It was weird enough that misogynistic lifestyle influencer Andrew Tate, 36, and climate activist Greta Thunberg, 19, were engaged in a Twitter spat at year’s end, weeks after Tate had been reinstated on Twitter by new owner Elon Musk following a five-year suspension. Baited by this preening man-baby into a fight over carbon emissions, Thunberg thrilled the internet by delivering a knockout blow that, with 3.6 million likes, is now the fifth most-liked tweet of all time. Direct and to the point, she roasted Tate for his “small dick energy” and extreme loser vibes.
As a capstone to a ridiculous year in social media, you couldn’t ask for more. But then pizza got involved.
You see, on Wednesday, Tate posted a whiny video in response to Thunberg’s tweet mocking his manhood, pretending he had humiliated her when the entire world understood it to be the other way around. In that segment, he receives a couple of pizzas from someone offscreen, telling them, “make sure that these boxes are not recycled” — a jab at Thunberg’s environmentalist agenda.
Standard cringe content from Tate, as far as it goes. The next day, though, the kickboxer-turned-dude-guru and his brother Tristan were detained by Romanian authorities, who had raided the pair’s villa in Bucharest. (No charges have been announced.) Since early 2021, according to the newspaper Gândul, police had suspected them of involvement in an international sex trafficking operation, and in April a complaint led them to discover a webcamming studio at the Tates’ property where women said they were being held against their will. An investigation proceeded, but the country’s Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) waited until the Tates returned to Bucharest to descend on the property once more and serve warrants, which they did Thursday.
As soon as the siblings were taken into custody, an internet rumor spread that Andrew had given away their location with the pizza gag, since the boxes were clearly from Jerry’s Pizza — a Romanian brand with more than 20 restaurants. The order presumably came from the Jerry’s location in Pipera, the Bucharest neighborhood where the Tates have their home and video studio.
The narrative was irresistible, made for good memes, and spread quickly. But there was no particular reason to believe it, even if the boxes did confirm the Tates’ brazenness or lack of operational security. True, the cops reportedly monitored their social media, and Andrew is banned from from practically every platform besides Twitter. It’s just that Romanian media drew no connections between the raid and the pizza, or the dust-up with Thunberg. The action could’ve been planned even before Tate posted the video. Eventually, a DIICOT representative confirmed that the pizza had nothing to do with it.
By the law of the internet, however, the funnier version of events is always accepted as the truth. There would be a poetic quality to such comeuppance, since pizza has been a long-running theme of the panic — often stoked by right-wing conspiracy theorists like Tate himself — over human trafficking.
It all goes back to Pizzagate, a conspiracy theory that arose from the emails of Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign manager John Podesta, obtained by hackers and published by WikiLeaks in 2016. Some of the emails referred to pizza orders and the the pizzeria Comet Ping Pong in Washington D.C. Right-wing trolls began to push the baseless idea that these were coded references to the sex trafficking and ritual abuse of children by a ring of Satanic pedophiles, and that Comet Ping Pong was a base of operation for this nefarious cabal of depraved elites. Such claims prompted a North Carolina man to show up at the establishment and fire an AR-15 rifle while attempting to rescue the victims of this fictional plot. In 2019, another conspiracy theorist tried to set the building on fire.
That Andrew Tate’s capture and potential charges for sex trafficking and rape might also be connected to pizza was a coincidence few could ignore. It was a supreme irony given Tate’s dabbling in post-Pizzagate type conspiracy theories, including the recent furor over the fashion brand Balenciaga‘s supposed involvement with Illuminati pedophiles. And it even provided a catchy rhyme: PizzaTate.
But in falling for this too-good-to-be-true story, we succumbed to the same type of faulty logic that characterizes the conspiracist fringe. Adherents of QAnon, the cultish MAGA movement that built on the premise of Pizzagate, still sees the food as a telling symbol wherever it appears. Most recently, they were interested to learn that Twitter’s co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey used the email address firstname.lastname@example.org, and insinuated that the site’s former head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth, was part of a trafficking ring because… he had occasionally tweeted about enjoying pizza. (Roth and his family had to flee their home this month due to threats precipitated by Elon Musk smearing him as a proponent of child sexualization.)
These are all wild examples of the far right’s hysteria over pizza, yet the feeling runs even deeper. Something as deliberately innocuous as a YouTube video of former child star Macaulay Culkin eating a slice of pizza will upset them. In fact, the clip exists as promotion for Culkin’s comedy rock band, Pizza Underground, which often parodies the Velvet Underground — though to QAnon types, this would only appear to be further evidence of an evil, all-powerful cabal that communicates with obscure pizza ciphers.
In the end, you simply can’t escape the pizza-trafficking matrix. Remember when Prince Andrew denied allegations that he had sex with a teenager at Ghislaine Maxwell’s London townhouse by claiming he’d been attending a birthday party at a Pizza Express restaurant, only to have that alibi blown apart? Or here’s an article from this past September about a Kentucky man arrested in a human trafficking sting — just so happens he owns “dozens of Domino’s Pizza franchises in the Cincinnati area.” Those who tend to vastly exaggerate or distort the realities of human trafficking also default to a handy, misleading simile, arguing that obtaining a child sex slave is “as easy as ordering a pizza.”
These pizza conspiracies are almost too stupid to bother debunking, though journalists have, again and again. The banal and therefore most likely explanation for why they persist is that the cuisine represents a common denominator across cultures. You can get it in any part of the world. Leaders of the Democratic party will order pizza for staff lunch meetings, and right-wing internet trolls will have it delivered to their residence in Bucharest. We all eat pizza, so it proves nothing, but it can be used to suggest anything. Pizza makes us paranoid because it has already conquered the world.
Which isn’t to say we can’t joke about the pizza cameo in this Tate-Thunberg saga, as the young activist did once the alleged trafficker had been detained. It’s only too bad that entrepreneur Jerry Dauteuil, namesake of Jerry’s Pizza — a friendly guy who wants to provide his customers all the extra sauce they need — will forever have his product associated with that scumbag. Although maybe the avalanche of five-star reviews thanking the chain for taking Tate down is consolation enough.
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