How Pizzagate and Fake News Threaten the Legitimacy of Religious Blogs

On December 4, 2016 a gunman inspired by fake news who was into John Eldredge walked into a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. with a gun wanting to save children allegedly enslaved in a pedophilia ring. This post is about how Pizzagate and fake news threatens the legitimacy of bloggers, plus the efforts I put into writing this blog. We need to stop and reflect on what religious blogs have accomplished, and remember that with freedom of speech comes great responsibility. Lets support Comet Ping Pong.

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Pictures of Comet Ping Pong

“It is necessary, if one would read alright, that he should read at least two newspapers representing both sides of important subjects.”

Henry Ward Beecher 

“You can crush a man with journalism.”

William Randolph Hearst

“You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.

Exodus 20:16 NLT

On December 4, 2016 Edgar Welch entered a popular pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. Known as Comet Ping Pong Edgar was carrying an AR-15, the same weapon used in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida and the Sandyhook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Its my understanding that patrons saw the weapon and started to flee from the restaurant. One of the workers left the kitchen to go into the storage freezer in the ally to make more pizza dough. As the door closed he heard pounding and he stopped opened the door and saw Edgar Welch holding an automatic weapon. Terrified he dropped the dough and fled. The police arrived as other Comet employees ran out of the restaurant screaming the shooters’ location. The gunman who was looking for something shot the lock off a door with his weapon. The police barricaded the restaurant at 3:14 and called for him to surrender. Finally at 3:24 the gunman, Edgar Welch exited the establishment with his hands up in the air. Edgar Welch, from North Carolina,  who described himself as a Christian who shares religious verses on Facebook later told the New York Times that he was also deeply into John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart.” When asked as to what he was doing in Comet Ping Pong with a rifle Edgar Welch stated to the police that he read of a pedophile ring connected to the restaurant and he wanted to rescue the children who were enslaved for sexual purposes. How it got to that point deserves a careful explanation. Here is the story.

Pizzagate began shortly after FBI Director James Comey told Congress that he was re-opening the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. New emails from the computer of disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner were discovered. Two days later on Twitter someone claimed rumor that the emails “point to a pedophilia ring and @Hillary Clinton is at the center.” That rumor was retweeted 6,000 times. It grew from there and spread to other social media platforms such as 4chan and Reddit. Alex Jones who supposedly believes that Sandyhook shooting didn’t happen repeatedly suggested that Clinton was involved in a sex ring and that John Podesta, her campaign chairman, engaged in satanic rituals. The tale grew as WikiLeaks dumped John Podesta’s emails in the open where Comet Ping Pong was mentioned. On November 7, 2016 the hashtag #pizzagate appeared for the first time on Tweeter. Bots which are involved in parts of Twitter as well regular users kept driving the issue. Right before the election the owner of Comet Ping Pong James Alefantis was called a pedophile on his Instagram feed. Disturbed he told the employees of the restaurant who poked around online and discovered that there was an alleged pedophile ring out of Comet Ping Pong. Soon the restaurant as well as others on the block started to receive threatening phone calls about the claims. The owner of the restaurant approached Facebook and social media in trying to stop the claims, and while that transpired alleged death threats were received and the problem increased. Then there was Jack Posobiec checking out the rumors and broadcasting the place on Periscope, before he was asked to leave. The phone calls and threats kept increasing in late November up to 150 a day. Shortly thereafter Edgar Welch learned of Comet and he headed up to Washington, D.C. to check it out. For more detail I would direct you to this Washington Post article that I leaned upon in re-writing this narrative.   If you would like you can read the criminal compliant in the New York Times here. There is a real concern about blogs and hate speech, and before I get into responsibility and freedom of the press lets stop and look at what religious blogging has done.

 

What Have Religious Blogs Accomplished?

By 2002 C.J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries had grown into an empire that was headquartered out of Gaithersburg, Maryland. It had spanned 26 states and had a presence in South America, the Philippines, United Kingdom, and elsewhere. It was one of the more influential evangelical ministries due to people like Josh Harris and its music ministry. This blog The Wondering Eagle was triggered by an incident with Redeemer Arlington which was the last SGM church plant in the DC area before scandal erupted in 2011. On blogs information hemorrhaged out about the organization…information about alleged abusive practices, and criminal activity. Plus there was child sex abuse allegations which were coming forward. Then through the blog SGM Refuge in an event that would become known as SGM WikiLeaks thousands of internal documents that revealed that C.J. Mahaney had allegedly blackmailed his ministry partner and drove him from the organization, and more poured out into the internet. When C.J. Mahaney stepped down from ministry he later fled Covenant Life individual SGM churches started to break away. If I remember correctly I believe over 40 churches left the denomination.  All of this happened because of blogs that documented and wrote about a corrupt organization. But SGM is not the only example that can be written about. Let’s look at some other examples.

