A North Carolina man who allegedly opened fire on a Washington, D.C., pizzeria on Sunday told police he took to the restaurant with an assault rifle to “self-investigate” Pizzagate — a fake news story about Hillary Clinton that has made its rounds on the Internet in recent months — authorities say.
Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, North Carolina, was arrested and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon after allegedly opening fire on Comet Ping Pong — the northwest Washington pizza shop at the center of a baseless online conspiracy theory involving Clinton and owner James Alefantis, according to D.C. Metro Police.
“What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences,” Alefantis wrote in a statement after the shooting.
“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.”
Police responded to a report of a man with a gun just before 3 p.m., authorities said in a statement. Welch allegedly entered the pizza shop and pointed an assault rifle at an employee. The victim was able to get away unharmed and contacted police.
“The suspect proceeded to discharge the rifle inside of the establishment,” police continued, noting that Welch was arrested without incident. Officials added that two firearms were found in the restaurant and a third was allegedly found in Welch’s vehicle.
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“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),” authorities said.
Police said the incident is under investigation. It is unclear whether Welch has entered a plea or has obtained an attorney.
The conspiracy theory began circulating online when emails from Alefantis were hacked from the account of Clinton’s former campaign chairman John Podesta and released by WikiLeaks, Politico reports.
Alefantis told the New York Times that although he was a supporter of Clinton, he has never met her and has no involvement in the alleged conspiracy theory at the center of Pizzagate.
The story was widely circulated, with the son of Donald Trump‘s pick for national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, tweeting about the conspiracy after the shooting.
On Sunday, Michael Flynn Jr. tweeted: “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story. The left seems to forget #PodestaEmails and the many ‘coincidences’ tied to it.”
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Alefantis and his employees are not the only ones to fall victim to the fake news story.
Matt Carr, the owner of Little Red Fox market and coffee shop — which is located on the same block as Comet Ping Ping — told the Washington Post that his business began receiving threats after a YouTube video about the conspiracy theory mentioned him by name.
“This was our worst fear,” he said. “that someone would read all this and come to the block with a gun. And today it happened.”