A North Carolina man pleaded not guilty on Friday to weapons and assault charges after he allegedly fired an assault rifle in a crowded Washington pizzeria that fake news stories on the internet claimed was a front for a child sex ring.
Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, entered the plea during a brief preliminary hearing in U.S. District Court. He is suspected of firing an AR-15 assault rifle inside the Comet Ping Pong restaurant on Dec. 4. No one was injured.
Welch had planned his raid for days and tried to recruit an accomplice to come along on his ad-hoc investigation of the nonexistent pedophilia ring, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Bogus news stories had claimed 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ran such an operation out of the restaurant.
Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey admonished Welch over reports that he was talking about the incident inside the jail. Welch, the father of two children, said he would heed Harvey’s warning.
He is charged with interstate transportation of a firearm with intent to commit an offense, assault with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence. Welch is being held without bond.
The fake news stories were an example of a proliferation of false reports during the U.S. election campaign, often disseminated through websites purporting to be news outlets and quoting bogus sources.
The firearm transportation and assault charges each carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. The maximum sentence for firearm possession is 15 years.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson and Tom Ramstack; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Andrea Ricci)