Conspiracy Sites Prompted "Pizzagate" Gunman to Travel to D.C.

The dangers of believing everything you read on the intrawebs.

Edgar Maddison Welch is the 28-year old gunman who was arrested in D.C. last week, after traveling from North Carolina to the location of Comet Ping Pong, the pizza parlor at the center of the internet hoax dubbed #Pizzagate.

Before he arrived to “investigate” the pizzeria on Dec. 4, allegedly firing shots from an AR-15 rifle and sending customers fleeing, Welch watched YouTube videos about the “Pizzagate” theory and visited Comet’s website on his cell phone.

Welch also urged a friend to watch a “Pizzagate” video produced by Alex Jones’ InfoWars website, a conspiracy hub that supported Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Let me add here that Donald Trump is not to blame for what Welch did.

Yes, InfoWars is a loathsome site, which specifically targets unstable conspiracy theorists and otherwise “intellectually challenged” individuals. However, Trump has never promoted the #Pizzagate hoax, to my knowledge.

He does, however, give legitimacy to these nutbag sites, and his rabid fans flock to them. When he spends half of his time railing against legitimate news sources, but embraces Alex Jones, there’s a problem.

Researching “Pizzagate” had made Welch feel “sick,” according to a message he sent his girlfriend before the shooting.

“The world is too afraid to act and I’m too stubborn not to,” Welch told a friend before he drove to D.C., according to prosecutors.

The conspiracy theory gained prominence on fringe rightwing websites during the election, when Wikileaks published emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that discussed eating pizza, including at Comet.

The theory’s promoters claim, without evidence, that “pizza” is code for various criminal sexual acts. The idea has led to death threats against Comet’s staff, as well as people who work at other businesses on its block.

And this is the danger of “fake news.”

There are people like Welch who can’t handle it. Their processing skills just aren’t quite sharp enough to peel through what is reasonable, and what is a sensational internet hoax.

Welch is accused of transporting firearms across state lines to commit an illegal offense. Along with the AR-15, Welch alleged carried a loaded .38 caliber revolver into the restaurant and had another loaded rifle in his car.

No one was injured during the raid. The criminal complaint says Welch pointed a gun at one employee and fired several rounds to open a locked door inside the restaurant, which he found to be unoccupied.

According to the affidavit, Welch told officers that he heard about the “Pizzagate” rumors on the internet and travelled to Washington, D.C. to free the children he believed had been enslaved.

It was only after he was brought into custody that Welch agreed that the information he received may not have been exactly on-point.

Thankfully, nobody was hurt. Only Welch’s future has been ruined.

The unfortunate thing is that it isn’t over, and Welch may not be the only confused individual consuming this crap. #Pizzagate is still trending, and people are still talking about it, even refusing to believe the reports on Welch.

The internet is a big place, and those who promote dangerous falsehoods for the sake of fame or mischief, whichever it may be, are doing this world no favors.