The man who fired a rifle inside a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant, after being inspired by internet conspiracy theorists convinced it was the center of a child sex trafficking ring that involved Hillary Clinton, has been sentenced to four years in prison.
Prosecutors had asked a judge to put Edgar Welch behind bars for 4.5 years in order to “deter other would-be vigilantes” similarly inspired to acts of violence. The four-year term handed down Thursday followed both a guilty plea and a public letter of contrition from Welch.
Welch will also be on supervised release for three years following the completion of his sentence, during which he must undergo a mental health evaluation. He was also ordered to pay about $5,700 in restitution for property damage he caused, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The so-called “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory was stoked in large part by the right-wing website Infowars and its fringe leader Alex Jones, whose foaming coverage of U.S. politics has been promoted for years by more mainstream conservative media figures — and, starting last year, by then-President Elect Donald Trump. (Trump, whose credibility war against what he calls “fake news” has been a damaging central tactic throughout his campaign and tenure as president, later gave Infowars a press credential.)
Welch was not the first Pizzagate believer to show up in person at D.C.’s Comet Ping Pong. Groups of right-wing internet detectives bent on proving that Clinton and her close associates had moved child pornography and underage sex slaves through Comet’s doors had protested outside and even entered the restaurant on occasion last summer and fall.
But while Welch wasn’t the first to take the wild-eyed fervor of the Pizzagate web mob out of the comments section, he was the first to engage in physical violence in pursuit of his imagined truth. Welch drove up from North Carolina with a gun, walked into Comet brandishing the weapon, and fired a shot into a door striking no one. He surrendered to police shortly afterward outside.
Others on the right who amplified the false story — in which powerful liberal politicians were not only child-raping fiends, but also ones who communicated about their activities through email using a verbal code so simple that internet detectives had cracked it from a glance at hacked emails released during last year’s election — have not shown such contrition. Other prominent Trump boosters like Mike Cernovich and Mike Flynn, Jr. have muted their coverage of the story, but continued to insist there’s something sinister going on.
Welch himself, meanwhile, seems ashamed now of what he did.
“I am really sorry for anything I caused,” Welch said in court Thursday according to reports from the room. In his earlier written apology, Welch wrote that his attack was “motivated, at least in part, by unfounded rumors about a child sex-trafficking ring… that involved nationally-known political figures.”