Alex Jones, a prominent conspiracy theorist and the host of a popular right-wing radio show, has apologized for helping to spread and promote the hoax known as Pizzagate.
The admission on Friday by Mr. Jones, the host of “The Alex Jones Show” and the operator of the website Infowars, was striking. In addition to promoting the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, he has contended that the Sept. 11 attacks were inside jobs carried out by the United States government and that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was a hoax concocted by those hostile to the Second Amendment.
The Pizzagate theory, which posited with no evidence that top Democratic officials were involved with a satanic child pornography ring centered around Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C., grew in online forums before making its way to more visible venues, including Mr. Jones’s show. And its prominence after the election drew attention to the proliferation of false and misleading news, much of it politically charged, that circulated on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Mr. Jones made the apology to the owner of Comet Ping Pong, James Alefantis, on video, reading from a carefully worded statement that emphasized how widely the theory had spread before he weighed in on it. He said that Infowars had “disassociated” itself from the story in December and had taken down the majority of broadcasts and videos that mentioned it. Mr. Jones also said that two reporters the show had worked with “are no longer with us,” although he did not identify them or discuss the exact nature of their work with Infowars.
“To my knowledge today, neither Mr. Alefantis, nor his restaurant Comet Ping Pong, were involved in any human trafficking, as was part of the theories about Pizzagate that were being written about in many media outlets and which we commented upon,” Mr. Jones said. “We apologize to the extent our commentaries could be construed as negative statements about Mr. Alefantis or Comet Ping Pong, and we hope that anyone else involved in commenting on Pizzagate will do the same thing.”
The hoax has had real-world consequences. The pizzeria, Mr. Alefantis and his employees have been besieged by threats. Nearby businesses have also been affected. And the hoax has even spread to several other pizzerias around the country.
“It’s been a roller coaster of emotion and fear,” Mr. Alefantis said, in a telephone interview on Saturday, noting that he was still receiving daily threats online. “Good days and bad days.”
Mr. Alefantis’s restaurant was closed for two days in December, after the police arrested a man, Edgar M. Welch, 28, a father of two from North Carolina, who they said showed up at Comet Ping Pong to investigate the claims and fired a semiautomatic rifle he had brought with him inside the pizzeria. Mr. Welch pleaded guilty on Friday to assault with a dangerous weapon and interstate transportation of a firearm and will be sentenced in June.
In an interview a few days after his arrest, Mr. Welch told The New York Times that he listened to Mr. Jones’s show, saying that the host “touches on some issues that are viable but goes off the deep end on some things.”
But the theory lives on. A small group of protesters showed up outside the White House on Saturday, holding signs that asked why the news media was covering up child trafficking and demanding an investigation into Hillary Clinton, Mr. Alefantis and John Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, in connection with the hoax.
Mr. Alefantis said his restaurant has spent nearly $70,000 on two guards to stand at the entrance during business hours. A neighbor who runs a security company helped install an alarm system and a network of cameras — both inside and outside the restaurant — as well as panic buttons to alert the local police.
Last weekend, about 10 Pizzagate theory adherents held a protest in front of the restaurant. Mr. Alefantis said no one but Mr. Jones has ever apologized to him.
“Honestly I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” he said. “These lies and falsehoods spread about me and my restaurant exist all over the place. The damage that has been done to my company and business and my community, all will remain forever.”
Still, Mr. Alefantis said, the community has been rallying around his restaurant. Only one of his more than 40 employees decided to leave after the shooting incident in December. And he said he hoped things would continue to return to normal.
“We’re trying to go back to our world of making food and serving our customers and being a happy place,” he said.
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