  • You have Paul and Jonna Petry’s Joyful Exiles which helped document and raise awareness on Mars Hill Seattle and Mark Driscoll.
  • You have Michael Newham who writes The Phoenix Preacher who has a niche in writing about issues in the Calvary Chapel movement.
  • You have Amy Smith of SNAP who was documented and written about child sex abuse issues in modern evangelicalism.
  • You have The Wartburg Watch that has written about the Southern Baptist Convention and other issues.
  • You have Ryan Ashton’s webpage abut an abusive house church called Monday Nights in Redlands, California.
  • Next is Todd Wilhelm who writes about Sovereign Grace Ministries, 9 Marks, and Capitol Hill Baptist Church.
  • The last example I would use is this blog. The Wondering Eagle. I write  about The Evangelical Free Church of America, Acts 29, Redeemer Arlington. In addition I also explore atheism and doubt as well. 

This is but a small sample of what religious blogs can do.

 

Freedom of Press and Responsibility and the Problem of Fake News

While blogs and their usage on the internet are a beautiful example of free speech, it must also be remembered that free speech comes with great responsibility. It is wrong and out of line when a person uses their free speech to inflict pain and to do so out of a malevolent nature. To make claims that are not true and to do so with a malevolent nature I consider to be the same as screaming fire in a crowded theater. Blogs can either be the best of humanity or they can reveal the worst of humanity when they cause harm. This writer learned what false speech can do, when he was subjected to a false accusation. That is why I am sensitive about this topic and believe it is a personal responsibility to put great effort into the wording and reporting here. The goal of this blog is not to cause harm, if anything my goal is to challenge people to think, to grow and to learn. To embrace new information and challenge the party line some churches and organizations spoon feed them. A good religious blog has a responsibility to print the news and facts truthfully. The goal is not to exaggerate, embellish and mislead. The truth is just what it is the truth, and it should be presented before people for them to see. Eugene Meyer who once owned the Washington Post said the following about the truth. “The first mission of a newspaper is to tell the truth as nearly as the truth may be ascertained.”  That is the problem with fake news, is that its not about truth. Its about using information to inflict harm. When businesses next to a Pizza restaurant are allegedly receiving death threats and it inspires a gunman to drive from 2 states away; it needs to be stated that is not free speech. That is the equivalent of terrorism in this writers belief. Responsible blogs allow people to process their life in peace and live and go freely. But it needs to be stated that fake news poses an incredible threat to this and other blogs. It challenges and it can cause harm to the legitimacy of their existence. That is why I believe fake news needs to be called out and pushed back against. Not only that…but how can this writer who was subjected to a false accusation just let this issue go on without being challenged? As I was putting this post together I became reminded of an old James Bond film that has been out for years. I put the trailer into the lead of the post. Its called Tomorrow Never Dies, and its about a corrupt media barren who creates fake news in order to create conflict. I just found the topic to be appropriate considering the role of Pizzagate which has no legitimacy. In order to demonstrate the differences of fake news which you can see how it is created here, here, and here. While I stated that let me explain how I write about topics on this blog. 

 

The Efforts and Sourcing Put into Wondering Eagle

This blog in many ways has become a full time job. Its done out of both pain and trauma because of a situation that is unresolved. I recognize the incredible power that exists in the social media format. In order to make a blog like this work it depends on sources and insiders who have access and knowledge of crucial information. Because of that the sources for this blog are primary. What does that mean? Many of the sources I work with are former Elders, ministry leaders, current or former pastors, church planters and people who are caught up in difficult situations. As a result victims of alleged criminal activity are often sources as well.

