Washington pizzeria to stay open despite shooting over fake news

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 05, 2016 11:59 AM

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Washington pizzeria vowed on Monday to stay open despite a shooting incident sparked by a fake news report that it was fronting a child sex ring run by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong, said those who promoted the false conspiracy story should reflect on the Sunday incident. A North Carolina man claiming to investigate the report is suspected of firing a gun inside the crowded family restaurant.

"We look forward to resuming normal operations in the next few days. We are confident that Comet Ping Pong will continue to be a safe, happy and hospitable place for this community," he said on the restaurant's Facebook page.

Alefantis and his workers were the target of social media threats ahead of the Nov. 8 election after fake news stories claimed that Clinton and her campaign chief John Podesta were running a child sex ring out of the restaurant.

The Washington Post reported that nearby businesses also received threats, as well as its journalists who wrote about the Sunday incident.

The bogus story got support after Sunday's incident from Michael Flynn Jr., the son of retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to be national security adviser.

"Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it'll remain a story. The left seems to forget #PodestaEmails and the many 'coincidences' tied to it," the younger Flynn tweeted on Sunday, referring to the leak of emails tied to Podesta during the campaign.

The attacks on Comet were considered an example of how fake news reports that proliferated during the election year affected people's lives.

Police have said Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, North Carolina, entered Comet Ping Pong and pointed a firearm at an employee, who fled and called police. Welch fired the gun inside the restaurant, but there were no injuries.

Welch was there "to self-investigate 'Pizza Gate' (a fictitious online conspiracy theory)," police said in a statement.

He has been accused of assault with a dangerous weapon, as well as weapons and other charges. The assault charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Police seized an AR-15 military-style rifle, a .38-caliber handgun and a shotgun. Two of the weapons were recovered inside the restaurant, and the third from Welch's vehicle.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Alan Crosby)