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Police arrested 28-year-old North Carolina man Edgar Maddison Welch on Sunday after he walked into a crowded Washington, D.C. pizzeria armed with an assault weapon and fired one or more shots, D.C. police said according to the Washington Post.
Though there were no reported injuries, the incident sparked a firestorm when it was reported that Welch’s motivation for firing shots in the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria was a fake news story, now dubbed “Pizzagate.”
What is “Pizzagate”
The fake “Pizzagate” story alleged that former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign chair John Podesta were using the pizzeria as the base for a child trafficking ring.
The story originated on 4chan and in a Reddit thread, where commenters made a number of unsubstantiated and false claims to tie Clinton and her staff to the non-existent pedophilia ring.
Some the claims made in the Reddit thread included that the restaurant’s menu contains a symbol of pedophilia, which turned out to be a set of ping pong paddles; frequent mentions of pizza in Podesta’s leaked e-mails; and that the pizzeria owner, James Alefantis, has a name that sounds like the French translation of “I love children.”
Proponents of the conspiracy theory also cited other bizarre and patently false “evidence,” like a collage made up of unrelated Instagram pictures of people allegedly involved in the scandal; supposedly coded signals for pedophiles like the phrase “play, eat, drink” on Comet Ping Pong’s menu, which spells P.E.D when abbreviated; and an elaborate system of underground tunnels linking the pizzeria to other venues in the surrounding area.
Welch, the man police say opened fire in the pizzeria on Sunday, told police that he had gone to Comet Ping Pong to “self-investigate” the fake news story.
Alefantis said the pizzeria would remain open in a statement late Sunday. “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,” he said.
Michael Flynn Jr., the son of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s national security advisor, tweeted about “Pizzagate” Sunday night:
— I LOVE AMERICA???????? (@mflynnJR) December 5, 2016
Flynn Jr’s tweet prompted a Twitter feud with CNN anchor Jake Tapper, who began to direct message him, saying, “Michael – the police called pizza gate a fictitious conspiracy theory tonight. Does someone have to die before you take this s— seriously. Spreading this nonsense is dangerous.”
When Flynn Jr. replied that he wanted the news story to be false, Tapper shot back, “It is a f—— pizzeria. Show me what you’re talking about that proves a satanic pedophilia cult. Your tweet is wildly irresponsible. Listen to me. You are going to get someone killed. Maybe an innocent child. For what??????”