Enlarge / Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, arrested outside the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, DC.ABC News/YouTube
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A rifle-wielding North Carolina man was arrested Sunday in Washington, DC for carrying his weapon into a pizzeria that sits at the center of the fake news conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate,” authorities said Monday.
DC’s Metropolitan Police Department said it had arrested 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch on allegations of assault with a dangerous weapon. “During a post arrest interview this evening, the suspect revealed that he came to the establishment to self-investigate ‘Pizza Gate’ (a fictitious online conspiracy theory),” the agency said in a statement.
Welch was arrested without incident.
According to police, the suspect entered the Comet Ping Pong restaurant in DC around 3pm and pointed the firearm at an employee. He then discharged it without anybody getting hurt. Witnesses said restaurant patrons scattered from the venue.
“Pizzagate” concerns a baseless conspiracy theory about a secret pedophile group, the Comet Ping Pong restaurant, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta.
The Pizzagate conspiracy names Comet Ping Pong as the secret headquarters of a non-existent child sex-trafficking ring run by Clinton and members of her inner circle. James Alefantis, the restaurant’s owner, said he has received hundreds of death threats.
According to Buzzfeed,the Pizzagate theory is believed to have been fostered by a white supremacist’s tweets, the 4chan message board, Reddit, Donald Trump supporters, and right-wing blogs.
The day before Thanksgiving, Reddit banned a “Pizzagate” conspiracy board from the site because of a policy about posting personal information of others. Reddit CEO Steve Huffman—who was facing vitriolic online fire for the move—altered Reddit comments directed at him. Huffman’s move prompted him to apologize and to take more proactive steps to clean up the Reddit online community, which he said was “not sustainable” in its current form.
After the latest incident at the Comet Ping Pong, the Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement that it was “monitoring the situation and aware of general threats being made against this establishment.” A fake story based on the conspiracy theory even received fuel by General Mike Flynn, Donald Trump’s national security advisor pick.
Days before the election, he tweeted a fake news story about it and said “U decide” and “MUST READ!”
Alefantis, the pizzeria’s owner, told CNN, “What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences.
I hope that those involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today, and stop promoting these falsehoods right away.”
The police said two weapons were found in the pizzeria.
Another weapon was discovered in the suspect’s vehicle, the authorities said. Welch is expected to appear in a local court Monday afternoon.