Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 15 years, chances are you’ve heard of Voodoo Doughnut, Portland’s most well-known purveyor of fried dough and counterculture kitsch. But now the donut shop is in the news for a wholly different reason: it has found itself at the center of a new alt-right conspiracy theory. Namely, the claim that Voodoo is part of a child sex-trafficking ring.
This started when YouTube user Michael Whelan, a.k.a. Vegan Mikey, allegedly attended a party at Voodoo co-founder Tres Shannon’s house. There, Whelan claims, he witnessed “abuse of children going on.” Over the course of an approximately 80-minute interview, Whelan says that when he expressed his disgust at the alleged child abuse, fellow partygoers turned on him, even sending him death threats.
Whelan’s interview appeared on YouTube channel Lift the Veil, which has consistently peddled antisemitic and racist conspiracies (such as one recent video, “Is There a Jewish Conspiracy?”), including the 2016 #Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which claimed a D.C.-area pizza chain was accused of being part of a pedophilia and child sex trafficking ring.
In fact, Whelan even claimed that this alleged pedophilia ring is directly connected to Comet Pizza, the target of #Pizzagate.
The Doughnutgate theory is…complicated, to say the least. Expert on extremism J.J. MacNab tweeted a visual explainer of all the right-wing conspiracy theories floating around nowadays. It might help you understand how all of this fits together. (If your brain is overcooked spaghetti, that is.)
The long and short of it: #Donutgate is part of the meta-conspiracy known as QAnon, where ‘Q’ claims to be a government insider attempting to bring down a global pedophile ring and a whole cabal of nefarious actors who have it out for Trump. It’s a ridiculous tangle of strange obsessions and outright lies.
Are there people calling the company’s logo a symbol favored by pedophilia rings, just like with Comet Pizza? Of course they are. Are there claims that this is all linked to underground tunnels? Obvi.
Why Voodoo? Perhaps because it calls Portland, Oregon—a well-known bastion of leftist activity—its home. Or perhaps it’s just the name that caught the ire of conspiracy theorists. Either way, bringing Voodoo into the strange tangle alt-right conspiracies and their hatred for the Pacific Northwest city reveals a deep misunderstanding of the city’s culture. After all, most Portland locals hate Voodoo—or at least avoid it at all costs.
As silly as this all may seem, the theory is gaining traction. That’s not good, because at its heart the theory is dangerous. After all, the #Pizzagate conspiracy, which most people laughed off, led to a North Carolina man shooting an assault rifle into Comet Pizza in December 2017, believing that he was saving children. It’s worth noting that the armed standoff ended when he realized that the theories he’d been reading online were all false and handed over his weapons.