The fire which broke out Wednesday evening at Comet Ping Pong, the Washington restaurant made famous by online conspiracy theorists in 2016, has been confirmed as arson, according to police and fire officials.
Staff extinguished the fire before fire engines arrived, but subsequent investigation revealed “a box of matches and an open, partially full plastic bottle of lighter fluid on a table”, according to a police report.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released a photo of a person of interest in the case, described as “a white man between 25 and 30 years-old, who has blonde hair, a mustache and beard and wore a blue and white varsity-style jacket and blue jeans”.
In December 2016, a man inspired by unfounded online rumours of Democrats harbouring child sex slaves in the (non-existent) basement at Comet Ping Pong invaded the busy restaurant armed with two guns. Terrified families and staff were able to leave the restaurant safely. Edgar Maddison Welch is currently serving four years in prison for his actions.
No evidence has been reported linking Wednesday’s arson to Pizzagate or imaginary “child sex slaves”. However, it’s difficult not to jump to conclusions, given past events.
And at least one report of the alleged arsonist’s actions does seem to lend credence to suspicions that his actions were motivated by Pizzagate.
A restaurant employee told ABC7 News that the unknown man bought three beers, paid with a credit card, and tipped more than 20 percent.
He then allegedly set that curtain on fire, and left behind a diaper and baby food, seemingly nodding to a debunked conspiracy theory linking Comet to a child sex ring led by Hillary Clinton.
According to the Washington Post,
D.C. police said that about two hours before the fire, a restaurant employee reported receiving several prank calls from a woman. A police report did not detail what the woman had said.
Alefantis said that the restaurant routinely gets crank calls and that the policy is to report all of them to police.
Whether the arson was linked to Pizzagate or not, though, the fact that we are even thinking in that direction serves as a grim reminder that online conspiracy theories can lead to real-world consequences.