A 29-year-old North Carolina man who fired a military-style assault rifle inside a popular Washington pizzeria in December, wrongly believing he was saving children trapped in a sex-slave ring, was sentenced on Thursday to four years in prison.
The man, Edgar Maddison Welch, drove on Dec. 4 from his hometown, Salisbury, N.C., to the Comet Ping Pong restaurant with three guns. He was investigating unfounded but widespread online reports of children held there in a child-abuse scheme led by Hillary Clinton, a theory known as “Pizzagate.” But Mr. Welch, who pleaded guilty to federal weapons charges in March, rescued no children. Rather, he frightened employees and patrons, who panicked and ran.
Mr. Welch surrendered after the episode and almost immediately apologized, saying he had made an “incredibly ill-advised decision” to try to save endangered children who were never there. “The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent,” Mr. Welch, who goes by his middle name, Maddison, said in an interview with The New York Times after his arrest.
The judge, Ketanji Brown Jackson of Federal District Court in Washington, sentenced Mr. Welch to four years in prison and three years of probation. He must pay $5,744 in restitution for property damage at the pizzeria.
Judge Jackson said on Thursday that it was “sheer luck” that Mr. Welch did not injure anyone. “The extent of the recklessness in this case is breathtaking,” she said.
Mr. Welch apologized again last week in a handwritten letter to the court. He explained that he traveled to Washington “with the intent of helping people” but conceded that his actions were in fact “foolish and reckless.” Mr. Welch and his lawyer, Dani Jahn, requested a sentence of 18 months.
The owner of Comet Ping Pong, James Alefantis, said in a phone interview on Thursday evening he was relieved that the case was over but said his name had been tainted by the conspiracies.
“I am glad that this incident with this person has gone through, and it was lucky that no one was injured or hurt physically,” Mr. Alefantis said.
The conspiracy theories about Comet and a child-trafficking ring quickly spread on online message boards and in YouTube videos in the weeks before the November presidential election. The claims evolved from a wild misinterpretation of emails from the account of John Podesta, the chairman of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, that were released by WikiLeaks.
The police in Washington refuted claims that Comet was running a pedophile ring, but the theories continued. Threatening phone calls to Comet and false stories also continued.
“There are many other people who have sort of provoked fear, have really trafficked in lies and perpetuated conspiracies,” Mr. Alefantis said. “This guy’s going to jail and Infowars continues to push this conspiracy, as do many others.”