved in the fake news story.
How did Pizzagate start? A timeline of the conspiracy theory.
October 30, 2016: A white supremacist Twitter account (@DavidGoldbergNY) claims that “rumors” were stirring among New York police that former Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s emails “point to a pedophilia ring and @HillaryClinton is at the center.” The tweet is tied to claims that emails from Abedin’s estranged husband, disgraced former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner, contained evidence that the former Sec. of State was involved in an “international child enslavement ring.”
Hours later, a poster on a conspiracy theory website called Godlike Productions writes that they have proof that “at least 6 members of Congress, several top leadership from federal agencies, and others all implicated in a massive child trafficking and pedophile sex ring,” alleging that the scheme was run “directly” through the Clinton Foundation. Among those buying into and spreading the story are Michael Flynn Jr., the son of retired and one-time Trump National Security advisor Gen. Michael Flynn.
Oct. 31, 2016: Another conspiracy theorist doubles down on the story, claiming that an “FBI insider” has confirmed the claims. As noted by BuzzFeed, the chatter on 4chan, Twitter, Reddit and Facebook filters down to right-wing blogs, pro-Trump websites and other conspiracy sites, where the fake news quickly spreads, augmented by new false stories, including claims that the NYPD had raided Clinton’s home less than a week before the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Nov. 3, 2016: Spun into a frenzy by the dozens of sites claiming definitive proof of the pedophile ring, Twitter users begin posting results of searches of the WikiLeaks leaked emails from Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, including speculation that phrases such as “pizza” refer to young girls, “cheese pizza” to pedophiles, “ice cream” to male prostitutes and “hotdog stand in Hawaii” to sex trafficking.
Nov. 4, 2016: The D.C. pizza restaurant Comet Ping Pong is dragged into the story when its name is attached to the alleged nefarious activity, leading to a deluge of nasty social media comments such as “we’re on to you” and “I will kill you personally” after conspiracy theorists on sites such as The New Nationalist and The Vigilant Citizen claim that correspondence between Comet owner (and Clinton supporter) James Alefantis and some Democratic party operatives includes secret clues. Some theories point to a picture of former Pres. Barack Obama playing ping pong with a child in the White House and a WikiLeaks email about Obama spending $65,000 flying in pizza and hot dogs from Chicago for a private White House party as further evidence to bolster their claim.
Businesses around Comet Ping Pong are also swept up in the madness thanks to allegations that their logos were similar to those used by pedophiles to identify sexual preferences.
Nov. 22, 2016: Amid the non-stop deluge of false allegations, threats and scary encounters, Alefantis welcomes some protesters into the restaurant after answering their questions about the alleged child prostitution links they claim to have uncovered in his Instagram feed. Instagram posts in support of PizzaGate include pictures of alleged secret “kill rooms” and underground tunnels beneath Comet Ping Pong — there is no basement under the restaurant.
Dec. 4, 2016: Nearly a month after Clinton lost the election to Pres. Donald Trump — and the #PizzaGate hashtag became ubiquitous on right-wing social media feeds — the buzz about the fake story reaches an apex when 28 year-old North Carolina native Edgar Welch shows up at Comet Ping Pong armed with a military-style AR-15 assault rifle and handgun, waving one of the firearms around, pointing it at an employee and firing off rounds in the restaurant that did not hurt anyone. Welch surrenders to police after failing to find evidence of the alleged child slavery ring that he told officials he had decided to “self-investigate.” Welch is charged with assault with a dangerous weapon.
June 22, 2017: After pleading guilty in March to federal charges of assault with a dangerous weapon and transporting a firearm over state lines, Welch is sentenced to 4 years in prison.
Dec. 30, 2017: Teigen and Legend — the singer was a vocal supporter of Clinton during the election — react angrily to a social media accusation from Conkin that photos of their daughter dressed as Alice in Wonderland are proof that the pair are part of the PizzaGate conspiracy.
“Alright. I debated saying something about this but I’m pretty disturbed over here,” Teigen writes. “The fact that there are people with these….thoughts…is really scary.” Legend threatened a lawsuit against Conkin, who had claimed that the couple “run in circle with people who rape, torture & traffic kids,” then seemingly backed off in light of the threatened legal action, writing that they could be “victims themselves” and might only “know about” pedophile rings in Hollywood.
You need to take my family’s name out of your mouth before you get sued. https://t.co/bPTwiBAs97
— John Legend (@johnlegend) December 31, 2017
Teigen does not accept the backtrack, writing, “I am taking this FAR, Liz. Your s— ends here. I don’t care HOW you backtrack or WHAT you deleted. I have it ALL. I’m the last person you are f—ing with. You are DONE with me and my family. You are going to court.”
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