FCC Chairman Dances with “Pizzagate” Conspiricist

From The Hill:

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai appeared Wednesday in a video promoting his impending net neutrality repeal, dancing with a woman who has a history of promoting the so-called “Pizzagate” conspiracy.

The Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which proliferated during the final days of the 2016 presidential race, posits without evidence that high-ranking Democrats were involved in a nonexistent pedophile ring based out of a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. In December 2016, a man motivated by the conspiracy theory fired a gun in the business.

…The video, produced by conservative outlet The Daily Caller, features Pai insisting that the FCC’s impending, highly criticized repeal of net neutrality will not affect what users can do online.

In one clip, Pai is seen dancing alongside Martina Markota, a video producer for The Daily Caller.

…Markota said in a message to The Hill that the video in question was about a New Jersey corrections officer being charged in October for possessing child pornography, pointing to an Associated Press report about the matter. That article states that the accused offender used the phrase “Cheese Pizza” to refer to child pornography.

Markota has complained about the article on Twitter, telling a journalist who referred to the article to “expect a letter from lawyer”. She explains in the same Tweet:

When did I mention comet ping pong? Did I say anything about anything that wasn’t true? Mk ultra ? Operation paperclip? “Cheese pizza code”? All true. Not once did I mention the conspiracy involving comet ping pong.

Markota’s uploaded video was first noted on Twitter by Alex Smith, a musician who fronts a band called Lydia Burrell. Smith posted extracts, which he intercut with Pai’s dance video (his mash-up also appears on The Hill website). Gizmodo then brought the story to wider attention in an update to a post about Pai. The site noted

…an unlisted YouTube video in which she discussed a sprawling conspiracy theory intertwining the Clinton political dynasty, John Podesta, email scandals, cocaine, “government pedo programs,” and “cheese pizza,” which she alleged was a code word referring to sex with children.

Further:

Markota tried to play off the video as comedy in a series of tweets to Gizmodo, writing “I didn’t talk about pizza gate, I spoke about what cheese pizza meant on the deep web and made a funny video relevant to the time.”…

But Markota alluded to having originally delisted the video for professional reasons in another, now-deleted tweet: “The video was about my experience on the deep web in 2014 and how I came across the code word for child pron, cheese pizza. That was my two cents on Pizzagate. I decided to remove many videos when getting a job in media.”

The “New Jersey corrections officer” was obviously of interest to Markota because his use of the phrase “Cheese Pizza” as a code-word supposedly validated the conspiracy theory that Podesta emails released by WikiLeaks contain various pizza-related paedophilic code-words (as I blogged here). “Pizzagate” proponents may have dropped the Comet Ping Pong element of the story (particularly since Alex Jones issued an apology about it), but it is difficult to see how the material highlighted by Smith makes her anything other than a “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist.

Of course, there is no reason to suppose that the Chairman of the FCC knew anything about this – and Markota is simply one among several Daily Caller staff members shown dancing in the video. But such a juxtaposition can only help to mainstream discourses that ought to remain on the very margins.

Markota was profiled by Salon last month, in an article titled “Daily Caller gone wild: Tucker Carlson’s site descends into far-right weirdness”. According to the post:

Whether Markota is a true believer in the alt-right cause or an entrepreneur exploiting a market opportunity is not entirely clear. But she has ties to various extremist figures, including exiled Breitbart News commentator Milo Yiannopolos and Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes, who more recently launched the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, a would-be paramilitary group for men “comfortable in fisticuffs.” McInnes has consistently denied being a racist, an anti-Semite or a member of the alt-right, but has a long history of making dubious “jokes” that appear designed to appeal to the far-right fringe while maintaining some level of  deniability.

In interviews, Markota’s former associates in the burlesque world say she was always regarded as a conservative, but began to go much further with the emergence of Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential race.

There is also a British connection, with the detail that she has apparently been “dating Jack Buckby”, a British activist I blogged here.

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