But consider two stories that this blog has been writing about, that of Community Evangelical Free Church (CEFC) in Elverson, Pennsylvania and Fellowship Memphis in Memphis, Tennessee. CEFC is the pressing issue in the Evangelical Free Church of America. In this dark story the son of Senior Pastor Steve Estes allegedly raped his wife while intoxicated. On another occasion he allegedly pointed a loaded gun on his wife. The alleged domestic abuse was so severe that the victim knows she could be dead. When she filed for divorce Steve Estes allegedly planned and orchestrated church discipline on an alleged rape victim who this blogger believes was almost killed. The issue went up to the top of the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) and it remains being worked on. The key question is this…will Steve Estes be allowed to practice church discipline on an alleged sexual assault victim? How will the EFCA deal with a rogue church? The ramifications for the EFCA go far beyond the town of Elverson, Pennsylvania…they extend to the rest of the EFCA. Another situation is playing out in Tennessee today in an Acts 29 church. Here is the story….the worship pastor of Acts 29 Fellowship Memphis is allegedly into voyeurism. In 2010 he allegedly placed a camera in the restroom and recorded over 100 women. Since two were underage its my belief that child pornography was manufactured in an Acts 29 restroom. Fellowship Memphis which was led by Bryan Loritts, John Bryson and Ricky Jenkins allegedly covered up the criminal activity. Rick Trotter was let go and he left and eventually went to Richard Rieves Downtown Presbyterian Church and allegedly engaged in criminal activity there as well.  If you read this story you will see the volume of articles that have been written. In the process you will also see information such as Rick Trotter’s alleged confession which is an internal document I believe. As the story continues the situation keeps changing. Another example involves Redeemer Arlington which is led by Eric Simmons. In this post you can see Eric Simmons polity paper that was submitted to Sovereign Grace Ministries. For primary sources such as that I must also state that there are other sources that are not revealed. If certain documentation is published that would tip my hand on sources and methods, and this bloger is determined to prevent blow back from occurring.

 

Sarah Pulliam Bailey Article in the Washington Post on Evangelicals and the Media

Before I continue let me tell you how I have viewed the newspaper. I have always loved to read the newspaper, going back to being a kid. When I was in high school there were a couple of times I subscribed to the Los Angeles Times and I loved it. I actually saved the LA Times of the riots in 1992 because I subscribed to the paper. In college I subscribed to various newspaper by mail. One semester I would get the Boston Globe, another The Washington Times and from time to time I would rotate. When I lived in Milwaukee I subscribed to the Chicago Tribune which I just enjoyed reading. Today I read the Washington Post, glance at the New York Times, the BBC, Al Jazera and other foreign papers, and the media to where I have lived in Fresno, Montana and Milwaukee.  I have always viewed the media as essential and healthy to our way of life. I long knew the media is biased, but I always believed that is okay. The media as I view it is biased in what they cover. Now let me also say this I also expect the media to be biased and because of that this is not as much an issue for me. I look at everything in life as being biased. That includes individuals like me, to Better Homes and Garden to how historians treat the topic of Pearl Harbor. Consider the different ways historians such as Gordon Prange and John W. Dower look at it. Even there you have bias and differing points of view on the event. In the case of the Washington Post I look at the bias in a historical context in how it was founded in 1866 with the views of Stilson Hutchins.  Plus consider the first city editor for the Washington Post, Frederick Aiken in 1868. After defending Mary Surratt who was tried, convicted and eventually executed for her alleged role in the conspiracy in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Why do people get upset about what it writes about?

I actually liked Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s article but there was one thing I wish she would have talked about. I wish she would have looked at Pizzagate in the context of Ron Noll’s “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” Here is why I say this…as I was looking at my own personal Facebook feed a number of weeks ago I saw a couple of Christians share an article about Hillary Clinton and allegations of pedophilia. I was perplexed and wondered, “Where the hell did that come from?” I firmly believe many evangelical Christians struggle with discernment and critical thinking skills. All you have to do is look at the people who traveled to Louisville to hear C.J. Mahaney preach in light of the accusation of criminal activity which continue to dog him. All you have to do is watch Mark Driscoll re-establish a church in Phoenix after the chaos of Mars Hill in Seattle and watch that circus begin again. It amazes and saddens me how many people will get out of such totaliterian theological systems only to later get involved in another. The inability of many evangelical Christians to practice critical thinking skills and discernment is exhibited in the Pizzagate fiasco. Except it goes farther, in that it shows how dangerous that this lack of thought can be. Now this is another topic for maybe another post that I am considering. But when you have a Christian men’s movement that runs around doing paint ball, handling guns, and talking about how the men rescues women and the place of the women…did that theology contribute to a gunman going into a pizza restaurant here in Washington, D.C.? After all Edgar Welch was very much into John Eldredge according to the New York Times. I read and consumed Eldredge myself in differing churches and Campus Crusade for Christ when I was involved in it. I do contend that  religious coverage needs to change, that is why I wrote  “From Elverson, Pennsylvania to Memphis, Tennessee why the Media Needs to Learn how to Cover Religious Stories.”   My hope out of this fiasco is that some people will learn to practice critical thinking and discernment skills. They are deeply needed today.

