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At this point, it's clear that fake news is a serious issue for our country. But it's especially problematic when fake news leads to violence—as it did on Sunday. A 28-year-old man has been arrested and charged with assault with a dangerous weapon after he walked into a pizza shop in Washington D.C. with an assault rifle, which he fired inside the restaurant. Why? The suspect "came to the establishment to self-investigate 'Pizza Gate' (a fictitious online conspiracy theory)," the police said. The baseless #Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which has been spread by Trump surrogates, asserts—without evidence—that Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager ran a child sex ring out of a pizza shop.
According to a statement from the police, Edgar Maddison Welch showed up shortly before 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 5, at Comet Ping Pong, a D.C. pizza shop near the Maryland border. The 28-year-old from Salisbury, North Carolina, had multiple guns on him, and pointed one of them at an employee when he walked into the store. The employee was able to escape and notify the police, but Welch went on to fire his rifle inside the store, though no one was injured. Fortunately, the police were able to arrest Welch, about 45 minutes after he had entered the store, without any issues.
Another weapon was found inside Welch's car, along with the two firearms recovered from inside the pizza shop: one was an AR-15 assault-style rifle, one was a Colt .38 caliber handgun, and one was a shotgun, according to the Washington Post.
Why did this happen? "During a post-arrest interview this evening, the suspect revealed that he came to the establishment to self-investigate 'Pizza Gate' (a fictitious online conspiracy theory)," the police statement explains.
So what is #Pizzagate? The Associated Press describes it as "a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a pizza place." According to the New York Times, conspiracy theorists claim—without evidence— that "Comet Ping Pong was the home base of a child abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief, John D. Podesta." Conspiracy theorists and others spread fake news articles with headlines like, "Pizzagate: How 4Chan Uncovered the Sick World of Washington’s Occult Elite." Of course, none of the accusations are true.
Since the campaign, when the fake news was widely spread, the Comet and its staff, as well as nearby businesses, have been the victims of social media attacks and death threats. Just last month, according to the Washington Post, Reddit banned the "pizzagate" topic, citing their policy against posting other people's personal information.
One of the most concerning parts of the conspiracy theory is that it's being spread by some high-level Trump surrogates:
Comet owner James Alefantis told the New York Times just a couple weeks ago, "From this insane, fabricated conspiracy theory, we’ve come under constant assault." However, the shop wasn't physically attacked until this weekend.
"What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences. I hope that those involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today, and stop promoting these falsehoods right away," Alefantis said in a statement. The owner dismissed the "malicious and utterly false accusations," and said the company plans to go back to normal operations within the next few days.