UPDATE, 12/16: Edgar Maddison Welch pleaded not guilty to charges related to the December 4 shooting at Comet Ping Pong. A federal judge ordered him to remain in jail pending trial.
A federal grand jury indicted Edgar Maddison Welch, the alleged gunman in the December 4 shooting at Comet Ping Pong, on three counts on Thursday, including assault with a dangerous weapon and interstate transportation of a firearm.
Welch, a 28-year-old resident of Salisbury, North Carolina, had been turned over to federal authorities on Tuesday after appearing in DC Superior Court, where he was charged with seven violations of city law. The two-page federal indictment charges Welch with the single federal firearm-transportation count and two counts of violating DC laws.
According to a police affidavit filed in court earlier this week, Welch told DC Police that he had driven to the popular pizza restaurant in Northwest DC to “self-investigate” the online conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate,” which accuses Comet Ping pong of being the hub of a child-trafficking ring led by former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. (The conspiracy theory, which has no basis in reality, emerged after emails hacked from Podesta’s personal account were published by Wikileaks.) The “Pizzagate” theory has been promoted aggressively by by far-right social-media users and websites that publish “fake news,” to the point that Comet Ping Pong has to hire private security to guard the restaurant, while its owner and employees find themselves on the receiving end of torrents of online harassment.
Welch allegedly fired an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle inside the restaurant, causing about $1,000 worth of damage. No one was physically injured in the shooting. Court records filed Tuesday state that Welch’s fascination with the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory took off around December 1, when he started sending YouTube videos on the topic to his friends. After discussing a trip to Comet Ping Pong with his friends, Welch eventually went alone, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit. He surrendered to police after failing to find any evidence of what the “Pizzagate” rumors claimed, according to court records.
The three counts against Welch carry a maximum penalty of 35 years in prison. He is due to appear in federal court Friday morning for a plea hearing.
Read the indictment.