How, Pizzagate?

For the last few months an online conspiracy called “Pizzagate” has been brewing. Proponents of the Pizzagate Conspiracy believe that the hacked John Podesta emails, released via wikileaks, contain a code according to which all references to “pizza”, “pasta”, “cheese”, “hot dogs” and the like, are in reality references to various kinds of child sex and sadistic or satanic torture rituals.

So what’s the evidence that is driving so many people to believe what is so blatantly absurd? There are two very general pieces of evidence:

  1. The emails contain too many references to junk food, specifically pizza and pasta.
  2. The emails contain phrases that make no sense on the assumption that there referent of “pizza” is pizza, whereas the phrases make sense on the assumption that the referent of “pizza” is child sex.

Indeed, a quick search through the Podesta email archive reveals 149 results for “pizza”. Given that there are over 30,000 emails, this might not seem like a suspiciously large number. That being said, despite many emails being concerned with foreign policy matters, a search for “Finland” delivers a meagre 32 hits, and even a reference to an unstable warzone and terror hotbed such as “Yemen” tallies only 114 hits. Pizza, it seems, is mentioned disproportionately often.

As far as the second point goes, some examples are probably necessary. The following are extracts from some of the Podesta emails. They seem to have no context in which one could make ordinary sense of the words, without the assumption that the food references are code for something else.

“The realtor found a handkerchief (I think it has a map that seems pizza-related. Is it yorus? They can send it if you want. I know you’re busy, so feel free not to respond if it’s not yours or you don’t want it.”

Now, who ever heard of a handkerchief with a pizza-related map? Then there’s the following bizarre statement:

“I’m dreaming about your hotdog stand in Hawaii.”

What can that mean? Then there’s the indecipherable: 

“Do you think I’ll do better playing dominos on cheese than on pasta?”

That literally makes no sense. You don’t play dominos “on cheese”. And if you are looking for evil villain-esque vagueness, there’s the following:

“I think you should give notice when changing strategies which have been long in place. I immediately realized something was different by the shape of the box and I contemplated who would be sending me something in the square shaped box. Lo and behold, instead of pasta and wonderful sauces, it was a lovely, tempting assortment of cheeses.”

Boxes? Cheeses? Strategies? What’s going on here?

“walnut sauce for the pasta? Mary, plz tell us the straight story, was the sauce actually very tasty?”

Who ever heard of walnut sauce? What are these people really trying to say? Finally, some of the emails are supposed to be just a bit more blatant:

“Still in torture chamber”

Now, don’t get me wrong. The conspiracy theorists who are running with the Pizzagate story have amassed a mountain of supposed evidence that they allege proves that there is an underground child sex ring operating out of pizza joints in Washington D.C. But for what it’s worth, I’d like to rebut the two pieces of evidence presented here.

Firstly, the number of pizza and pasta-related terms is relatively unsurprising, since John Podesta is Italian, and his mother was famous in D.C. for the quality of her homemade pasta (including “Ligurian”style pasta, which is often served with (surprise surprise) walnut sauce). Fundraisers for the Podestas’ charitable foundations often saw Mary Podesta putting on a spread for hundreds of guests. It seems that Pizza, in particular, had been the food of choice when it came to entertaining large groups of donors, especially since some important donors actually ran pizza joints in D.C.

Secondly, the idea that the emails that make no sense unless unless we assume that the language is a code for child sex is simply crazy. The phrases are often confusing since they are often in-jokes and highly context-dependent. Indeed, I would like to show how, by going through the above quotes one-by-one.

“The realtor found a handkerchief (I think it has a map that seems pizza-related. Is it yorus? They can send it if you want. I know you’re busy, so feel free not to respond if it’s not yours or you don’t want it.”

Perhaps, and I know it’s crazy, John Podesta owned a promotional handkerchief that had a map printed on it? Perhaps this map included a reference to a pizza-joint? Well, if that is doubtful, then how much more doubtful is that this is a hidden reference to a child sex dungeon?

“I’m dreaming about your hotdog stand in Hawaii.”

This Washington Post article, from 2010, notes in the conclusion that Podesta’s  “biggest goal after the White House is to run a hot-dog stand in Hawaii.

“Do you think I’ll do better playing dominos on cheese than on pasta?”

Searching for “dominos” in the Podesta emails reveals that Podesta often plays the game with close a close friend and donor when he visits at Martha’s Vineyard. He is jokingly accused of changing the rules at whim, and whenever he visits he brings a package of, you guessed it, Mary Podesta’s famous Ligurian pasta. This is clearly some sort of in-joke.

“I think you should give notice when changing strategies which have been long in place. I immediately realized something was different by the shape of the box and I contemplated who would be sending me something in the square shaped box. Lo and behold, instead of pasta and wonderful sauces, it was a lovely, tempting assortment of cheeses.”

This email was sent around Christmas time and obviously refers to a Christmas gift that has arrived by post. Podesta would usually send this friend a box of Mary’s pasta, but has instead, this particular year, sent a box of cheeses.

“walnut sauce for the pasta? Mary, plz tell us the straight story, was the sauce actually very tasty?”

Here’s the recipe if you don’t believe me.

“Still in torture chamber”

It’s amusing that the conspiracy theorists want to have it both ways. On the one hand, they want to establish the existence of a clever, hidden code. “Pizza” means child sex, “hot dog” means young boy, “cheese” means young girl, “map” means semen, etc. And yet, despite all this effort to remain under cover, despite having the perfect system, despite being virtually invisible to the authorities, one of the Podesta brothers just randomly blurts out that he is going to be a bit late  because he is still busy torturing children. This is clearly a jovial reference to the workplace.

Of course, the idea that there is a child sex ring in Washington D.C., which operates under the cover of a secret “pizza” code that enables the villains to keep protected from the law, is absolutely bizarre. Such a claim would require extraordinary evidence.

But conspiracy theorists of the “pizzagate” variety are not, I think, basing their beliefs on the evidence at all. While they present their evidence as the grounds of their belief, this is usually not the case. Simply having the belief is exciting and thrilling, and the ownership of such secret knowledge gives the conspiracy theorist an addictive sense of superiority. The evidence is an afterthought.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s