WASHINGTON – A suspect arrested Sunday with an assault rifle at a Washington, DC pizzeria admitted he had come to investigate an online conspiracy theory, Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department said Sunday evening in a statement.
Police have identified him as 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch of Salisbury, North Carolina.
“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 police department said in a statement.
“Pizza Gate” is a name given to the online false news stories begun last month that charged the Comet Ping Pong restaurant and its owner were involved in a child sex operation. The owner has vehemently denied the charges, but they continued to proliferate online. The owner and employees said they were repeatedly threatened on social media.
When Welch entered the restaurant he allegedly pointed the rifle in the direction of an employee who police said was able to flee and notify police. Patrons inside the restaurant had rushed out of the building.
Police said Welch has been charged with assault with a dangerous weapon.
Two firearms were recovered inside the restaurant, and an additional weapon was recovered from the suspect’s vehicle police said.
While the motive is not known, the restaurant, Comet Ping Pong’s owner, James Alefantis and some employees of the restaurant were threatened last month after fake news reports — shortly before Election Day — charged Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman John Podesta were involved in a child sex operation at the restaurant. The fake stories continued to proliferate online as Alefantis kept denying the charges.
“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,” Alefantis told CNN.
On Sunday patrons inside the restaurant ran out when the suspect entered.
Eyewitness Sharif Silmi was at the restaurant with his wife and three children — ages 7,9 and 12, when the suspect walked in.
“He walked right past us holding a shotgun, when we realized what was going on we gathered our young ones and started moving toward the exit,” Silmi told CNN. “It was very swift, quick exit, everybody moved out very smoothly.”
Silmi, who lives in Maryland, told CNN he and his family are Muslim and that he blamed those who were spreading “false rumors [about Comet Ping Pong] online. They put our children’s lives in danger today.”
Silmi said he did not hear the man speak.
The suspect was later apprehended outside the restaurant.
The owner Alefantis refused to speak to reporters after leaving the restaurant. But he said, “Everybody’s safe.”
By Kevin Bohn, Daniel Allman and Greg Clary, CNN