WASHINGTON — The North Carolina man who police say fired an assault rifle in a D.C. pizza restaurant last week while looking into a bogus internet conspiracy theory texted friends asking them to help raid a “pedo ring” and said a few lives might need to be sacrificed, according to federal charging documents presented in court Tuesday.
Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, North Carolina, who was arrested Dec. 4 after firing a shot inside the Comet Ping Pong restaurant, is now facing a federal gun charge of interstate transportation of a firearm with intent to commit a crime.
Nobody was injured in the incident, but police say Welch pointed the AR-15-style rifle at an employee and that the incident sparked terror inside the restaurant.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Welch appeared briefly in federal court Tuesday and will be back in court Friday for a detention hearing.
Four local charges against Welch, including assault with a dangerous weapon, have been dropped.
The restaurant, on Connecticut Avenue in Upper Northwest D.C., has been the subject of bogus news stories and social media rumors about a child sex ring being run there by Hillary Clinton campaign operatives.
The court documents state it appeared Welch had been planning for a “violent confrontation” for several days before the incident.
Welch sent a text message to his girlfriend Dec. 1 indicating he had been researching “Pizzagate” and that it made him “sick,” according to the court documents, which prosecutors had originally sought to keep sealed.
Welch spent hours watching YouTube videos about the conspiracy and also visited the restaurant’s website before texting two friends, according to evidence from his cellphone, the documents stated.
According to the documents, Welch texted a friend Dec. 2 asking whether he had any Army buddies nearby and whether they were “down for the cause,” which included “raiding a pedo ring, possibly sacraficing (sic) the lives of a few for the lives of many.”
“Pedo ring” is shorthand for pedophile ring.
According to the documents, in a text message, Welch described his cause as: “Standing up against a corrupt system that kidnaps, tortures and rapes babies and children in our own backyard … defending the next generation of kids, our kids, from ever having to experience this kind of evil themselves(.) I’m sorry bro, but I’m tired of turning the channel and hoping someone does something and being thankful it’s not my family. One day it will be our families. The world is too afraid to act and I’m too stubborn not to.”
During the Dec. 4 incident at the pizzeria, Welch told police he “searched for evidence of hidden rooms or tunnels, or child sex-trafficking of any kind,” according to the charging documents. When he discovered a locked door, he “became suspicious and attempted to force it open with a butter knife and then by shooting the lock.”
When that also proved unsuccessful, police say Welch “climbed furniture to look into the closed-off room, and found that it was unoccupied.”
Welch denied to authorities that he pointed the AR-15 at the pizzeria employee, according to the documents, and surrendered to police officers gathered outside the restaurant after he found no evidence of child sex trafficking.
WTOP’s Neal Augenstein and Dick Uliano contributed to this report.