Music shows at the Chevy Chase pizza restaurant Comet Ping Pong will now have visible police or private-security presences in the wake of a campaign of online harassment from conspiracy theorists who have peddled a rumor that the venue is the nexus of a child-abuse ring.
“Comet Ping Pong, like any respectable venue, is dedicated to creating a safe and inviting space for all of our concert-goers,” a statement on the restaurant’s Facebook page reads. “There have been no hostile situations at the venue, and we do not anticipate any altercations as much of the harassment has occurred online, but as a precaution we now have security and police present at every show.”
Comet Ping Pong was first besieged by nasty—and quickly debunked—rumors just days before the November 8 election when its owner, James Alefantis, popped up in emails hacked from the personal account of John Podesta, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton‘s campaign chairman and published on Wikileaks. In one of the emails, Alefantis and Podesta discussed hosting a Clinton fundraiser. But some readers read the message as code for a child-trafficking network, and promptly spread a wave of false information—referred to as “Pizzagate”—across social media, including a Reddit page populated by supporters of now-President-elect Donald Trump. Articles have also proliferated on websites that publish intentionally fake news stories.
The conspiracy-peddling spilled over into the real world as Comet Ping Pong, Alefantis, and his restaurant’s employees started receiving threatening phone calls, text messages, and social-media messages. Neighboring businesses like Little Red Fox and Politics & Prose have reported receiving some spillover abuse as the “Pizzagate” rumors continue to fester.