WASHINGTON — The North Carolina man who fired an AR-15 assault inside D.C.’s Comet Ping Pong restaurant last December as he looked into the internet conspiracy theory known as “pizzagate” was sentenced Thursday to four years in federal prison.
Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, sparked panic inside Comet when he entered the restaurant Dec. 4 with the assault rifle strapped to his chest and fired a single shot into a locked cabinet. After watching hours of YouTube videos about the bogus conspiracy theory, Welch said he was convinced the Connecticut Avenue restaurant was harboring child sex slaves, according to court documents.
No one was injured in the incident and Welch surrendered to police peacefully.
Before handing down her sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Jackson said Welch’s actions left behind “psychological wreckage.”
In addition the prison term, Welch will be placed on three years’ probation and also ordered to pay $5,744 in restitution for property damage he caused during the incident.
Prosecutors had sought a 4 and 1/2 year prison sentence for Welch on a federal charge of interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition as well as a D.C. charge of assault with a dangerous weapon. Welch pleaded guilty to both charges in March as part of a plea deal.
The judge said she believed Welch honestly believed the conspiracy theories, but that he erred in taking matters into his own hands. “Other people will see what you did and be inspired by it to take up arms,” the judge said.
Welch’s lawyer asked for an 18-month sentence, noting that the father of two had admitted responsibility and “expressed sincere remorse.”
In a handwritten letter of apology filed with the court June 13, Welch said he never intended to “harm or frighten innocent lives,” and that he now realizes “just how foolish and reckless” his actions were.
In a statement made in court before his sentencing, Welch said, “Words cannot undo what’s already happened.” He then turned to the gallery where several employees were sitting and added, “I want to make sure the victims understand how sorry I am.”
Prosecutors argued Welch had terrorized the community and that a strong sentence would deter other would-be vigilantes fueled by online conspiracies.
Comet employees and patrons reported being traumatized by the incident. The family restaurant was forced to hire a security guard and some employees said they sought counseling.
In victim impact statements read in court Thursday, the employees expressed more sympathy toward Welch than anger.
Comet owner James Alefantis said, in a victim impact statement, he hopes “in a more truthful world,” Welch’s actions — sparked by the wild online rumors — will be thought of as an “aberration.”