A North Carolina man pleaded guilty Friday to charges from an armed encounter within a Washington, D.C., pizzeria that was the focus of pernicious and baseless Internet rumors.
On Dec. 4, 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch entered the Comet Ping Pong restaurant and fired an AR-15 rifle into a door. The 28-year-old man told police that he had driven from his home in Salisbury, N.C., to "self-investigate" the "pizzagate" conspiracy theory that the restaurant was the site of a child sex-abuse ring involving powerful Democrats such as Hillary Clinton.
Welch was charged with illegally transporting firearms over state lines and assault with a dangerous weapon. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia said in a statement that Welch will may receive far less time — likely a range of 18 to 24 months for the federal firearms charge and 18 to 60 months for the District of Columbia assault charge.
The statement goes on to read:
"According to the government's evidence, on Sunday, December 4, 2016,Welch transported three loaded firearms, together with ammunition, from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. The firearms included a 9mm AR-15 assault rifle loaded with approximately 29 rounds of ammunition, a fully-loaded, six-shot, .38-caliber revolver, and a loaded shotgun with additional shotgun shells. He drove directly to the Comet Ping Pong restaurant on Connecticut Avenue in Northwest Washington. ...
"Upon arriving at the restaurant, Welch parked his car and armed himself. At about 3 p.m., he marched inside the restaurant, which was occupied by employees and customers, including children. He was carrying the AR-15 assault rifle and the revolver. He was carrying the AR-15 openly, with one hand on the pistol grip, and the other hand on the hand guard around the barrel, such that anyone with an unobstructed view could see the gun."
Welch surrendered to law enforcement following the incident, but his armed entrance shocked the pizzeria's staff and management, already beleaguered by the fake news story.
Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis talked with NPR about the Internet rumors about a week before the incident:
"Well, it started when I was receiving many direct messages on Instagram and comments on my Instagram page. And I realized that something had come up. It turned out that there was a worldwide conspiracy theory ... based inside of Reddit and was being sent out through YouTube and Facebook and other places and that's sort of an insanely complicated, made-up, fictional lie-based story. This was a coordinated political attack.
"They would go into our social media accounts and they would take photographs that were on my Instagram of my friends' children or of my associates' children and post them around thousands and thousands of fake news sites and on Reddit and on YouTube and use these images of happily playing, innocent children as proof of some kind of human trafficking scheme led by the Clintons."
Welch, who has been in custody since his arrest, is scheduled to be sentenced on June 22.