Pizzagate gunman pleads guilty

Comet Ping Pong (Getty)
Comet Ping Pong (Getty)

A man who fired an assault rifle at a pizza restaurant he believed was at the centre of a child prostitution ring has pleaded guilty to weapons charges.

Edgar Maddison Welch entered the Comet Ping Pong restaurant in Washington DC in December last year, armed with an AR-15 rifle. The 28-year-old claimed to be investigating a bizarre conspiracy theory - that the restaurant was the epicentre of a sex-abuse ring led by former US President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary.

He pleaded guilty to illegally transporting firearms over state lines and assault with a dangerous weapon. A third charge, firearm possession, was dropped as part of a plea deal.

The charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, but the deal he made is likely to see Welch serve between 18 and 24 months.

He has also agreed to pay US$5,744 in restitution to Comet Ping Pong to cover the damage he did to a lock, door, computer and ping pong table.

The owner of the restaurant, James Alefantis, had spoken out about the conspiracy theory just a week before the attack, telling NPR:  "I was receiving many direct messages on Instagram and comments on my Instagram page. And I realised that something had come up. It turned out that there was a worldwide conspiracy theory... based inside of Reddit and was being sent out through YouTube and Facebook and other places and that's sort of an insanely complicated, made-up, fictional lie-based story."

The fake accusations came about after anti-Hillary Clinton activists claimed they'd found coded references to a child porn ring in leaked Democratic Party emails.

"This was a coordinated political attack," said Mr Alefantis.

Police and a number of investigate organisations found the allegations to be completely false, but that didn't stop white nationalist groups and fake news sites. The rumours continue to spread on message boards like Reddit, particularly in pro-Donald Trump sections of the site.