The past decade could be defined as the decade in which Truth died. We arguably live in a post-truth world”in which facts are viewed as irrelevant, or less important than personal beliefs and opinions, and emotional appeals are used to influence public opinion” [from dictionary.com]. That information ecosystem creates extremely fertile ground for the creation, growth, and proliferation of conspiracy theories. And the more I interact with QAnon, the Disclosure community, and the average conspiratorial minded MAGA head, the more it has become clear that the cheesie center to all of these worldviews is the supposed “revelation” pulled from the Podesta Emails (dropped to Wikileaks) collectively known as Pizzagate. These emails supposedly prove that Podesta and other high-level democrats are trafficing children to either rape, eat, or kill them (possibly all three) in an effort to either extract their life essence (in the form of adrenochrome) or as some elaborate plot to ensure a culture of blackmail (where members of The Cabal have the ultimate dirt on each other).
With Pizzagate on my mind, and having just returned from a much needed Holiday – renewed and refreshed – I got to work, researching and writing about the rise of extremist, right wing ideology as it manifests in conspiracy theories like QAnon. Part of my focus (and indeed, much of my motivation) for this research is that a close friend of mine was pulled down the rabbit hole: going from a hippie, dead-head to a red-pilled, QAnon obsessed MAGA bro. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call him Aaron. So, I decided to retrace the steps he took down that path by going through his Facebook Timeline, one meme at a time.
In the winter of 2016, weeks after Trump had been elected, Aaron had not yet been red-pilled. Here are some examples of the stuff he was posting at the time:
Along with posts mocking Trump, you have memes mocking Hillary. It is important to note, that Aaron was a Bernie Sanders supporter at the time, and was critical of authority and governments in general. But his stance against Hillary and his opinions about her “crimes” would turn out to be the perfect conditions for Pizzagate to get its hooks in.
While screencapping bad memes and fact checking miscredited quotes, I came upon a curious blog post that Aaron had shared just as 2016 was coming to a close. The post, ENDGAME: Disclosure and the Final Defeat of the Cabal, was written by David Wilcock and Corey Goode (both members of the Channeling, Starseed, Ufology, Disclosure, Ancient Aliens community).
In this post, we can see clear references to a “civilian-led investigation” dedicated to the “exposure and defeat” of a shadowy “Cabal” almost a full year before QAnon. It is important to remember that QAnon rose out of a loose connection of conspiracy minded “researchers” that included the UFO crowd from the beginning.
Now, for as long as I have known Aaron he has been into ufology, channeling, pseudoarchaeology, and mysticism. In 2016, I would’ve called both of us hippies (he took me to my first Dead show, after all), a designation that should call to mind an undefined spiritualism, an directionless anti-authoritarian streak, and a unrepentant taste for psychedelics.
It is important to keep all of this in mind, because without this context the next part wouldn’t make much sense. As a hippie, he had been conditioned to believe that the ‘government’ (as an abstract entity) was lying to the American people: about vaccines, about medicines (like marijuana and mushrooms), about wars (which they are). As a UFOlogist, he was convinced that both the government and mass media were working together to cover up the existence of extraterrestrials, UFOs, and the secret wars they have been waging in space. And as a Deadhead (a super fan of the Grateful Dead) he learned to identify with a larger tribe through a cult-like obsession, his allegiance displayed proudly through branded merchandise.
It is for these reasons, that in 2016, the message of David Wilcock and Corey Goode must have seemed like a revelation to Aaron and others like him. Take this section from ENDGAME: Disclosure and the Final Defeat of the Cabal as an example. After ranting about PropOrNot (an anonymous effort to try and keep track of Russian propaganda) and implying (falsely) that the list of sites PropOrNot put forward was somehow sanctioned by mass media (in fact,their methods were rightfully criticized in this in depth piece from The New Yorker), David explains that “YOU GET TO DECIDE WHAT IS TRUTH”.
This seems to acknowledge the reality of a post-truth world , but through a sort of fun-house mirror where that new reality allows us to “choose to believe” whatever we want. Regardless of what marketing campaigns, reality television shows, and for-prophet news media have done to our perception of objective reality, objective reality remains a reality.
In episode 3 season 1 of their show Cosmic Disclosure (on Gaia TV, a subscription service dedicated to alternative medicine, yoga, and conspiracy theories), David Wilcock explains where he got all of the supposedly secret information that is the subject of his and Corey’s blogs, shows, and documentaries:
I want to emphasize once again that this material is highly controversial, and that you probably have not heard anything like this before unless you have been following what we have been talking about. I do want to make it clear one more time that I have investigated this subject for many, many years – I’ve been in contact with insiders for over twenty years – and I’ve spoken to dozens of people with different types of classified clearance.
This statement is never verified or any evidence given, but it is often repeated. One of David Wilcock’s main narratives is that Corey Goode, a ‘whistleblower’, was taken into the Secret Space Program at the age of 12 by Blue Avian aliens, one of many species in a Star Trek like federation of aliens. I will let the reader decide if they want to believe Corey and David. But, to Aaron, someone who had already been conditioned to believe in this kind of story – David’s claim rang true. And Aaron believed him.
