According to the criminal complaint released Monday, the North Carolina man told police that he “had read online” that Comet Ping Pong was the center of a child trafficking ring and “that he wanted to see for himself if they were there.” Welch had brought along an AR-15 assault rifle and a .38 caliber handgun to “help rescue them,” he allegedly told police.
He now faces several gun-related charges, including assault with a deadly weapon and openly carrying a weapon without a license. The Washington Post reported that D.C. Magistrate Judge Joseph E. Beshouri on Monday ordered Welch to remain in jail until his next hearing on Thursday after U.S. Attorney Sonali Patel cautioned he was a flight risk and a danger to the community.
Friends of Welch, a periodically employed father of two young girls, told the Post that they were surprised that he became so personally invested in investigating an online conspiracy theory that holds that Democratic Party operatives are running a pedophilia and human trafficking ring from the Comet restaurant. The fabricated story, known as “Pizzagate” and targeted at Hillary Clinton and her allies, was ignited by fringe social media users. It was then heavily circulated by fake news publications and conspiracy sites.
Comet Ping Pong’s owners have received a steady stream of death threats and harassing phone calls since the bizarre tale began circulating online in late October. Other establishments on Connecticut Avenue, a popular shopping street in Northwest D.C., have also been targeted by protesters and threatening phone calls.
Welch did not elaborate further on his motive in the courtroom on Monday, according to the Post, saying only his name when asked to identify himself.
He surrendered to law enforcement gathered outside the restaurant after he “found no evidence that underage children were being harbored” inside.
Read the full criminal complaint below via The New York Times: