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armed man arrested at Washington DC’s Comet Ping Pong, said he was investigating online conspiracy theory

A North Carolina man was arrested today (12/4) at Washington, DC’s Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria and music venue, after he walked into the restaurant with an assault rifle and fired at least one shot. The man told police he had come to “self investigate” a Hilary Clinton-related conspiracy theory known online as “pizzagate.” From The Washington Post:

Police said 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch, of Salisbury, N.C., walked in the front door of Comet Ping Pong and pointed a firearm in the direction of a restaurant employee. The employee was able to flee and notify police. Police said Welch proceeded to discharge the rifle inside the restaurant.

He has been charged with assault with a dangerous weapon.

Police initially said it was unclear what the motive for the shooting was but many in the neighborhood had suspected it might be related to “PizzaGate.”

The popular family restaurant, near Connecticut and Nebraska avenues NW in the Chevy Chase neighborhood, was swept up in the onslaught of fake news and conspiracy theories that was prevalent during the presidential campaign. The restaurant, its owner, staff and nearby businesses have been attacked on social media and received death threats.

Thankfully, no one was hurt and, in addition to the assault rifle, police recovered two other weapons inside the restaurant and an additional weapon inside Welch’s car. What is “pizzagate”? More from The Washington Post:

The restaurant’s owner and employees were threatened on social media in the days before the election after fake news stories circulated claiming that then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief were running a child sex ring from the restaurant’s back rooms. Even Michael Flynn, a retired general who President-elect Donald Trump has tapped to advise him on national security, shared the stories. None of them were true. But the fake stories and threats persisted, some even aimed at the employees’ children. The restaurant’s owner was forced to contact the FBI, local police, Facebook and other social media platforms in an effort to remove the articles.

Reddit banned the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory board in late November and, because of all the threats, Comet Ping Pong had already planned to beef up security at shows. (Eskimeaux and Japanese Breakfast play there on December 14.) D.C. Council member Mary Cheh was nearby when the incident happened and told The Post, “It’s very, very worrisome. I’m just very worried that [the rumors] may have unleashed people who are unstable to pursue violent action, as has happened before.”

UPDATE: Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis released a statement via the restaurant’s Facebook:

Comet Ping Pong is a beloved institution in Washington. We are heartened by the support and loyalty of our customers and our community — they are our lifeblood and we will continue to serve them joyfully for the decades to come and beyond.

Tonight, we are deeply grateful to the local law enforcement officers who responded swiftly to our call. Thanks to their good work, I am confident that we will continue to operate safely and securely, as we have for the past decade. We also honor our employees tonight, who went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that our customers were safe.

There will be a time and place to address how and why this happened in greater detail. For now, I will simply say that we should all condemn the efforts of certain people to spread malicious and utterly false accusations about Comet Ping Pong, a venerated DC institution. Let me state unequivocally: these stories are completely and entirely false, and there is no basis in fact to any of them. 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.

I want to thank everyone for their concern. We look forward to resuming normal operations in the next few days. We are confident that Comet Ping Pong will continue be a safe, happy and hospitable place for this community.

– James Alefantis, owner of Comet Ping Pong

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