Father John Misty‘s press cycle for Pure Comedy has been long and relentless enough to exhaust even a devoted fan of his twisted literary songwriting and puckish public persona. At this point, it would take a pretty wild story to perk our ears up from their collective Father fatigue–like learning, for instance, that an online community of deranged right-wingers has pointed to the man born Josh Tillman as a suspect in their indefatigable conspiracy theory about Satan-worshipping pedophiles operating in the basement of an unassuming pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. Fortunately for Misty fans everywhere, that’s exactly what’s happening.
By now, you’re probably familiar with Pizzagate, the notion that a D.C. pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong is the headquarters of a cult of elite liberals who engage in ritual child abuse. The theory materialized after Wikileaks published the hacked emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta, and amateur sleuths discovered correspondence between Podesta and James Alefantis, a high-profile Democratic donor who happens to be Comet Ping Pong’s owner and chef. Based on little more “evidence” than the ludicrous claim that use of the word “pizza” in the Podesta emails is actually a coded reference to pedophilia, fringe right pundits like Alex Jones and Mike Cernovich began promoting Pizzagate to their loyal followings, egging on a frenzy that culminated when Edgar M. Welch was arrested after firing multiple rifle rounds inside Comet Ping Pong while on a mission to investigate the conspiracy.
Pizzagate hysteria has quieted down considerably since then—Jones even apologized for his part in promulgating the myth—but the true believers are still huddled on conspiracy-minded message boards, parsing out possible connections. First, we learned that Guy Fieri was supposedly implicated, and now the conspiracy theorists have latched improbably onto Misty. Will Sommer, campaign editor of the politics blog The Hill, pointed out the supposed connection on Twitter on Friday.
Pizzagate people have a new suspect: hipster musician Father John Misty pic.twitter.com/I6An3SxPrn
— Will Sommer (@willsommer) May 5, 2017
Speculation about Father John and Pizzagate seems to have started because of the music video for “This Is Sally Hatchet,” a “Sexy Sadie“-sounding album cut from Misty’s excellent 2012 debut Fear Fun. Befitting that album’s haze of pot-induced paranoia, the clip shows the songwriter held hostage in a pizza parlor, and opens on a shot of a bloody pepperoni pie that’s been cut into a pentagram. It’s Pizzagate catnip, basically.
“Either this band knew something or was tapping into the psychosphere,” an anonymous poster on the conspiracy forum Godlike Productions wrote of the “This Is Sally Hatchet” video in 2016. “Did we just find a huge Pizzagate lead?” a user of Reddit’s “Conspiracy” board wrote last year. “This song contains many satanic references as well as pizza…The music video director was a cinematographer on a Madonna documentary about AIDS orphans in Malawi, which also featured Bill Clinton.”
Interestingly enough, the “This Is Sally Hatchet” video was initially available on YouTube, but was made private sometime in 2016 and eventually removed from the site entirely, leading at least one fan to wonder whether Tillman’s label Sub Pop pulled it down because of Pizzagaters. Obviously, any connections between the plot of the video and the Pizzagate narrative are coincidental. But the decision to pull the video down–related to the conspiracy theory or not–may have only helped fuel the believers’ vehemence. “Holy crap just went to my regular computer to find and send link of this video and it’s gone from YouTube,” the Godlike Productions poster wrote after sharing the video. “WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Then came the video for “Total Entertainment Forever,” released last month, featuring Macaulay Culkin playing a Kurt Cobain figure who is crucified by a bunch of Ronald McDonalds.
The video is definitely laying it on a little thick, but it’s not clear exactly what it has to do with child sex or Satanism. To suss the connections out, you have to put your pizza glasses on. Culkin, you’ll recall, once played in a jokey Velvets cover band called the Pizza Underground. (“Macaulay Culkin recorded an album with a band called ‘The Pizza Underground’ feat. a CHILDRENS CHOIR. Also uploaded a video of himself eating a cheese pizza to apparently ‘Promote the band’ This is definitely worth digging deeper into!” — one Pizzagate believer.) And Father John Misty, of course, has already been indicted on charges related to the “This Is Sally Hatchet” video.
Posters on the Pizzagate board of the Reddit clone site Voat can’t figure out exactly what Misty and Culkin are trying to say with “Total Entertainment” forever, but they’re pretty sure something‘s going on. “Whatever it is I really can’t stand it, I had a strong repulsion to it. It really disturbed my state of mind….just been listening to other music and trying and cleanse myself and purge it from my mind. It reminds me of some other dark things I’ve seen,” wrote one.
“Macaulay Culkin was also in the movie Party Monster, which he played Michael Alig,” another chimed in. “James Alefantis also has ties to Michael Alig.” The supposed connection between Alefantis and the murderous club kid Culkin played in Party Monster is particularly telling of the Pizzagaters’ capacity to treat even the most tenuous threads as hard proof. A post, several hundred words long, on this Pizzagate-supporting blog outlines the totality of the evidence: Alefantis once posted a news article about Alig on Facebook. That’s it.
Tillman has a healthily functioning sense of humor. In his music and interviews, he has shown keen interest in big ideas like the effects of mass media and the internet on civil discourse, and the human mind’s tendency to search for meaningful patterns in random noise. He seems, in other words, like the kind of guy who would appreciate a good conspiracy theory. Hopefully he doesn’t mind being in the center of one.