But it was a poison seed hidden within this supposed UFO ‘whistleblowing’ that would send my friend down a path he has yet to come back from. Right below the section where David explains how much the media lies to you (using other conspiracy theorists words, mostly), is a section on Pizzagate.
At the top of this section, David claims that “15 percent or so of people” still listen to what he calls “state-run corporate media,” a perfect example of how David and huxters like him will make up a random percentage and just move on, as if they have made a point.
Next, he says that Pizzagate “started when specific food-related words like pizza, hot-dog, cheese, pasta, sauce, ice cream and walnut” were found in “high frequency” in the Podesta emails dumped to Wikileaks. Later in this post he will claim that “there are 149 instances of pizza” in the podesta emails and that these code words “often appear in very, very bizarre contexts that have nothing to do with food. That is one key element of Pizzagate.”
But is this true? I mean, obviously these crack researchers looked through the emails, right? I mean, to accuse people of some of the most horrific deeds you could imagine (kidnapping, cannibalism, pedophilia, etc.), you would expect that they did the legwork of reading each email to assess whether the instances of ‘pizza’ were actually used in “very, very bizzare contexts,” right? Surely, the metaphorical pill that my friend Aaron swallowed was based on solid, diligent research, right?
Spoiler alert: nope. It looks like almost no research was even done. The number 149? A word search for ‘pizza’ turns up 149 results in the Podesta emails. And, how many of those mentions of ‘pizza’ are bizarre? In my opinion, zero. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Though none of these emails were ever intended to go public, they have been made public, and that means that you can read them.
So, that is what I did. All 149 of them. This is what I found.
Okay, before going over these emails I want to make something clear. It takes exponentially more time and effort to debunk wild conspiracies theory then it does to spout them off.
This number, 149, is presented as evidence. It is a piece of information that took maybe two minutes to come by. A few other researchers read some of the emails, but as I will prove, they didn’t understand the meaning or the context of what they were reading. They brought with them a suspicion that the Democrats were into pedophilia (based on conspiratorial thinking surrounding another email dump), and they brought with them an understanding of 4chan slang. You see, on 4chan, a website where users were permitted almost every freedom, they still had to hide their discussions of child pornography. To this end, they would abbreviate it to CP which later became Cheese Pizza (among other things).
That is why, when these ‘channers came across what they considered a large amount of pizza references in the Podesta emails, they assumed that Democrats in the ‘Cabal’ would use the same slang as 4chan users. That’s it. The rest of the theories orbiting Pizzagate are all just extrapolations of that assumption.
With that said, let’s get to the numbers.
There are more than 2000 of the Podesta emails. Perhaps, in time, I will have to read through them all (please don’t make me!), but for this article I wanted to focus on what I see as the core of Pizzagate, the 149 emails that mention pizza.
The most important thing to know about this number, 149, is that it is a bad representation of how much “pizza” actually appears in Podesta’s communication. Think about your own email for a minute, how much of your inbox are intentional communication from one party to another? How much of it is junk mail? Have you signed up for any newsletters or news story roundups? How often are you cc’d on work emails? Ever been invited to a fundraiser? If you’re anything like the average email user, you might see where this is going.
Of the 149 pizza related emails, 45 are reprinted news stories. Most of these are compilations of news stories that mentioned either Podesta himself, or Hillary Clinton, collected by campaign staffers and sent to Podesta and others on the campaign. This is routine when it comes to big campaigns like Hillary’s. These campaigns like to keep track of the news coverage surrounding their candidate so they can be working out responses that make strategic political sense. This kind of spin is something that you could criticize Hillary and the larger Democratic establishment for, along with a host of other things, but it’s pizza they are worried about. So, we can take those out of the picture (as it wasn’t Podesta or anyone around him using the word).
Of the 104 remaining emails, 23 are from a Google Groups address called “big campaign”. A Google Groups works like a group email address, forwarding every message to each member of the group. I have read through these emails and would call them receipts, basically, where campaign staff would keep track of how much different groups were spending. For example:
Every mention of pizza in these ‘big campaign’ emails is just like the one you see here, a record of how much was spent by the campaign at Papa John’s. For that reason, we can safely remove this batch of emails from the bunch.
Now, of the 81 emails left after removing the news updates and receipts, 2 of them are advertisements (junk mail) and can be ignored. That makes 79! But wait, there are still more that we can toss out. 10 of the emails are political campaigns (like Barack Obama’s) asking for donations (usually small donations of $15 or $20). Some contain anecdotes like how if you forgo eating pizza for just one night, you could afford to help out the campaign with the $15 you would have spent on the pizza – that sort of thing. Others are thank you letters for attending fundraisers with pasta and pizza. Since these are official communications from other campaigns and are not from Podesta himself (or anyone closely connected to him), we can remove them as well.
