WASHINGTON (CN) – The man who allegedly fired a gun at the Washington, D.C., restaurant at the center of the bizarre “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory tying Hillary Clinton to a fake child sex trafficking ring was armed to liberate children he thought were held in the restaurant, according to a criminal complaint filed Monday.
Edgar M. Welch, 28, allegedly carried an “AR-15 type” rifle into the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in Northwest Washington on Sunday to investigate the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, a tangled web of fictional charges born in a prominent online community of Donald Trump supporters.
The conspiracy contends that Clinton campaign manager John Podesta had ties to a child sex trafficking ring operating out of the restaurant.
According to the criminal complaint, Welch pointed the gun at an employee as the employee walked into the restaurant after hearing “three loud bangs” from inside.
The Washington Post claims Welch fired shots into the floor, but no one was injured in the encounter.
Police soon surrounded the restaurant and arrested Welch, who they say told them “he had read online that the Comet restaurant was harboring child sex slaves and that he wanted to see for himself if they were there.”
Welch allegedly said he surrendered himself after he found no evidence of the sex trafficking ring the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory claims should have been hidden in the restaurant’s back rooms.
Welch faces charges of assault with a dangerous weapon, carrying a pistol without a license, unlawful discharge of a firearm and carrying a rifle or shotgun.
The “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory is one example of a stream of fake news stories that flooded the 2016 presidential campaign. The wide-ranging, often unintelligible theory first surfaced on r/The_Donald, a popular community of Donald Trump supporters on Reddit.
It gained currency there among people who subscribe to the internet-grown white nationalist movement known as the “alt-right.”
The theory claims – without credible evidence – that James Alefantis, who once dated Clinton supporter David Brock and owns the Comet restaurant, was helping to run a child sex trafficking ring out of the restaurant. Adherents to the theory used fake images and others stolen from the Facebook pages of people who had liked the Comet’s page to show children at the restaurant, according to Snopes.com.
Its ties to Podesta rest almost entirely on the fact that several of his emails released by Wikileaks referenced pizza.
Welch is scheduled to appear in Washington, DC Superior Court Thursday morning before Judge Sherry Trafford.