WASHINGTON – A North Carolina man accused of commandeering a Washington pizza restaurant with an assault-style rifle on Dec. 4 pleaded not guilty to all charges Friday in a brief federal court appearance.
Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, North Carolina, is charged with a federal count of interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition and also is indicted on two D.C. offenses: assault with a dangerous weapon and possessing a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence.
The federal firearms and District assault charges each carry a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison, and the D.C. firearms count carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
Welch, dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, stood with his hands clasped behind his back as his lawyer entered his plea. He did not speak, except at one point responding “yes, sir,” to a question U.S. Magistrate Michael Harvey.
Through his lawyer, Assistant Federal Defender Dani Jahn of the District, Welch did not contest prosecutors’ motion to continue to hold him in jail pending his next court appearance in the incident at Comet Ping Pong in Washington. Harvey set Welch’s next appearance for Jan. 5.
Jahn said Welch intended to invoke his right to remain silent, asking media to contact the federal defender’s office instead of the defendant. The New York Times published an account of a Dec. 7 jailhouse interview with Welch, a conversation he had without a lawyer present, Jahn said.
“I believe protocols are in place to ensure that does not happen again at this point,” Jahn said.
In charging documents, an FBI agent wrote that it appeared that Welch contemplated “a violent confrontation” at the restaurant, citing text messages and calling records.
“Raiding a pedo ring, possible 1/8sic 3/8 sacrificing the lives of a few for the lives of many,” Welch texted a friend two days before he drove to Washington in a Toyota Prius, according to an FBI affidavidit. The text continued: “Standing up against a corrupt system that kidnaps, tortures and rapes ,babies and children in our own backyard.”
Police said Welch was consumed with the viral fake-news story known as “Pizzagate,” which falsely linked Hillary Clinton to a child sex-trafficking ring. The conspiracy theory said the ring operated in the basement of Comet Ping Pong, where Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta, occasionally dined.
Previous court documents state that Welch told police that he had come to the restaurant to investigate rumors of a child-sex-ring operating at the location.
In the end, Welch did not shoot anyone and surrendered after he found no evidence of hidden rooms or sex trafficking, police said. The documents filed earlier state that adults and children were in the restaurant that Sunday afternoon and fled when the gunman walked inside with a .38-caliber Colt revolver and a Colt AR-15 rifle – loaded with 23 bullets – strapped across his chest.
Welch fired the assault-style weapon two or three times in the restaurant, police said. They said he also pointed the rifle in the direction of an employee who had emerged from the back with pizza dough after everyone else had fled.
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