Several dozen people assembled outside the White House Saturday to demand an investigation into the unfounded Internet rumor known as “Pizzagate.”
Wearing T-shirts and holding banners defending the conspiracy theory — which falsely linked Hillary Clinton to an alleged child-sex-trafficking ring operating out of a D.C. pizza parlor — protesters took turns climbing onto an elevated stage in Lafayette Square to demand politicians and mainstream news media take their claims seriously.
“I don’t have any doubt that Pizzagate is real,” said Kori Hayes, a corrections officer who drove with his wife and three kids to Washington from Middleburg, Fla., on Friday night for the event. “But nothing is being said about it.”
The demonstration came a day after the widely debunked conspiracy theory suffered two further blows.
On Friday, a North Carolina man pleaded guilty to weapons and assault charges in connection to an ill-fated attempt to expose the alleged sex-trafficking operation.
Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, admitted traveling to Comet Ping Pong in Northwest Washington on Dec. 4, anticipating a violent confrontation over his personal investigation of Pizzagate. He entered the restaurant holding an assault rifle, prompting a panicked evacuation by workers and customers. Welch fired the rifle at least once while searching for evidence of child sex abuse. After finding none, he surrendered to police.
Also on Friday, Alex Jones, a conspiracy-loving media personality who pushed the Pizzagate narrative, apologized for his role in spreading the viral story.
Jones posted a six-minute video on his website, “Infowars,” in which he apologized to James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong.
“I made comments about Mr. Alefantis that in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him,” Jones said. “We relied on third-party accounts of alleged activities and conduct at the restaurant. We also relied on accounts of reporters who are no longer with us.”
“To my knowledge today, neither Mr. Alefantis nor his restaurant Comet Ping Pong, were involved in any human trafficking as was part of the theories about Pizzagate,” he added. The story, he said, “was based upon what we now believe was an incorrect narrative.”
Neither of those developments dissuaded the 50 or so protesters from demonstrating outside the White House on Saturday.
Hayes called Infowars “the only place you can get the news nowadays where it’s not opinion,” but said he wasn’t bothered by Jones’s about-face on Pizzagate.
“This paper in my hand is at least enough for an investigation,” the 25-year-old said, holding a flier labeled “Pizzagate/Pedogate” that listed “pedophile code words and symbols” supposedly found at Comet Ping Pong.
Hayes wore a shirt saying “Pizzagate is Not Fake News.” His wife, Danielle, 31, wore one reading “Investigate Pizzagate.”
Their three children, ages 9, 5 and 2, each wore shirts saying “I Am Not Pizza #pizzagate.”
“We’ve been watching since the Podesta emails came out on WikiLeaks,” Danielle said. “And we just followed it down the rabbit hole.”
They said they learned of Saturday’s protest from a video posted to YouTube by David Seaman.
Seaman, who spoke at the rally, declined to speak to The Washington Post, calling the newspaper “fake news” and screaming expletives at a reporter.
Several protesters said they were motivated to attend the event because of abuse they themselves had suffered or witnessed.
George, an editor from New Hampshire who declined to give his last name, held up a banner reading “Pedophilia Ruined My Childhood” and “Investigate #Pizzagate.”
“I was a victim of childhood abuse for 12 years,” he told The Post. “I don’t know if is legit or not, but I think it should be investigated.”
Keith Clark from Maryland said he had witnessed child sex abuse as a kid and felt like Pizzagate wasn’t being taken seriously.
“People don’t believe the victims,” said Clark, 30.
Dawn Wolf, a 55-year-old respiration therapist from southern Michigan, said she and her family drove eight hours Friday to attend the rally after watching Seaman’s YouTube videos on Pizzagate.
“Pedogate is a spiritual darkness,” she said, wearing a pink T-shirt with the words “Ephesians 6:12″ on it — a Bible verse about a struggle “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil.”
One by one, protesters took to the stage, in front of a banner reading “Our Children Matter,” to insist that Pizzagate was real and what was fake was the media ignoring it.
“Don’t you dare imply that we are crazy ones,” said one woman into a megaphone.
“Right?” said Danielle Hayes as she watched from the audience, pushing a baby stroller.
“Hold my hand baby,” she said, reaching for her 5-year-old daughter in the Pizzagate T-shirt and casting a quick glance at the city around her.
“This is where the monsters live,” she said. “That’s why we’re here.”