During the height 2016 American presidential election, the far-right community on 4chan’s political message board (/pol/) contributed to a conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate.” Still believed by some today, the theory proposes that a group of media elite and democratic politicians used pizza places throughout Washington, D.C. as a front for a world-wide child trafficking ring. While Pizzagate may seem like another crackpot conspiracy theory, it actually fails to fulfill the traditional definition of what a conspiracy theory is. Whereas traditional conspiracy theories seek to explain historical events, Pizzagate creates a historical event that it then explains, signaling the creation of a new type conspiracy: conspiracy narratives.
Through an examination of conspiracy narratives as literary objects, it becomes clear that these narratives gain their potency, not through a factual assertion of rhetoric, but through an exploitation of mythology’s semiotic process. During conspiracy narratives’ creation, language is militarized to instill or reaffirm subversive values within its audience. In Pizzagate, democrats become Satanists, children become victims, and pizza places become sites of occult ritual. These outlandish characterizations survive off their appropriation of mythological archetypes, which, when close-read, highlight the twisted psychological complexes of the authors. Through its exploitation of semiotic ambiguities and corruption of archetypes, conspiracy narratives gain epistemological powers to influence the world view of individuals who read and believe it. While the average reaction to these conspiracies would be to debunk and ignore them, a deeper understanding of their exploitation of language can aid in combating the misinformation they spread.