June 22 (Reuters) - A North Carolina man who wielded an assault rifle inside a Washington pizzeria after a fake online report that it was a cover for a child abuse ring was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday, prosecutors said.
Edgar Welch, 29, pleaded guilty in March to charges of assault with a dangerous weapon and interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition in relation to the Dec. 4 incident at the Comet Ping Pong restaurant in northwest Washington.
Welch, of Salisbury, North Carolina, told authorities he had been trying to investigate an online conspiracy theory, known as “Pizzagate,” that claimed the eatery was a front for a pedophile ring led by then Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“It was never my intention to harm or frighten innocent lives, but I realize now just how foolish and reckless my decision was,” Welch said in a defense sentencing memo in which he asked for an 18-month sentence.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said during the sentencing that it had been “sheer luck” no one was hurt and that the extent of the recklessness in the case was “breathtaking,” according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.
Welch was armed with an AR-15 rifle loaded with 29 rounds of ammunition, as well as a loaded revolver, when he marched into the restaurant and pointed a weapon at an employee and then fired multiple rounds into a door, prosecutors said.
Customers and employees fled the scene and no one was hurt. Welsh was arrested outside the restaurant, and a shotgun and more ammunition were found in his car, prosecutors said.
The attack was widely seen at the time as an example of how fake news reports that proliferated on the internet during the 2016 election could have a real-world impact on people’s lives.
According to court documents, Welch had binge-watched YouTube videos about the alleged child-trafficking ring on Dec. 1 before deciding on his plan to invade the pizzeria. (Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Cynthia Osterman)