Edgar Maddison Welch, a 28-year-old North Carolina resident, pleaded guilty Friday in federal court to two felony counts stemming from an incident last December in which he fired a semi-automatic rifle inside the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in upper Northwest DC.
Welch admitted to a federal charge of transporting a firearm and ammunition across state lines and a District charge of assault with a dangerous weapon. The combined felonies carry a potential of two decades in prison, though under a plea agreement between Welch’s attorney and prosecutors, he faces up to seven years behind bars. He will remain in custody pending a sentencing hearing.
Welch was arrested December 4 after driving from his hometown of Salisbury, North Carolina to Comet Ping Pong. He told authorities he came to the restaurant to “self-investigate” the online conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate,” which accuses—without evidence—the family-friendly restaurant of being the nexus of a child-trafficking ring led by former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The conspiracy theory, which is easily debunked and has been dismissed often by law enforcement, was born out of emails stolen from Podesta’s personal account and published by Wikileaks.
According to court documents, Welch brought three loaded guns with him that day. After parking his Toyota Prius nearby, he walked into Comet Ping Pong, carrying an AR-15 rifle and a revolver, and and proceeded toward the back of the restaurant. The sight of an armed gunman sent Comet’s staff and customers fleeing outside while Welch headed toward a locked commercial freezer. Welch tried to pry open the freezer door with a butter knife before firing the rifle toward the floor. He then turned the rifle on a restaurant employee, who immediately fled the restaurant. After about 20 minutes, court documents say, Welch put down his guns and exited the restaurant, where he was arrested.
Following Welch’s arrest, investigators learned Welch was motivated by the “Pizzagate” rumors, which churn through Twitter, Reddit, and other social platforms. According to an FBI affidavit, Welch watched several YouTube videos promoting the conspiracy theory, and tried to recruit some friends to come with him.
“Raiding a pedo ring, possibly sacraficing [sic] the lives of a few for the lives of many,” Welch wrote in a text message to one. “Standing up against a corrupt system that kidnaps, tortures and rapes babies and children in our own backyard… defending the next generation of kids, our kids, from ever having to experience this kind of evil themselves[.]”
Since the shooting, Comet Ping Pong has received an outpouring of community support, but has also had to invest in round-the-clock security and police protection. “Pizzagate” itself has continued to fester in the darker corners of social media, with many of the users who promoted it extending their evidence-free-mob mentality to other targets.
Welch is scheduled to be sentenced June 22.