Of the 69 pizza emails remaining, 16 of them are from Georgetown Law, where John Podesta is part of the faculty. These emails are mostly emails sent out automatically to all faculty members or to all students and faculty. These too, can be tossed out, because the mentions of pizza in them do not come from Podesta and are as innocuous as could be.
Next, of the 53 pizza emails we haven’t been able to dismiss as being very unbizarre and/or unrelated to or said by Podesta, 3 of them are requests from the Hillary campaign to make some fundraising calls to wealthy donors. This is another area for which one might find some valid criticism, if one was so inclined to getting money out of politics, but that isn’t as spicy as a demonic cabal of pedophiles, I guess. The mentions of pizza here are also coincidental. For example, one of the people John is supposed to call owns a franchise of Pizza Huts (that’s it).
So, if you were counting, I was able to establish that 99 of these emails did not contain any strange, suspicious, or bizarre cases of pizza being used as code. In fact, most of those 99 emails do not contain any communication to or from Podesta, being mostly reprinted news articles and receipts for campaign finance records.
That makes just 50 out of the 149 that was originally cited as damning evidence of coded pedophilia. 50 pizza emails sent to John Podesta or by him, over a span of almost 9 years. That’s right, the Podesta emails range from 2007 to 2016. If 149 is a suspiciously large number to conspiracy theorists like Wilcock, is 50?
Actually, a more accurate count would be less than half that. You see, something that the Pizzagate researchers did not discover (most likely, because they didn’t look) is that a lot of these instances of pizza that are showing up in the search results are multiple entries from a back-and-forth email chain between two or more people. Take this email, for example: an email with the subject “You two free for dinner on 12 or 13 January?”, a back-and-forth between John, Mary, and Tony Podesta in which Tony invites John and Mary for dinner. This email chain is counted in the search results as 9 results because the whole conversation was 9 messages long.
In other words, each version of the email was counted as a unique result. The only problem with this is that there is exactly 1 mention of pizza in the whole conversation. 1 instance, counted 9 times. Tony says, ” Would love to get a pizza for an hour? Or come over” and the other 8 messages are the three family members trying to figure out a date to eat dinner. They also do a bit of catching up in the process – you know, as families are known to do.
So we can subtract 8 from that remaining 50, which brings us to 42. But, we are still not done. Many of the other emails were also reply chains (single results being counted multiple times) – this ended up inflating the number even more. Like the email chain “Re: Dinner in DC,” which is 12 messages long, with only 4 mentions of pizza – specifically a “pizza oven,” which I am going to count (for now). Bringing the count down further to 34.
This email is a good representation of what most of the remaining emails are like. This is part of a larger email chain where Ashok and Amrita Mahbubani discuss dinner plans with Tony Podesta, they communicate that they are “committed to finding an evening when we can cook at your place. We can do it on a weekend – ideally, one when you know Mary and John will be in town.” In the excerpt pictured above, Amrita suggests that “we can shop together earlier for meats/fish etc.” which suggests that Tony is something of a foodie.
The cuts continue: the email “pizza.jpg” has 1 duplicate; “Good Morning from Qatar” has 1 duplicate; “Did you leave a handkerchief” has 2 duplicates; “Evening Train Roundup” has 1 duplicate; “Fwd: INVITE: Hillary for America / October 6” has 1 duplicate; “815 dinner at Marta” has 2 duplicates; “Hillary pizza party April 10” has 4 duplicates. When we remove these final 12 duplicates, we get 22.
After digging into this number 149, we are able to disregard 127 of the search results. These are instances of pizza being used in ways that in no way could be construed as John Podesta using code. And if a researcher was actually trying to get an accurate count, these are the steps you would have to go through. It may have seemed a bit long winded (it wasn’t fun for me either, mind you), but I feel like it is necessary to show my work.
To reiterate, that is 22 uses of the word pizza over almost 9 years. In my opinion, this doesn’t seem out of the ordinary for someone like John Podesta, active in political campaigns and known to organize catered fundraisers. Do I need to say that pizza is one of the most well liked foods in America, and therefore makes a perfect choice for any big event?
The Pizza Emails
Doing this work made me sick at times. Not because I had discovered some sort of secret pedo conspiracy. As you will see, the emails I am about to go over prove nothing outside of the context in which they were sent and received. John Podesta and his brother Tony apparently like to eat pizza. They even take part in planning fundraisers for a political campaign – fundraisers that feature pizza (gasp!). A few dinner parties are even planned, while other plans seem to fall through.
No, what made me so sick – so uncomfortable – was the sense that something had to have gone horribly wrong in this world to have put me in this voyeuristic situation. But however wrong it felt, I kept going. I felt like I had to. The claim that the Podesta emails proved that the Democrats and their cohorts were secretly involved in some sort of satanic pedophile cult is repeated far and wide across the internet: from the most esoteric QAnon followers and the culture-warrior MAGA moms on twitter, to casual FOX News viewers you meet on the street. This lie has made its way through far left circles as well, eager for a narrative that demonizes the Democratic establishment. This is arguably why many who supported Bernie in the 2016 primaries found it impossible to vote for Hillary in the general election.