On Tuesday, prosecutors and defense lawyers submitted memoranda ahead of the June 22nd sentencing of Pizzagate gunman Edgar Welch, who pled guilty to weapons charges after firing a rifle inside a DC pizza restaurant last year. With fewer facts to work with, Welch was previously portrayed as either the manifestation of internet vigilantism, or a rube who had only recently gotten internet access and was utterly deceived by intentionally misleading “news” items and videos.
But evidence filed with these documents shows a new version of Welch, one who—despite headline and after headline describing his contrition—was ready and willing to end the lives of innocents.
It Only Took Three Days and an InfoWars Video
4chan and Reddit were well-known hubs for the “citizen investigation” that would become known as Pizzagate. Neither are mentioned in the sentencing docs.
According to prosecutors, Welch’s “fixation on Comet began on December 1, 2016, a few days before he actually travelled to the restaurant”:
During the next three days, the defendant watched YouTube videos about Pizzagate [...] On that same evening, the defendant also texted friends. He sent a link to a YouTube video entitled “PIZZAGATE: The Bigger Picture” to his friend, W-7. He also texted with another friend, W-6, telling W-6 that he wanted to discuss something “important.”
It appears Welch came to learn of the conspiracy solely through watching YouTube videos on his phone. The entire process, from first hearing of the fictional child sex ring to opening fire inside of it took Welch three days, during which time he sought out more videos on the subject.
“PIZZAGATE: The Bigger Picture”—the only video specifically named—was produced and originally uploaded by InfoWars, the Alex Jones-run media empire known for denying the Sandy Hook shooting took place and for selling dubious “male vitality” supplements. InfoWars was instrumental in spreading the conspiracy, and Jones only apologized for his involvement after Welch plead guilty in March.
That video is still live in spite of Jones’s backpedalling, as are countless other video “investigations” into Pizzagate. (As a search term, “Pizzagate” nets over 250,000 results on the social video platform.) Reddit famously banned its Pizzagate community, while Facebook has committed to cracking down on dangerous misinformation. It’s unclear why YouTube has allowed videos like these to proliferate.
Online investigations into Pizzagate (sometimes more broadly called “pedogate”) have seemingly dwindled for the moment in favor of conspiracies regarding murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich.
He Was Ready to Die
While recent headlines have focused on Welch’s professed remorse, cell phone records from the time referenced in the court documents show he was not only expecting an armed conflict inside Comet, but was comfortable with the possibility of “sacrificing” lives:
He began by texting W-6, not only asking to meet, but, “Also, u got any army buddies close by?” W-6 said he had one, and the defendant asked, “he down for the cause?” W-6 replied that it depended on the cause. The defendant responded, “Raiding a pedo ring, possibly sacraficing [sic] the lives of a few for the lives of many.”
Welch went as far as attempting to recruit friends and asking one if he had any “army buddies” who would be “down for the cause.”
While no one followed him into Comet at the time, the documents also reference a thwarted copycat:
On December 7, 2016, a Louisiana man called another business on the same city block and explicitly threatened to follow up on the defendant’s assault, telling a restaurant employee, “I’m coming there to finish what the other guy didn’t. I’m coming there to save the kids and then I’m going to shoot you and everyone in the place!”
More frightening than the increased militarization of the far-right in this country is lack of consequence it carries. Increasingly, organizations like the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights have been attending protests with the express purpose of inciting violence, and last week The Intercept reported that far-right counter-protest factions had, on several occasions, been asked by police to assist in arrests.
Everyone Told Him Not To
Unlike the (sadly familiar) arc of online tormentors driving a victim to suicide, there was no army of forum vigilantes egging Welch to “investigate” the pizza parlor. Quite the opposite:
[Welch’s girlfriend] did not have a clear memory or understanding of the details of the defendant’s plans, but it seemed to her that night that the defendant wanted to do “something stupid.” She argued that he should not go forward, but rather that he should think about the “consequences” of his actions [...] W-6 told the defendant that using a “camera” would be “better” than using a gun.
At least one friend and Welch’s own girlfriend tried to dissuade him from driving to Comet, armed with an AR-15, a shotgun, and a pistol. The court documents do nothing to reveal why Welch was more receptive to an InfoWars video on YouTube than the advice of those closest to him. Nor are the numerous testimonies attesting to Welch’s deeply god-fearing character able to explain why, as he drove to Comet, he texted a Bible verse to a friend, seemingly as justification for his impending actions.
Welch and his actions are a complicated knot with no clear tool to untangle them. Silicon Valley’s megacorporations need to be held accountable for the spread of conspiracies and mob justice. Guns should not be allowed in the hands of those who would use them to kill innocent people. Misinformation should not be a booming industry that allows men like Jones and his imitators to make money. What can we do about any of that in the immediate future? I don’t know. And like a growing portion of this country, I’m becoming numb from the continuous bombardment of rage and disappointment.
In March, Welch pled guilty to interstate transportation of a firearm and assault with a dangerous weapon. The prosecution is recommending a “significant sentence” of 54 months in prison.
Correction: This article originally stated the named InfoWars video on Pizzagate had been taken down. Unfortunately, this is not the case—the video has been renamed “Special Report: Networks Of Pedophiles Are Running Rampant: Public Panics.” Gizmodo regrets the error.