On Sunday, Edgar Maddison Welch walked into a popular pizzeria in Washington, D.C., carrying an assault rifle and opened fire, according to police. His reason? Authorities say the 28-year-old man from North Carolina claims he was there to “self-investigate” a conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of the back of the neighborhood restaurant.
First thing’s first: There is absolutely no credible evidence—zero—that Clinton or anyone else is running a child sex ring out of Comet Ping Pong. The establishment’s owner, James Alefantis, is friends with a few prominent Democrats and was a Clinton supporter, but as the New York Times reported last month, “he has never met her, does not sell or abuse children, and is not being investigated by law enforcement for any of these claims.”
That, however, hasn’t stopped the fact-free “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory from gaining purchase in the more extreme corners of the internet, and Alefantis and his employees have increasingly been the subject of harassment online and off in recent weeks, culminating in Sunday’s shooting. Thankfully, no one was physically injured during that incident, but the fact it happened at all would hopefully be enough to convince people to stop spreading the spurious story. Of course that’s not the world we live in these days.
Exhibit A: Michael G. Flynn, the son of retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, whom President-elect Donald Trump has tapped to be his national security adviser. Flynn Jr. sent this out after the attack:
Flynn subsequently retweeted a message from a Trump supporter suggesting that he was simply urging the news media to fully debunk the story, though he quickly abandoned any such pretense when he spent part of Sunday retweeting other Pizzagate peddlers. He also shared direct messages purportedly from CNN’s Jake Tapper, who appears to have admirably taken Flynn to task.* Tapper, according to the shared screenshots, privately told Flynn “spreading this nonsense is dangerous”; Flynn responded publicly by claiming Tapper was “trolling” his family.
Junior is more than just his father’s son. He’s also served as his dad’s chief of staff, an employee at his consulting firm, and an editor of his books. This is the man who will advise the man who will advise Donald Trump on issues of national security. What he thinks—and, sadly, what he tweets—matters. It’s worth noting, then, that his foray into Pizzagate was hardly an isolated trip into the land of dangerous speculation and hate.
The younger Flynn’s social feeds are a hot bed of conspiracy theories along with homophobic and/or racially charged missives, as CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott documented on Monday:
Flynn frequently shares unfounded conspiracy theories, like ones claiming Hillary Clinton and President Obama would be tried for treason if Trump is elected. He also posted a unfounded story claiming hackers would release a video of former President Bill Clinton raping a teenage girl. In one post, he called alt-right social commentator Mike Cernovich, who frequently shares unfounded news stories, "a source I trust."
In a Facebook post from October, Flynn shared a fake news story claiming Obama flaunted an erection to female reporters in 2008. Flynn tweeted multiple times unfounded claims about Sen. Marco Rubio's "coke house, gayish dance troupe, and foam parties." These tweets included a baseless article about Rubio being a homosexual who lived in a drug house and went to "foam parties" where "mutual masturbation is an occasional component, generally beneath the cover of foam."
None of that is grounded in anything resembling reality. But it’s stuff Flynn Jr. thinks the world, and presumably his father, should know about.
The younger Flynn often peppers his Twitter timeline and Facebook page with references and links to InfoWars, an online clearinghouse of conspiracy theories, and CNN captured screenshots of since-deleted tweets from him that were racially charged. One replied to a Vox story about whites-only dating sites with this rejoinder in January 2016: "soooo African Americans can have B.E.T. but whites can't have their own dating site? Hmmm.” The other, posted the day after the 2012 Election Day, claimed that “the only reason minorities voted for [Barack Obama] is the color of his skin and NOT for the issues.”
The elder Flynn will not need Senate confirmation to become Trump’s national security adviser. Flynn Jr., according to CNN, already has a presidential transition email address. It seems both will fit in just fine with their new boss.
*Correction, Dec. 5, 2016: An earlier version of this post misspelled Tapper's first name.