The man who has been charged with entering Comet Ping Pong in upper Northwest D.C. Sunday afternoon with an assault rifle has been identified as 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch.
The Salisbury, North Carolina, man has been charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, according to D.C. Police. Early Washingtonian reports described him as a white male in his twenties with blonde hair.
Inside the restaurant, the suspect pointed a gun in the direction of an employee, who was able to escape safely, and fired at least one shot, say D.C. Police. There were no injuries.
The suspect told police he went to Comet Ping Pong to “self investigate ‘pizza gate,’” which D.C. Police characterize as “a fictitious online conspiracy theory.”
Indeed, the neighborhood pizza place has been the target of harassment for about a month after being identified in a conspiracy theory that asserts the restaurant owned by James Alefantis is both the center of a pedophilia ring and a place where “spirit cooking” occurs. As a form of “proof,” conspiracy theorists at one point were lifting Instagram photos of children from Alefantis’ account and reposting them online.
Most of the false information was contained on a reddit page that has since been shut down, but the threats and harassment continued because Comet Ping Pong announced Dec. 1 that it would increase security at its music events.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson believes the false narrative about the local pizza joint is part of a larger problem among conservative political leaders. In a series of tweets last night, he wrote, “Today’s shooting at @cometpingpong bespeaks the problem of irresponsible rhetoric by our political leaders. Political correctness may sometimes be a pain, but for those of us who hold public office, there is a reason for it. Fake news & hateful speech has its consequences.”
Connecticut Avenue between Fessenden Street and Nebraska Avenue was closed most of Sunday afternoon. Both Mayor Muriel Bowser and interim Police Chief Peter Newsham were still on the scene at the neighborhood pizza restaurant as of 5:15 p.m.
The community is beginning to respond to yesterday’s events. A Facebook event titled #StandWithComet is planned for Dec. 9. “We need to come together and show the community and the nation that we #StandWithComet and won’t allow these dangerous, false attacks to disrupt this fine establishment,” says Erick Sanchez, one of the event’s organizers.
Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis has issued the following statement:
“Comet Ping Pong is a beloved institution in Washington. We are heartened by the support and loyalty of our customers and our community—they are our lifeblood and we will continue to serve them joyfully for the decades to come and beyond.
Tonight, we are deeply grateful to the local law enforcement officers who responded swiftly to our call. Thanks to their good work, I am confident that we will continue to operate safely and securely, as we have for the past decade. We also honor our employees tonight, who went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that our customers were safe.
There will be a time and place to address how and why this happened in greater detail. For now, I will simply say that we should all condemn the efforts of certain people to spread malicious and utterly false accusations about Comet Ping Pong, a venerated DC institution. Let me state unequivocally: these stories are completely and entirely false, and there is no basis in fact to any of them. What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences. 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.
I want to thank everyone for their concern. We look forward to resuming normal operations in the next few days. We are confident that Comet Ping Pong will continue be a safe, happy and hospitable place for this community.”