A media manipulation and social control experiment tied to the release of hacked emails. As far as researchers can tell, the goal was to study how difficult it would be to disseminate an blatantly insane theory within certain political subcultures. In this case, the test signal was that a global child abduction sex cult was operating out of the basement of a pizza parlor, taking “orders” for things like in open communication by using code-words like “cheese pizza” for child pornography.

The Pizzagate signal was primarily spread through Twitter, and a disproportionate number of tweets about it came from the Czech Republic, Cyprus, and Vietnam, mostly through bot accounts.

The experiment was unexpectedly successful, as most dramatically evidenced by a gunman who stormed Comet Ping Pong pizzeria, searching for a basement which does not exist. A December 2016 poll found that 9% of voters — and 5% of self-identified Clinton voters — believed that “Hillary Clinton is connected to a child sex ring run from a Pizzeria in DC.”

The subjects of the study have taken the ludicrous signal and turned it into a group identity, an experiment now free in the wild, mutating wildly. And while the number of affected subjects is relatively small, they do number in the millions and tend towards extreme paranoia and violence.

One optimistic hypothesis is that the “pizzagate” signal was also used to encourage the affected subjects to publicly tag themselves as unstable extremists, thus allowing easier tracking of their beliefs and activities. A less optimistic hypothesis is that they have been gathered into a credulous militia, willing to obey any order, no matter how insane.