 

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Sings and flowers outside Comet Ping Pong

Lets Support Comet Ping Pong

When I heard of what happened at Comet Ping Pong I was horrified. A few days later when I read that the owner was talking about his concerns staying open, I was livid. So what I decided to do was to go out and support the place. I drove to Comet Ping Pong on Saturday night. AS I parked in the back I made my way toward the front of the establishment. As I approached I was stunned to see the flowers, signs and more that were on the front. As  I made my way inside I spoke with the receptionist who told me that there would be an hour wait. The mood in the place was a little off, and I expected that given what just occurred. I waited by the bar and I noticed a couple of security folks watching the crowd. On the wall behind the bar there was a post that said “We Support Comet.” I signed my name in the Comet, specifically the “E” letter. You can find my name in the photograph I took above. I actually got permission before taking the photograph. I spoke with one of the employees and I apologized for what happened. I wanted to let them know that I was outraged over the fake media offensive and I decided to travel there and support them. The employee was grateful and he said that a lot of people came out and supported them. For dinner I did something a little unusual in that I ordered extra food for take out. When you go to Comet you can find a good meal for about $15.00. What I did was order about $45.00 so I have enough pizza for a few days and I have lunch and dinner covered! The mood was a little heavy in the restaurant. But I believe strongly that establishments like Comet that have been hurt deserve to be supported. I am going to ask two things of you…and please do not feel pressured if you can’t participate. If you can’t participate please speak out about this internet fabrication. But I am going to draw your attention to the Go Fund Me which is helping people out who were affected by this incident. Next I would ask…if you live in the Washington, D.C. area go to Comet Ping Pong. Give them your business and your hard earned dollars. Support them, and help them through this ordeal. That I have done! But if possible can you do that please? Thanks guys and know that I love you!

 

11 thoughts on “How Pizzagate and Fake News Threaten the Legitimacy of Religious Blogs

  1. Alex Jones who supposedly believes that Sandyhook shooting didn’t happen repeatedly suggested that Clinton was involved in a sex ring and that John Podesta, her campaign chairman, engaged in satanic rituals.

    Satanic Ritual Pedo Sex Ring — where have we heard that one before?

    (Like when I was playing D&D in the late Seventies/early Eighties and got caught in the fringe of the Satanic Panic blast radius. Thank you Mike Warnke — you complete Fraud.)

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  2. Anyone remember the term “Fake but Accurate”?
    First applied to fake news spread about a certain “Chimpy Dubya Bushitler”?
    And cheered from the media?

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      • I understand during the Real Estate Bubble meltdown, one lender took their “owner-tenants” to court presenting “reconstructed evidence”.
        The judge wanted to know just WHAT was “RECONSTRUCTED evidence”.
        The attorney tried to explain “fake but accurate” to the judge.
        The judge did NOT buy it.

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  3. ..and further thoughts- growing up overseas, and with an awareness of who owns or controls what news organizations here or there, you can’t help but be aware that there are slants in the media and on the information we are receiving. We have to be critical thinkers, able to understand perspectives outside our own culture and worldviews. There are, in fact, many excellent journalists doing highly ethical and lawful work reporting facts, and it is incumbent upon the consumer of information to educate themselves from a multitude of sources in a pursuit of truth, instead of hiding out in echo chambers where only one way of thinking goes. When truth is valued above agendas, facts are paramount, and American evangelicals do themselves a grave disservice when they blame “the (secular) media” for sharing facts that make them or their preferred agendas look bad. That reeks of narrative control, not the humility that comes from wisdom…you would think that Christians would be the most concerned with truth, not the most desperate for truth-less conspiracies (lies) that back up their preferred worldviews.

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    • I’m afraid there are only too many journalists who have given up investigating truth, as evidenced by the astonishment at the Brexit vote in Europe, and the Trump victory in the States. If more attention had been paid to the disillusioned about to hit back at the establishment, perhaps there wouldn’t have been so much surprise about these events. They have been rightly called anti-journalists, they quite literally reproduce the party line.

      Evangelical blogdom can have a similar attitude, where reporting on churchy activities or debating doctrine is fine, but actually getting at what is really going on behind the facade is frowned upon. People are then shocked when the next big name retires/resigns from their ‘ministry’ for ‘personal reasons’, usually a euphemism for having got involved with the wrong person/someone they shouldn’t have which is deemed ‘inappropriate’.

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    • Tina-if you can, please invite me to your page. Studied some politics in my degree, and am a moderate conservative…I’m with Eagle on separating politics and church, but we do need some moderate conversations to be started.

      For the interested, I found this ( https://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=yKvGQr2cmoU ) helpful about Christians related to politics. I grew up around the corner from Hannah More’s birthplace, and value the work some would call political that Christians did to stop abuses in society in her day. I’m sure followers of Christ can disagree on politics, but we all should value what God does, as Christians. There are cultural-theological issues the church stateside needs to address, IMO.

      It’s not just politics when people (and their pizza businesses) are being harmed by conspiracy nuts of a particular political persuasion. We need those moderate voices!

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