A North Carolina man arrested last December for entering D.C.’s gay-owned Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant with an assault rifle and a hand gun was sentenced on Thursday by a federal judge to four years in prison.
The incident attracted international attention when news surfaced that Edgar Maddison Welch, 29, told D.C. police following his arrest that his intention was to break up a child sex-trafficking ring he believed had been operating in a hidden room at the restaurant based on rumors and “reports” he read on the Internet.
The reports, which authorities said were false and examples of “fake news” on the Internet, claimed that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was involved in the child sex ring.
Welch surrendered peacefully to D.C. police after searching the restaurant and firing his AR-15 assault rifle into a door to break open a lock to a room inside the restaurant. Customers, including children, and employees who occupied the restaurant when Welch entered with his guns, fled for their lives, according to accounts by police and prosecutors.
As part of a plea bargain arrangement, Welch pled guilty on March 24, in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, to a federal charge of interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition, and a D.C. charge of assault with a dangerous weapon.
In handing down his sentence on Thursday, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said “the extent of the recklessness in this case is breathtaking” and it was only through “sheer luck” that no one was injured or killed.
Prosecutors with the office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. asked the judge to sentence Welch to four and a half years of incarceration. Welch’s attorney, saying Welch has apologized for his actions and has shown remorse, asked for a sentence of one and a half years.
Gay businessman and local arts and theater supporter James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong, has said Welch’s Dec. 4 invasion of the restaurant came more than a month after fake online 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.
He said he and some of his employees received death threats following the posting of the fake stories on various online sites.