WASHINGTON — A fake news story prompted a man to fire a rifle inside a popular Washington, D.C., pizza place as he attempted to “self-investigate” a conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring from there, police said.
Edgar Maddison Welch, 28 of Salisbury, North Carolina, was arrested Sunday afternoon at Comet Ping Pong on Connecticut Avenue in an affluent neighborhood of the nation’s capital, police said in a statement. No one was injured. He was expected to make his first appearance in court Monday afternoon.
The restaurant attracted national attention after fake news stories stated that Clinton and her campaign chief ran a child sex ring out of the restaurant. The pizzeria’s owner issued a statement after the shooting denouncing the fake stories as false and malicious.
One of those people posting on the conspiracy theory is prominently connected to President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team. Michael Flynn Jr. is an adviser to his father, Michael Flynn, whom Trump selected to serve as national security adviser.
Flynn Jr. has sent numerous posts on Twitter about the Pizzagate conspiracy theories. Flynn Jr., who has accompanied his father to presidential transition meetings inside Trump Tower and lists the presidential transition website as part of his Twitter bio, tweeted Sunday night that, “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story.”
On Sunday, bartender Lee Elmore told news outlets, people in the restaurant began to panic as an armed man walked to the back of the restaurant.
“One of the hosts runs up and says did you see that guy? He had a big gun,” Elmore said.
“His demeanor was bizarre, in that if you come in to a place to eat, you ask for a host or grab a seat at the bar,” Elmore said. “Didn’t make any eye contact, didn’t talk with anybody.”
Police say Welch told them he had come to the restaurant to “self-investigate” the fictitious online conspiracy theory that spread online during Clinton’s unsuccessful run for the White House. Upon arriving at the restaurant, he walked in the front door and pointed a gun toward an employee, who fled and contacted police, according to authorities.
Welch fired the rifle inside the restaurant, and rounds possibly hit the walls, door and a computer, all of which were damaged, police spokeswoman Karimah Bilal said.
Authorities set up a perimeter and arrested Welch safely, Interim D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said. Welch was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. Police recovered an AR-15 rifle, a Colt .38 handgun, a shotgun and a folding knife. A telephone number listed for Welch in North Carolina was disconnected.
Comet Ping Pong is in a neighborhood of well-tended private homes and apartment buildings on leafy streets that lead to a mix of shops, restaurants and the Politics and Prose book store.
Restaurant owner James Alefantis said in a statement that people should reject the malicious accusations in the aftermath of Sunday’s developments.
“We should all condemn the efforts of certain people to spread malicious and utterly false accusations about Comet Ping Pong, a venerated DC institution,” Alefantis said. “Let me state unequivocally: These stories are completely and entirely false, and there is no basis in fact to any of them. What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences.”
On Monday, Trump’s team had no immediate response to questions about the conspiracy theory or the younger Flynn’s role in the presidential transition.