The North Carolina man whose obsession with groundless allegations that Hillary Clinton is part of an elaborate child sex abuse ring led him to fire a gun inside a Washington, D.C., pizza joint last year agreed to a plea deal on Friday.
The guilty plea could put 28-year-old Edgar Welch in prison for three years or more. Prosecutors will urge a lighter sentence if Welch “clearly demonstrates acceptance of responsibility,” the Huffington Post reports.
It’s unclear what Welch might do to satisfy that conditional leniency. But in the text of Friday’s plea, he agreed the December attack was “motivated, at least in part, by unfounded rumors about a child sex-trafficking ring… that involved nationally-known political figures.”
Welch got into the deranged amateur-sleuthing world known as “Pizzagate” “principally by watching YouTube videos and reviewing related internet content,” according to the deal. He faces 18 to 25 months on a federal charge of moving a firearm across state lines and an additional 18 months on a local assault charge stemming from his actions.
Welch’s formal declaration that the entire Pizzagate fiction is “unfounded” may sting fellow conspiracy theorists like David Seaman, the unofficial ringleader of the smear, who continues to insist that Clinton and various members of her inner circle are part of a pedophilia cabal. At the height of the craze, the story had lured much higher-profile support from right-wing supporters of President Donald Trump’s political campaign, including Michael Cernovich and Michael Flynn, Jr., the son of Trump’s since-fired National Security Adviser.
Online conspiracy theorists believed they had uncovered a secret code inside Clinton adviser John Podesta’s hacked emails. In the weeks after Wikileaks dumped Podesta’s emails onto the internet in a series of releases, a handful of paranoiacs decided that references in the correspondence to “cheese pizza” and other foodstuffs were code for child sex-slaves. The theory’s reach grew for months, thanks in part to a relentless stream of wild-eyed videos and posts from Seaman and others.
Months later, on December 4, 2016, Welch arrived in D.C. from North Carolina. He walked into the pizza shop and, prosecutors say, brandished a rifle at an employee before firing a shot that did not strike anyone.
After Welch’s arrest, Cernovich and other prominent members of Trump’s rabid online retinue dropped the Pizzagate story. Alex Jones, whose web sites had helped promote the smear, scrubbed past articles on the topic from Infowars and told followers to focus instead on Podesta’s “greater crimes.”
As people in the nation’s capital worry over an apparent glut of missing-persons cases involving black teenagers, Flynn, Jr. linked the disappearances back to Pizzagate in a string of tweets.
Welch was the first of Seaman’s followers to show up at the pizza shop armed. But crowds of others had previously visited Comet and held angry rallies on the sidewalk outside. Dead-ender fans of the smear plan to march in front of the White House on Saturday.