Pizzagate Shooter Pleads Guilty as Online Conspiracy Theory Winds Down

By Bryan Menegus on at

Last December, Edgar Maddison Welch—a 28-year-old who claims he had only recently installed an internet connection in his North Carolina home—crossed state lines with several firearms. After arriving at a Washington DC pizzeria to “self-investigate” a conspiracy theory that the restaurant was involved in a child sex trafficking ring, he fired a rifle inside and was soon apprehended by police.

Today, Welch pleaded guilty to charges of interstate transportation of a firearm and assault with a dangerous weapon. The charges carry maximum sentences of two and five years, respectively. In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors have agreed to drop a third charge of possessing a firearm during a crime of violence, which also carried a maximum sentence of five years, according to CBS.

“Pizzagate,” as the conspiracy theory came to be called, sprang from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s personal emails, which were released to the public by Wikileaks. A group of “citizen investigators” operating largely on 4chan interpreted many of the emails as containing “paedophile code”—though some regulars of the site have told Gizmodo it was a hoax run amok, beginning as little more than an attempt to discredit Podesta and fellow Clinton operative David Brock. Following the Welch incident, the pizzeria, Comet Ping Pong, appears to have hired security personnel.

Since Wikileaks first began publishing the emails in October, fervour around Pizzagate in online conspiracy theory circles has crested and dropped. 4chan hardly ever posts about Comet, or the other pizza parlours around the country supposedly harbouring captured children, though 8chan—its fractionally smaller and more radicalised offshoot—still hosts stickied threads detailing the investigation’s new evidence, or lack thereof.

Reddit banned its Pizzagate community just before Thanksgiving, scattering its more committed subscribers to Voat—a Reddit-like site with less regard for hate speech, doxxing, or other nefarious behaviours. Reacting to the news of Welch’s guilty plea today, Voat users on v/pizzagate decried the story as “FAKE AS FUCK!!” suggesting Welch was paid to agree to a guilty plea and that the judge will be paid to let Welch off the hook. One lengthy comment likened the Comet shooting to the Moon landing, in that both incidents, according to the author, were faked.

A demonstration by Pizzagaters in DC is planned for tomorrow. According to a commenter on Reddit’s r/conspiracy, however, the last demonstration only drew 10 attendees.

Welch’s sentencing is scheduled for June 22. [CBS]