Federal prosecutors charged Ryan Jaselskis, 22, a health and wellness coach in California, on Wednesday with trying to burn down Comet Ping Pong, the restaurant at the center of an internet conspiracy theory that falsely claims a sex ring run by celebrities and prominent Democrats is based out of its nonexistent basement.
The "pizzagate" conspiracy has been promulgated by far-right adherents since October 2016. It led to a shooting in the shop where no one was hurt in December 2016, when conspiracy theorist Edgar M. Welch demanded to see the child sex ring and fired a rifle several times. Welch is now serving a four-year prison sentence for the crime. And on Jan. 23, a fire broke out at Comet Ping Pong, which prosecutors allege was set by Jaselskis, citing surveillance footage.
A video posted to Jaselskis’ parents’ YouTube account the night of the fire seems to provide a possible link between the alleged arson and the disturbing conspiracy theory that became popular among a fringe group of Trump supporters during the 2016 election, and inspired a shooting in the restaurant that same year.
A video titled “Melissa Video” was posted to the YouTube account run by Paul and Chrissy Jaselskis at 8:07 p.m. ET on Jan. 23, alleging that the world is run by a Satanic global pedophile ring fronted by most major celebrities and Hillary Clinton.
One hour later, at 9:17 p.m., federal prosecutors allege the Jaselskis’ son Ryan attempted to set fire to Comet Ping Pong, where pizzagate conspiracy theorists falsely believe the global pedophile ring is partially located.
Jaselskis was apprehended after a physical fight with law enforcement officials directly outside the Washington Monument on Feb. 4, a brawl that was captured on video. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives released surveillance video in an attempt to find the alleged arsonist days after the fire, in which no one was hurt. Charged with malicious property damage, Jaselskis is being held without bond.
David Bos, a public defender representing Ryan Jaselskis, said it was too early to comment on the case.
The video posted by Paul and Chrissy Jaselskis’ account, which was deleted Thursday evening, is a repost of a notorious YouTube Qanon and pizzagate conspiracy theorist named JoeM, who has 125,000 subscribers and often warns of an impending great awakening that will include mass arrests of democrats and the global cabal. It was the first Qanon video posted by the account, which usually featured testimonials about health supplements aimed at Christians.
Qanon is a conspiracy theory that alleges the same pedophile cabal is secretly being destroyed by Donald Trump, along with special counsel Robert Mueller, whom Qanon believers think is quietly working with the president. Qanon is centered around Q, an anonymous account that posts to far-right politics forums on 4chan and 8chan which claims to be run by a government, and whose elaborate prophecies of a mass arrests against the cabal have repeatedly failed to occur.
The video claims Trump is secretly taking down the global cabal, which it says has been hiding secret cures to “our most deadly diseases” as well as an unspecified free energy source that will abolish the use of fossil fuels as well, and will soon abolish all income taxes.
The original video has been viewed over 1.2 million times, and is a favorite in Qanon circles, posted in Facebook groups and on Twitter as an introduction to the conspiracy theory.
Reached by phone, Chrissy Jaselskis declined to comment on her son’s arrest or the YouTube post on her account.
At least two names for Ryan Jaselskis (ryanjaselskis.net and ryanrimas.com) were purchased using Chrissy Jaselskis’ email address and phone number, dating back to 2014, according to Domain tools, a domain analysis tool used by security researchers.
In 2013, Ryan Jaselskis was arrested for malicious destruction of property during a fight over chores and the family car. In the fight, Jaselskis pushed his father into a wall and caused damage to his parents’ home, according to an arrest report provided by South Carolina’s York County Sheriff's Office. Prosecutors at the time declined to pursue it further.
Facing persistent public pressure about the company’s role in the proliferation of false conspiracy theories, YouTube vowed last week to limit the reach of certain conspiracy theories, including “flat Earth” videos.
Qanon theories readily surfaced in basic searches on YouTube for public figures over the last year. A simple search for “Tom Hanks” or “Hillary Clinton” returned almost exclusively posts about Qanon last summer, falsely tying them to a global cabal in the crosshairs of Donald Trump. Last month, a search for Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned mostly videos that falsely claimed the Supreme Court justice was dead, a conspiracy theory created by Qanon fans.
Pizzagate is a conspiracy theory that circulated before the 2016 election, predicated on the idea that emails leaked by Wikileaks from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta reveal a secret pedophile cabal if readers were to replace words like “pizza” with “boy.”
After many pizzagate communities were banned across major social media platforms, elements of pizzagate were later folded into the conspiracy theory Qanon, which launched a year later.
Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis, who has been bombarded with threats since the release of the emails, told The Washington Post last month he did not believe the recent attempted arson was tied to pizzagate. He didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.