Armed Man Threatens D.C. Pizzeria Targeted By Fake News Stories
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
After dealing with a series of fake news stories, a local pizzeria in Washington faced a very real threat over the weekend. The restaurant Comet Ping Pong has been the target of online conspiracy theorist. And on Sunday, a man from North Carolina entered the pizzeria and fired a rifle. The man was arrested, and no injuries were reported. According to police, the man said he was investigating claims of a child sex ring at the restaurant. Those claims are false. NPR's Jennifer Ludden has more.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Comet Ping Pong is a family friendly hangout popular for birthday parties in a residential part of D.C. Sunday afternoon, after 28-year-old Edgar Welch walked in brandishing an assault rifle, staffers and customers fled. The entire block was on lockdown while police made the arrest.
This morning, next door to Comet, employees at Little Red Fox bakery were back making croissants and apple pie. Owner Matt Carr says he'd been worried something like this would happen. The threats against Comet had spread to his business and others.
MATT CARR: Last weekend, we got 30 to 40 calls - threats. Someone said they wanted to line us up in front of a firing squad. They're all from private numbers, blocked.
LUDDEN: The conspiracy theories started a month ago after the release of WikiLeaks emails. One from Hillary Clinton's campaign manager mentioned a possible fundraiser for her at Comet Ping Pong. Then without a shred of evidence, a slew of fake stories appeared online.
They alleged a child trafficking ring based out of the restaurant. Some posted social media photos of staffers' children claiming they were victims. Carr says he's been targeted, too, by an odd claim that a flower design on his store's facade is a global symbol for pedophilia.
CARR: And there's a YouTube video that talks about me specifically with almost a hundred thousand views and, you know, has my picture on there. That's a little unpleasant.
LUDDEN: Carr wants sites like YouTube and Facebook to take down threatening comments.
CARR: I make sandwiches and coffee for a living. I don't know how to deal with a cyber-attack from people from multiple countries.
LISSA MUSCATINE: We're so heartened and so touched by the outpouring of support from our community.
LUDDEN: Lissa Muscatine co-owns Politics and Prose, a beloved independent bookstore a few doors up. She says some residents have been making a point of shopping and eating on this block in solidarity. Muscatine's a former speechwriter for Hillary Clinton. Her store, too, has received threatening phone calls. She and others have been reporting them not only to police but also the FBI.
MUSCATINE: So we expect and will demand greater security both for our staff who work here who just come in to try to do their jobs every day but also for the many, many customers who consider this block the heart of their community.
VICTORIA FARMER: It's just sad that it's happening over a false story.
LUDDEN: Victoria Farmer lives and works nearby. Walking her dog this morning, she seemed resigned to a new normal. She's not sure how to stop fake stories and online threats.
FARMER: If there were just one person or one party maybe, but at this point, it's spawned off so incredibly that there's no way that you're going to be able to get to a stopping point.
LUDDEN: Comet pizza's owner has closed the restaurant tonight to give his employees a break, but he plans to open again tomorrow. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.