A North Carolina man who entered a D.C. pizza restaurant with an assault rifle on Dec. 4 invited at least two friends to join him several days earlier on a mission to raid what he believed was a pedophile sex ring operating inside the Comet Ping Pong restaurant, according to an FBI arrest affidavit filed in federal court on Tuesday.
“Raiding a pedo ring, possibly sacrificing [sic] the lives of a few for the lives of many,” the FBI affidavit quotes Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, as saying in a text message to a friend on Dec. 2.
The affidavit says he sent that text message two days before he drove to D.C. and entered the restaurant with an AR-15 assault rifle strapped over his shoulders, prompting frightened employees and customers, including children, to flee for their lives.
D.C. police said Welch fired several shots inside the restaurant in an attempt to break open a lock to a room he suspected was being used to operate the pedophile ring, but no one was hurt.
He surrendered peacefully to police after determining the child sex ring he said he learned about through internet “news” stories and YouTube videos, which linked the alleged ring to Hillary Clinton, was not present at the Comet pizza restaurant, police have said.
Gay businessman and local arts and theater supporter James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong, has said Welch’s Dec. 4 invasion of his restaurant came more than a month after fake internet stories claiming the restaurant was linked to a pedophile sex ring operated by Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta, went viral on social media and conspiracy oriented websites.
The fake stories, which have become known as Pizzagate among those who believe they are true, have triggered the posting of hate messages denouncing Comet Ping Pong on social media sites. They have also triggered a flurry of hostile phone calls to the restaurant and several other restaurants and the Politics and Prose Bookstore located nearby on upper Connecticut Avenue, N.W. close to the Maryland line.
Josh Vogelsong, a Comet Ping Pong bartender who performs in drag and books shows at the restaurant as part of its entertainment venue, told Slate.com that he and at least two other drag performers who performed there have received harassing messages, including death threats, on Instagram and other social media from Pizzagate believers. Most of the threats and harassing messages he and the other two drag performers received have been anti-LGBT in nature, he said.
One Instagram user called him a “dumb bitch or whatever the fuck you are” and a “fucking tranny,” Slate quoted him as saying.
Other anonymous internet posters told him, “Hillary will be dead soon and so will you” and “we’re going to slit your throat and bathe in your blood,” he told Slate.
Cis Jenner, one of the other drag performers at Comet Ping Pong, has said she received messages calling her a “Satanist homo.” Another message said, “Hope I get to watch u bleed n get a hard on from it.”
Jenner told the Blade on Tuesday that she last performed at Comet about a year ago. She said the name-calling began about a month ago after the Pizzagate stories began to surface and someone discovered she had performed at Comet Ping Pong through Facebook and Instagram postings.
“They’re dying down now,” she said of the hostile messages. “I’ve changed my user name on Instagram and that’s kind of preventing that.”
Alefantis has agreed to talk to the Blade in an interview next week following a rollercoaster week in which he and his employees scrambled to reopen the restaurant last Tuesday following the Dec. 4 incident with Welch.
He told the Blade he was moved by the outpouring of support from customers and nearby residents, who have packed the restaurant in the days since it reopened to show their support.
People familiar with Comet Ping Pong, which includes ping pong tables in a room in the rear of the restaurant, has been a popular place for families with kids in the 10 years it has been in business.
It’s also been popular among local performance artists and musicians, who Alefantis has booked over the years.
“I have known James Alefantis for many years,” said gay activist and Blade columnist Peter Rosenstein. “He is a great guy and an amazing businessman. He has always been involved with the community where his businesses have been located and has proven he really cares about D.C.,” Rosenstein said.
The Washington Post reported that a YouTube video posted online Nov. 4 by a right-wing talk show host linking Clinton and Podesta to the alleged child sex ring operated at Comet Ping Pong was viewed online more than 427,000 times, according to YouTube.
The FBI revelations about Welch’s attempt to recruit friends to join him on his visit to Comet Ping Pong surfaced early Tuesday afternoon, one day after prosecutors filed the arrest affidavit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The filing in federal court became public shortly after prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office informed a D.C. Superior Court judge they were dropping D.C. charges filed against Welch last week and transferring the case to federal court.
Similar to the D.C. charges, the newly filed federal charges include the allegation that Welch engaged in interstate transportation of a firearm with intent to commit an offense or with knowledge or reasonable cause to believe an offense would be committed.
The offense, upon a conviction, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail along with a possible fine.
When Welch first appeared in D.C. Superior Court last week he had near shoulder length hair and a full beard. When he appeared in Superior Court on Tuesday morning and in federal court Tuesday afternoon he was clean shaven and his hair had been cut to crew-cut length.
In response to questions by U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey, Welch said he was unemployed and didn’t have the funds to hire a lawyer, prompting the judge to arrange for a court-appointed attorney.
Harvey approved a request by prosecutors that Welch remain held in jail until at least Friday, Dec. 16, when the judge scheduled a joint detention and preliminary hearing.
Welch’s parents, Harry and Terri Welch, who attended the Superior Court hearing Tuesday morning, declined comment when approached by reporters.
They told the Washington Post in an interview one day earlier that they were “stunned” when they learned of their son’s arrest in Washington. Among other things, they said they had not heard of the Pizzagate rumors and had no idea Edgar Welch, who goes by his middle name Maddison, was an avid believer in the stories linking Comet Ping Pong to a child sex ring, the Post reported.
The FBI arrest affidavit says Welch indicated in text messages to friends on Dec. 1, including his girlfriend, he had been researching Pizzagate and the information he found was making him “sick.”
“During the next few hours after sending that text message, Welch continued viewing YouTube pages on his cell phone,” the affidavit says. “He also visited the Comet Ping Pong website.”
After exchanging text messages with friends and speaking with at least one friend by phone, Welch sent the message saying his plans to visit Comet Ping Pong could result in “sacrificing the lives of a few for the lives of many,” the affidavit quotes him as saying.
The affidavit quotes him as further stating, “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,” the affidavit continues to quote one of his text messages.
“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,” the FBI affidavit quotes him as saying in the text message. “One day it will be our families. The world is too afraid to act and I’m too stubborn not to [.]”
William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said Welch did not enter a plea during his appearance in federal court on Tuesday.
“Because this is a pending case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has no further comment at this time,” he said.