The man who opened fire in a Washington DC pizza restaurant at the weekend has told police he was driven by the fake Hillary Clinton news story known as ‘PizzaGate’.
Edward Welch walked into the Comet Ping Pong restaurant at 3pm on Sunday local time, telling staff he was “self-investigating” the conspiracy linking the restaurant to a supposed Democrat-run child abuse ring.
The 28-year-old North Carolina man fired his assault rifle at least once before staff and patrons fled the premises and police locked down the entire street.
No one sustained injuries in the incident, despite police finding another two weapons on Welch, plus another in his car nearby.
According to court documents, Welch told police he decided to turn himself in because he did not find any evidence the restaurant was “harbouring sex slaves”.
Comet owner James Alefantis told media the incident was proof of the very real consequences of fake news stories and conspiracies.
“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,” he said.
Three guns, a conspiracy theorist and a pizza place
There has never been any evidence linking Mrs Clinton or the Comet Ping Pong to a paedophile ring.
Mrs Clinton is linked to Mr Alefantis via a fundraiser he held for the former presidential candidate at his restaurant.
Mr Alefantis, a Democrat who has previously helped raise funds for Barack Obama, was mentioned in the leaked emails of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta.
From there, users of the underground internet chat forums 4chan and Reddit trawled Mr Alefantis’ social media accounts for damning information.
What they found were personal photographs and artworks decorating the Comet – some depicting children – that were used to formulate a false story linking the restaurant to a Democrat Party-run paedophile ring.
After Turkish pro-government websites began propagating the theory in November, protests were held outside the restaurant by those who believed children were being abused in basement.
According to Mr Alefantis, who attempted to answer protesters’ questions in the video below, the building does not have a basement.
The Reddit page on which the conspiracy gained early traction has since been banned by site moderators.
Visitors to the page now find the message, “We don’t want witchhunts on our site”.
That did not stop trolls from continuing to make threats toward Comet staff.
According to The New York Times, Mr Alefantis noticed a surprising spike in his Instagram followers before users began leaving comments such as “I will kill you personally” and “We’re onto you” on his page.
Despite the threats going on for over a month, local shop owners told media they were disappointed with a lack of police action.
Matt Carr, owner of a coffee shop located next door to the Comet, told the Washington Post his neighbour received between 30 and 40 threats the weekend before the incident – including a promise to line his staff up “in front of a firing squad”.
“This was our worst fear,” Carr said.
“That someone would read all this and come to the block with a gun. And today it happened.”