On this edition of Parallax Views, during the 2016 Presidential election a conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate went viral online. Said theory alleged that influential members of the Democratic Party were involved in child sex rings that engaged in human trafficking of minors through a Washington D.C. pizzeria known as Comet Ping Pong. Believer in the theory grew in numbers as discussion of Pizzagate proliferated through 4chan, websites like Infowars and Your News Wire, r/DonaldTrump Reddit and its subreddit r/Pizzagate, as well as other digital spaces. Comet Ping Pong owner reported harassment of himself and his employees at the hands of the theory’s believers. Then, on December 4th, 2016, Edgar Madison Welch, armed with an AR-15 style rife and spurred to action after reading about Pizzagate, opened fire on Comet Ping Pong. Welch was subsequently apprehended and arrested before anyone could be injured. Rather than blowing the lid off an alleged shadowy cabal’s nefarious activities at a D.C. pizza shop, Welch instead found himself serving a 4-year prison sentence.
That, however, was not the end of the Pizzagate saga. Despite a lack of evidence for its central claims, belief in Pizzagate persisted and mutated into new forms. In 2020, for example, Pizzagate was reborn in a new iteration on the social media website TikTok. Additionally, phenomena like QAnon or the “Stop the Steal” movement, both of which figured into the now infamous January, 6th, 2021 breach of the Capitol, very arguably evolved from or at least are adjacent to the Pizzagate theory’s proponents.
Texas-based filmmaker John M. Valley recently took the phenomena of this particular conspiracy theory and its far-reaching social ramifications as a springboard for darkly satirizing fake news and right-wing political paranoia in the independent film The Pizzagate Massacre. A road movie with elements of horror and western within its trappings, The Pizzagate Massacre follows recently fired rookie journalist Karen (Alexandria Payne) and militia man Duncan (Tinus Sinoux) as they travel to a Texas-based pizzeria that sensationalistic local media personality Terri Lee (Austin-based comedian Lee Eddy) claims is the site of a sinister child trafficking conspiracy run by an shadowy elite cabal that includes shapeshifting reptilians (a la David Icke conspiracy theories) in its ranks. Meanwhile, Duncan’s rival within the local militia, Philip (John M. Valley), spurred on by Lee’s Pizzagate theories, has plans of his own that could have violent consequences.
John M. Valley joins me on this edition of Parallax Views to discuss the movie, its themes, the process of making it, and the threats he received from Pizzagate believers before the film was even released. Among the topics discussed:
– Capitalism, media, Alex Jones, and the supercharging of tribalism in the service of monetization
– The specters of Waco, Ruby Ridge, David Koresh, and the Branch Davidians in the movie
– John Carpenter, Sam Peckinpah, and The Pizzagate Massacre as a neo-western
– Roger Corman and the potential of genre and exploitation movies to allow independent filmmakers a way of exploring important social, cultural, and political issues
– Film as a collaborative effort; how a cast and crew can bring their own vision to a movie alongside the director’s vision
– Making a film that feels high budget on less than a million dollars (“micro-budget”)
– The “lizard people” trope and conspiracy theories as metaphor; discernment and the weaponization of conspiracy theories today and in the past; conspiracy theories as potentially conspiracies in and of themselves sometimes
– Attempting to empathize with people who fall down rabbit holes like QAnon and Pizzagate while also critiquing right-wing conspiracy culture
– How the narrative of The Pizzagate Massacre unfolds from the perspective of multiple characters with their own biases and its purpose within the film’s thematic tableau
– The 2020 horror/thriller The Hunt, which was cancelled by Trump supporters for its storyline involving liberal elites hunting “deplorables”
– Belief, empathy, and uncertainty
– The death threats John received over the movie before it was even released
– The portrayal of militias and their culture within the movie
– How cinema can offer a different perspective than news media on issues related to politics, culture, and society
– And much, much more