A North Carolina man armed with an assault rifle was arrested Sunday inside a popular Washington D.C. restaurant that became a center of conspiracy theories driven by fake news stories that went viral before the presidential election.
Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, N.C., was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, according to a statement from D.C. police.
Investigators said Welch entered Comet Ping Pong in Northwest Washington shortly before 3 p.m. and pointed his rifle at an employee, who managed to flee and notify police. Welch then fired the gun into the floor.
The gunman was arrested without incident and no injuries were reported. Two firearms were recovered inside the restaurant and an additional weapon was recovered from the suspect’s vehicle, police said.
Comet Ping Pong’s owner and several employees were deluged by threats from social media users after several fake news stories claimed that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief John Podesta ran a pedophilia ring out of the restaurant. The story was spread using the Twitter hashtag “Pizzagate.”
D.C. police said Welch told officers in a post-arrest interview he went to Comet to “self-investigate ‘Pizza Gate[sic].'”
Last month, D.C. police told Fox 5 that they were not investigating Comet and were keeping an eye on those who were threatening the restaurant and its employees.
Restaurant general manager Bryce Reh told the station that some conspiracy theorists were using photos of actual children from the establishment’s website to push the false stories.
“They are using photos of children where the parents took the photos,” Reh said, “and they are trying to say that some sort of abuse is going on.”
Reh added that the personal information of at least 20 restaurant employees had been made public and said the restaurant had been visited by others investigating the rumors.
“Most of the time, when they come in here, it’s just weird,” Reh said. “They videotape and ask strange questions.”
James Alefantis, owner of Comet Ping Pong, released a statement late Sunday night that denied what he called the “malicious and utterly false accusations” and said the company hoped to resume normal operations within a few days.
“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 said in the statement.