By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A North Carolina man who opened fire in a Washington pizzeria that fake news reports claimed was operating a child sex ring had planned the raid for days and tried to rally friends to the attack, according to federal court documents filed on Tuesday.
Federal prosecutors took over the case against Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, charging him with violating U.S. gun laws when he drove from his home in Durham, North Carolina, armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, handgun and shotgun with plans to investigate the Comet Ping Pong restaurant.
He said he had been drawn to it after reading fake online news stories about the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which falsely said that 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was running a pedophilia ring out of the pizzeria.
No one was injured when Welch fired his rifle inside the crowded Washington pizzeria on the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 4.
Welch had begun reaching out to friends three days earlier, urging them to watch a YouTube video about the alleged conspiracy and seeking a volunteer to come along, asking if a friend was “down for the cause?” according to the documents.
When his friend, who was not identified in court papers, asked what he meant, Welch replied, “Raiding a pedo ring, possibly sacraficing (sic) the lives of a few for the lives of many … The world is too afraid to act and I’m too stubborn not to.”
As he drove the 260 miles (418 km) to Washington from his home, Welch made a cell phone video for his two children, telling them he loved them and hoped to be able to tell them that again.
“And if not, don’t ever forget it,” he said, according to court papers.
In a brief court appearance on Tuesday, Welch told a magistrate he had no job, no home, some college education and less than $10.
The federal charge of interstate transportation of a firearm with intent to commit an offense, filed on Tuesday, carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. It supersedes lower-court charges, which prosecutors dropped.
Welch’s mother, Terri Welch, told reporters outside Superior Court that her son was not mentally ill.
The “Pizzagate” stories were an example of a proliferation of phony stories during the U.S. election cycle, often disseminated through websites that purported to be news outlets.
The stories about Comet Ping Pong prompted threats against the business and its employees.
(Additional reporting by Tom Ramstack; Editing by Scott Malone and Dan Grebler)