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By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON, March 24 A North Carolina man
pleaded guilty on Friday to opening fire in a Washington
pizzeria that fake news reports claimed housed a child sex ring
linked to 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary
Edgar Welch, 28, of Salisbury, was accused of firing at
least three shots from an AR-15 rifle inside the Comet Ping Pong
pizzeria in December and pointing the gun at an employee after
showing up to investigate the online conspiracy rumors. No one
Welch pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to a federal
charge of interstate transportation of a firearm with intent to
commit an offense and a local charge of assault with a dangerous
Welch, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, said little
more than "Yes, ma'am" in response to questions from Judge
Ketanji Brown Jackson. Asked what he wanted to do, he said,
He could face up to two years in prison on the federal
charge and a maximum five years for the assault charge. Jackson
scheduled sentencing for June 22.
Welch also faces potential fines and must pay restitution
for damage to a computer, door lock and a ping pong table at the
A local firearms charge was dropped as part of Welch's plea.
He also carried a loaded .38-caliber revolver into the pizzeria,
and police found a loaded shotgun in his car, according to court
Welch told police he was investigating a bogus conspiracy
theory known as "pizzagate." Posts to social media sites such as
Twitter, Facebook and the Reddit online message board falsely
claimed Comet was the center of a child sex ring run by Clinton
and her campaign chairman, John Podesta.
The claims were part of a proliferation of false news
reports during the U.S. presidential election campaign, often
disseminated through websites purporting to be news outlets and
quoting bogus sources.
Scott Talan, a communications professor at Washington's
American University, said Welch was an example of how mistrust
of traditional news sources and of authorities' ability to
investigate suspected crimes could prompt vigilante-style
"For more and more people, the source (of news) doesn't
matter," he said in a telephone interview.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Dan