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 “pedophile 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, fervor around Pizzagate in online conspiracy theory circles has crested and dropped. 4chan hardly ever posts about Comet, or the other pizza parlors around the country supposedly harboring captured children, though 8chan—its fractionally smaller and more radicalized 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 behaviors. 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.
Update 3/24/17 4:02pm EDT: Infowars host Alex Jones was among the most prominent voices giving credence to Pizzagate last year. He tepidly distanced himself from the conspiracy after the Welch incident. Today—following not only Welch’s guilty plea but an apparent letter send from Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis in late February—Infowars has issued an apology for the role it played in the unfounded child trafficking allegations.
The video titled “A Note to Our Listening, Viewing and Reading Audiences Concerning Pizzagate Coverage” has comments disabled, and alleges that Infowars’ coverage was based on third-party accounts and the reportage of two staffer who are no longer employed by Jones. It does not explain why the letter from Alefantis is being responded to nearly a month late.
Jones and the associated Infowars accounts have not tweeted the video or statement out, and the statement does not appear to have been posted to Facebook either.