News & Politics

Conspiracy Theorists Target Comet Ping Pong on Trump’s Last Night in Office

The Trump era in DC ends in a very similar fashion to the way it began

Photograph by Michael Schaffer.

In a fitting finale to the Trump years in hometown DC, a group of homophobic conspiracy theorists gathered to shout slogans outside Chevy Chase’s Comet Ping Pong restaurant—only to leave after the eatery drowned out their bullhorn with loud music, to the delight of a large crowd that had gathered to dance in the street.

A group of about 20 people gathered outside the restaurant early  Tuesday evening, waving signs about abortion and hell, some of which bear the URL of a group called “Official Street Preachers.” (The same group picketed the restaurant in January 2017.) Asked why they were bringing this message to a pizza place in leafy Chevy Chase DC, one protester told Washingtonian, “Pedophilia. They serve up little boys on pizza over there.”

Comet’s harasser is referring to a bogus conspiracy theory about Comet that sprung into view in DC just before the 2016 election, as memelords who supported Donald Trump began a campaign of harassing Comet based on warped online “detective” work that sprang from stolen Hillary Clinton campaign emails. The half-baked idea, a precursor of QAnon, was called “Pizzagate”: a theory that the neighborhood eatery was somehow the center of a vast pedophilia ring among Washington elites. It would almost be funny had it not led to Comet and businesses up and down its block getting harassed and, eventually, a gunman walking into the restaurant a little more than four years ago carrying a loaded rifle with the idea he would “investigate” its basement dungeon. (There is no basement at Comet.)

While the conspiracy theory’s juice has diminished over the intervening years, it had stirred a bit during 2020. Owner James Alefantis told Washingtonian last year that Pizzagate dingleberries never stopped bothering the shop and it was something staff had mostly learned to live with, even during a pandemic that’s clobbered the restaurant biz. On Tuesday night, he said the last night the restaurant had drawn such a motley crowd was the night of the Women’s March on January 21, 2017.

On Tuesday night, however, Comet patrons fought back. As a large phalanx of police looked on, the restaurant blasted music that drowned out the protesters, including “We Will Rock You,” Bill Withers’s “Lovely Day,” and “Hit the Road Jack.” Alefantis brought the protesters champagne on a tray, which an apparent leader of the group declined by pouring out his glass, then accidentally knocking over the whole tray. Comet patrons began dancing around the protesters and singing, and eventually outnumbered them to the point that they piled into a white van with Ohio plates and left.

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Editor

Michael Schaffer has been editor of Washingtonian since 2014. A former editor of Washington City Paper and editorial director of The New Republic, Michael is also the author of One Nation Under Dog, a 2009 book about America’s obsession with pets. A DC native, he currently lives in Chevy Chase DC with his wife and their two daughters.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.