In December of 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch traveled from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., where he entered the pizzeria Comet Ping Pong with a rifle and fired.
Fortunately, only property was harmed.
Welch targeted ping pong because of leaked emails from 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta.
One of the emails contained a bulk pizza order to Comet Ping Pong, but online conspiracy groups had convinced Welch and scores of other troubled Americans that the order was actually a code, and that Clinton was active in a child sex trafficking ring operating from the basement of the restaurant—which didn't have a basement at all.
The so-called "pizzagate" theory about Clinton is still widely believed in circles of QAnon, the broad conspiracy web which purports that President Donald Trump was sent to save the United States from a network of satanic, cannibalistic pedophiles who've taken over the United States government.
Now, subscribers to QAnon's bizarre and baseless doctrine are threatening violence against Congressman Tom Malinowski (D-NJ).
An ad put forth by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) last month falsely claimed that Malinowski had lobbied to cut a portion from the 2006 crime bill that expanded registration requirements for sex offenders.
NJ-07: "Shadow" www.youtube.com
Though the ad was released last month, QAnon supporters began smearing him with it after Malinowski put forth a bipartisan resolution to disavow the conspiracy group.
As a result, Malinowski and his office have been inundated with death threats and vile messages citing the ad—and he says it's a "direct result" of the NRCC's recklessness. Some of the threats can be read here, but be warned: they're quite graphic.
According to reporting from the New York Times, Malinowski said:
"We've been warning the Republicans running this play for at least the last two or three weeks that they were playing with fire. Now the match has been lit."
The NRCC responded:
"Congressman Malinowski must live with the consequences of his actions."
People were disgusted at the GOP's fearmongering and tacit validation of conspiracy theories.
They are no better than the people making the threats, probably worse! This is appalling.
— Courtney (@CourtneyTweet) October 1, 2020
They're really saying you have to live with the consequences of *their* (heinous) actions. There is no bottom with these people.
— MikaelKa (@Mikael__Ka) October 1, 2020
Appalling. Is there no diqualification for the @NRCC and @KeanForCongress ? Their willful intent to purposely lie, deceive, cheat, and attack our Congressman wasn't enough in their plan to destroy his character? Death? Disqualify Jr and press charges.
— MissLisaK (@AuntLisaK) October 1, 2020
I am sorry to see that the NRCC is happy to put you and you family at risk by spreading falsehoods. Chris Pack should be ashamed of himself. But I bet he isn't.
— Maria Marcotte (@maria325) October 1, 2020
I hope you have been given security to protect you and your family. It is unacceptable that NRCC continues to attack your character with false claims which has put your safety at risk. Kean and his party lack morals. So glad your integrity is strong
— Susan Pepe (@SusanPepe6) October 1, 2020
What I'm getting from this is that the @NRCC is a mafia, or at any rate envisions itself as one.
— Keithulhu Fhtammann (@KeithAmmann) October 1, 2020
Despite the ridiculousness of the theory's beliefs, QAnon subscribers have enjoyed growing legitimacy within the Republican party.
The President demurred when asked to condemn them, and Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia—a QAnon believer—will likely be heading to Washington after a primary win this summer in her deep red district. She was endorsed by Trump, Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz, and other GOP lawmakers.
The growing visibility of QAnon is concerning to many.
🚨 QAnon is a conspiracy cult that supports the mass jailing and execution of top Democrats. The FBI says it's domestic terror threat. Yet, 41% of Republicans who have heard about QAnon say it's a good thing for the country, per new Pew poll. https://t.co/MQ6XQU67m6 pic.twitter.com/fAqq2sZdVo
— Marshall Cohen (@MarshallCohen) September 20, 2020
alarmed because Trump lacks any subtlety and they're bracing for electoral impact
but it's no accident that Proud Boys/QAnon have become Trump-era Republican auxiliaries
GOP has driven the car down this road
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) October 1, 2020
Hours before the first debate, the GOP chairwoman is quoting the first daughter to wink at QAnon as if all of this is normal and not in fact the saddest party ever hoping the votes of a conspiracy cult can save them in the election. pic.twitter.com/pBMFoMppst
— Molly McKew (@MollyMcKew) September 29, 2020
Fallout for Malinowski from the ad was first reported by Buzzfeed News.