December 19, 2016 at 10:37 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Comet gunman pleads not guilty
Edgar Maddison Welch, Comet Ping Pong, gay news, Washington Blade

Edgar Maddison Welch pled not guilty. (Photo via Facebook)

A North Carolina man arrested earlier this month after entering D.C.’s Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant with an assault rifle, saying he was investigating whether a child sex ring operated there, pled not guilty in federal court on Friday to three gun-related charges.

The appearance of Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia came one day after a grand jury indicted him on a federal charge of interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition and D.C. charges of assault with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence.

In addition to pleading not guilty to those charges, Welch, through his lawyer, announced he would not contest a request by prosecutors that he be held in jail until the time of his trial.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey approved a motion by the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C., which is prosecuting the case, for Welch to be held without bond. Harvey also scheduled a status hearing on the case for Jan. 5.

Welch’s self-described “raid” on the restaurant and his subsequent arrest took place about a month after Comet Ping Pong began receiving harassing phone calls, including death threats, from unidentified supporters of “Pizzagate,” a series of unsubstantiated claims that a pedophile ring linked to Hillary Clinton was operating in a basement room at the restaurant.

Gay businessman James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong, said the fake internet stories snowballed into a groundswell of postings on social media, creating stress for him and his staff.

Among those receiving threatening messages on social media were three drag performers who have performed at Comet Ping Pong, which serves as a venue for artists and performers in addition to its widely known space with ping pong tables.

In a Dec. 15 memorandum in support of pre-trial detention for Welch, prosecutors point out that on Dec. 4 Welch transported in his car three loaded firearms along with ammunition across state lines from his home town of Salisbury, N.C., to D.C.

The memorandum notes that the firearms included a 9mm AR-15 assault rifle loaded with about 29 rounds of ammunition, a fully loaded six-shot .38 caliber revolver, and a loaded shotgun and additional shotgun shells.

According to D.C. police and FBI charging documents, Welch was carrying the loaded assault rifle and revolver when he entered Comet Ping Pong about 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 4, prompting frightened employees and customers, including children, to flee the premises.

The charging documents say Welch fired several rounds from his rifle in an apparent attempt to break open the lock on a door to a back room where he thought a child sex ring was operating. After becoming convinced that such an operation, which he said he learned about from stories on the internet and social media, was not present at Comet Ping Pong, he peacefully surrendered to D.C. police.

Alefantis said he was moved by an outpouring of support the restaurant has received from customers and supporters, including many families with children, who have flocked to Comet Ping Pong to dine and play ping pong.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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