Hundreds flock to DC restaurant smeared by internet hoax (Photos)

A crowd gathers outside Comet Ping Pong in Northwest, Washington, D.C. on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. They were there as a show of support after armed man showed up to the restaurant and fired his weapon while trying to investigate a fake news story. (WTOP/Rich Johnson)
A crowd gathers outside Comet Ping Pong in Northwest, Washington, D.C. on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. They were there as a show of support after armed man showed up to the restaurant and fired his weapon while trying to investigate a fake news story. (WTOP/Rich Johnson)

A crowd braved icy cold winds outside Comet Ping Pong on Connecticut Avenue in Northwest on Friday, Dec. 19, 2016. They said they were there as a show of support. (WTOP/Rich Johnson)
A crowd braved icy cold winds outside Comet Ping Pong on Connecticut Avenue in Northwest on Friday, Dec. 19, 2016. They said they were there as a show of support. (WTOP/Rich Johnson)

The diners used the word “support” to describe why they came out to Comet Ping Pong restaurant in Northwest, Washington, D.C. on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. (WTOP/Rich Johnson)
The diners used the word “support” to describe why they came out to Comet Ping Pong restaurant in Northwest, Washington, D.C. on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. (WTOP/Rich Johnson)

Those who showed up to Comet Ping Pong on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 said used the word “outrage” to describe what happened Sunday, Dec. 4, when a gunman fired arrived to investigate an internet hoax and fired a weapon inside the restaurant. (WTOP/Rich Johnson)
Those who showed up to Comet Ping Pong on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 said used the word “outrage” to describe what happened Sunday, Dec. 4, when a gunman fired arrived to investigate an internet hoax and fired a weapon inside the restaurant. (WTOP/Rich Johnson)

A crowd forms a line Friday outside Comet Ping Pong in Northwest, Washington, D.C., as a show of support after armed man showed up to the restaurant and fired his weapon while trying to investigate a fake news story. (WTOP/Rich Johnson)
A crowd forms a line Friday outside Comet Ping Pong in Northwest, Washington, D.C., as a show of support after armed man showed up to the restaurant and fired his weapon while trying to investigate a fake news story. (WTOP/Rich Johnson)

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A crowd gathers outside Comet Ping Pong in Northwest, Washington, D.C. on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. They were there as a show of support after armed man showed up to the restaurant and fired his weapon while trying to investigate a fake news story. (WTOP/Rich Johnson)
A crowd braved icy cold winds outside Comet Ping Pong on Connecticut Avenue in Northwest on Friday, Dec. 19, 2016. They said they were there as a show of support. (WTOP/Rich Johnson)
The diners used the word “support” to describe why they came out to Comet Ping Pong restaurant in Northwest, Washington, D.C. on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. (WTOP/Rich Johnson)
Those who showed up to Comet Ping Pong on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016 said used the word “outrage” to describe what happened Sunday, Dec. 4, when a gunman fired arrived to investigate an internet hoax and fired a weapon inside the restaurant. (WTOP/Rich Johnson)
A crowd forms a line Friday outside Comet Ping Pong in Northwest, Washington, D.C., as a show of support after armed man showed up to the restaurant and fired his weapon while trying to investigate a fake news story. (WTOP/Rich Johnson)

WASHINGTON — Pizza is great comfort food, and on Friday hundreds of people from Northwest D.C. and beyond were eating pizza from a restaurant that needs all the comfort it can get: Comet Ping Pong.

“We brought our kids here,” said Tom Hannon, who lives nearby. “And to have a guy walk through here with a military assault weapon [with] families on a Sunday? It’s astonishing — shocking. I hope by showing up we can do something to repair the damage.”

By the time Comet opened its doors just before noon Friday, about 100 people had lined up on a sunny, windy, frigid day at Connecticut and Nebraska avenues in Northwest.

The support effort comes nearly a week after a gunman walked into the restaurant, ordered everyone out, fired at least one round into a wall and went looking for evidence to support a false story circulating on the internet: that Comet was the headquarters of a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta.

“I think it’s horrifying,” said Terry Cavanaugh of Williamsburg, Virginia.

She and her husband capped off a two-day shopping and tourism visit to D.C. with lunch at Comet Ping Pong.

“All this fake news is disgraceful. And people following it … acting on it? People don’t do any research about what’s true, what isn’t true. It’s horrifying,” she said.

D.C. publicist Eric Sanchez organized the show of support for Comet on Friday to convey perseverance.

“My hope is that this show of community force will show that we won’t be deterred or dismayed by those who act upon — or those who are misled by — this fake news,” he said. “Here is another great establishment that is family-friendly, that folks have seen shaken … by this outrageous attack.”

Sanchez’s support effort was supposed to be a one-day event. But he says he has received more than 1,000 RSVPs. So, the “Support Comet” effort will continue through the weekend.

Comet’s owner also has established a GoFundMe page to help pay the security and legal costs, and damage and lost wages suffered during the past week.

People came from all over for spots inside the huge, industrial-style space that features bare brick walls, stalactites and at least one vintage Vespa hanging from the ceiling.

Patrons were unanimous in condemning Sunday’s incident, and the hoax that inspired it.

“It’s crazy. Absolutely crazy,” said Mike Kleinberg, who works nearby. “People are really disillusioned in the country. It’s bad, and there’s no reason for it.”

“It’s the extreme of what can happen when we have an uninformed electorate,” said Vanita Bhargava of Bethesda.

She stood in line “in support of this establishment — and in support of the idea that we should have real news.”

“I think that it’s really a shame what’s happened to their reputation for ridiculous reasons,” said fellow Bethesda resident Jody Smith.

“The connections that people made, and the assumptions are ridiculous — loosely threaded rumors and innuendos. You can make something of anything at this point.”

D.C. resident Paul Hofford said he was standing in line “to stand up to bullies. I’ve come here for a long time, and I’m not going to let hate close this place down.”

Anna Gawel

Anna Gawel joined WTOP in 2020 and works in both the radio and digital departments. Anna Gawel has spent much of her career as the managing editor of The Washington Diplomat, which has been the flagship publication of D.C.’s diplomatic community for over 25 years.

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