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A general view of the exterior of the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C., where The pizzeria vowed 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. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

‘Pizzagate’ gunman in D.C. sentenced to four years in prison

WASHINGTON — A North Carolina man who fired an assault rifle inside a District of Columbia restaurant during his investigation of a conspiracy theory dubbed “pizzagate” was sentenced Thursday to four years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Kentanji B. Jackson said that while no one was injured when Edgar Maddison Welch fired his weapon inside the Comet Ping Pong restaurant on Dec. 4, his actions “literally left psychological wreckage.”

Welch acknowledged as part of a guilty plea in March that he entered the restaurant with an AR-15 and a revolver. He said he drove to the restaurant from North Carolina to investigate unfounded internet rumors about Democrats harboring child sex slaves there.

The judge said Welch “forged ahead” with an “ill-conceived plot” even though others urged him to abandon it. If Welch believed children were being harmed, he should have notified law enforcement, the judge said.

This election cycle saw its fair share of so-called “fake news.” On December 4, an armed man walked into a Washington, DC, pizza joint, claiming he needed to investigate a story he had heard: that Hillary Clinton and her former campaign manager were hosting a child sex ring there. Hari Sreenivasan speaks with The Washington Post’s Marc Fisher about how and why this fiction spread as fact.

Welch’s attorney had asked for a sentence of 1 and a half years in prison. Prosecutors wanted 4 and a half years.

Welch spoke briefly to apologize, saying he realized that his words “cannot undo or change what already happened.”

His mother, father, sister and fiancée were in the courtroom.

Two Comet Ping Pong workers and owner James Alefantis spoke before sentencing. Alefantis called “pizzagate” a “viscous web of lies” and said many people had suffered because of Welch’s actions.

READ MORE: The very real consequences of fake news stories and why your brain can’t ignore them

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