A Man Has Been Charged With Trying To Burn Down The Restaurant At The Center Of The "Pizzagate" Conspiracy
The DC pizza parlor has been at the center of a baseless far-right conspiracy theory that claims it secretly provides underage prostitutes to top Democrats.
A California man has been charged with intentionally setting a fire inside the Washington, DC, pizza parlor at the center of the debunked conspiracy theory known as "Pizzagate," authorities said.
Ryan Rimas Jaselskis of Los Angeles was charged Wednesday with one count of arson in connection with the Jan. 23 fire at the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant, DC Metropolitan Police officials said in a statement.
Jaselskis' connection to the fire came two days after the 22-year-old was involved in an altercation with law enforcement at the Washington Monument where he was tased and taken into custody, an incident that was captured on video.
Authorities did not say whether the fire sparked inside Comet Ping Pong was linked to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, but a restaurant employee told ABC affiliate WJLA that Jaselskis purchased three beers and left behind a diaper and baby food — an apparent nod to the baseless viral claim — after setting a thick black curtain on fire.
The DC restaurant has been at the center of a conspiracy theory that states without evidence that the restaurant acted as a front for a human sex trafficking operation in which Democratic operatives linked to the Clintons were ordering pizza but, using codes, were actually ordering children to be used for sex.
Spreading online in far-right circles during the 2016 presidential election, the theory was the motivation behind a 28-year-old man opening fire with an assault rifle inside the restaurant with the intention to "self-investigate" the conspiracy theory. The gunman is now serving a four-year prison sentence for the crime.
Shortly after the Jan. 23 fire, the owner of the restaurant, James Alefantis, told BuzzFeed News flames were extinguished quickly before firefighters arrived on scene, and it was unclear whether the fire had been intentionally set. However, DC police officials told BuzzFeed News that a restaurant employee called authorities hours before the fire to report a series of suspicious "prank calls."
About a week later, authorities released surveillance video of a man believed to have intentionally set the fire inside the restaurant.
Authorities have released no cause or motive for why the fire was set, but the restaurant has continued to be a target of conspiracists.
Just hours before the fire was set on Jan. 23, a YouTube account linked to Jaselskis' parents posted a video referencing another right-wing conspiracy theory known as QAnon.
Adherents of the baseless conspiracy theory believe the Trump administration is working to dismantle an international ring of human traffickers, and that the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government is really a front to dismantle the pedophile ring.
That video posted on his parents' account was removed soon after charges against Jaselskis were announced Thursday. Jaselskis' parents could not be reached for comment.
There were no arrests in the arson case until Monday, when Jaselskis was confronted by US Park Police at the Washington Monument. Two officers were flagged by a passerby who witnessed a man jump a fence, which was being used to keep tourists at a distance from the monument during construction.
Jaselskis was sitting against the wall of the monument when, according to court documents, he was placed under arrest and asked to put his hands up. One of the officers grabbed Jaselskis by the hand but, according to video and the affidavit, Jaselskis began to fight the officers.
Video captured by a bystander shows the officers using a baton and pepper spray to try to subdue Jaselskis, until one of the officers eventually uses a taser, causing him to fall to the ground.
WJLA reported agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Tuesday linked Jaselskis to the fire after examining his jacket. Surveillance video from the restaurant showed a man wearing a jacket similar to what he was wearing during his confrontation with US Park police.
Jaselskis appears to have also gone by the name Ryan Rimas, which he used for a fledgling acting career. His profile picture on IMDb, as well as on his Facebook page, appear to show him wearing the same jacket he was seen wearing in the Comet Ping Pong surveillance video on the day of the fire.
According to court documents, Jaselskis was ordered to stay away from National Monument grounds.