- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2016

One of the most influential men in the nation’s capital is livid with Internet sleuths who suspect him of having ties to a sex-trafficking ring.

The New York Times interviewed James Alefantis, the owner of a restaurant called Comet Ping Pong in Washington, on Tuesday to dispel rumors that he is tied to a child-abuse ring. Stolen documents belonging to former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, which were made public by WikiLeaks, linked the two men and sparked crowd-sourced research into his life on Reddit and 4Chan.

“From this insane, fabricated conspiracy theory, we’ve come under constant assault,” Mr. Alefantis, 42, told the newspaper. “I’ve done nothing for days but try to clean this up and protect my staff and friends from being terrorized.”

Reddit, YouTube, and Twitter users claim that “PizzaGate” should not be dismissed as a baseless conspiracy theory, given bizarre and sexually suggestive images from Mr. Alefantis’ own Instagram account (now set to private).

YouTube videos taken from inside Comet Ping Pong, the sexual and macabre art commissioned for the restaurant’s promotional material, and the Clinton campaign’s ties to billionaire Jeffrey Epstein and Anthony Weiner have also fueled online calls for an FBI investigation.

Mr. Epstein is a convicted sex-offender and Mr. Weiner is under an active FBI investigation for illicit text messages he sent to a teenager.

Mr. Alefantis, who came in at No. 49 on GQ magazine’s list of the 50 most powerful people in Washington in 2012, has contacted the FBI and local police to assist him in dealing with threats. He has also asked social media giants to censor posts on the story, which has gone viral across the globe.

“It’s like trying to shoot a swarm of bees with one gun,” Bryce Reh, Comet’s general manager, told The Times.

Organized and highly detailed summaries of “PizzaGate” show up regularly on Reddit and YouTube. They have been viewed tens of thousands of times.

“I won’t stop saying it. PizzaGate is real,” former Huffington Post contributor David Seaman tweeted Tuesday. “Silence in face of evil is evil. My grandfather (US Army) helped liberate a concentration camp, RTing a few #PizzaGate articles is nada.”

Twitter has resorted to deleting posts on the subject and seemingly penalizing others through “shadow bans,” which means the user does not realize no one else sees the tweet.

Mr. Seaman’s most recent YouTube videos on the subject have generated over 100,000 views in less than three days.

“It’s endless,” Mr. Alefantis told The Times of fallout from the coverage.

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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