'Fake news' US pizzeria invasion man jailed for four years

"Fake news" reports of a child-smuggling ring with connections to Hillary Clinton operating out of Comet Ping Pong, a Washington pizzeria, saw a man storm the eatery last December firing an assault rifle (AFP Photo/NICHOLAS KAMM) (AFP/File)

Washington (AFP) - A man who invaded a pizzeria in the US capital firing an assault rifle, after fake news reports of a child smuggling ring, was given a four-year prison sentence Thursday.

Washington federal district court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson gave Edgar Maddison Welch close to the maximum term sought by prosecutors for the December 5 "pizzagate" incident, accepting their argument to send a stiff warning against "vigilante justice."

Welch, 28, stormed into Comet Ping Pong, an upscale pizza house, with an AR-15 assault rifle after becoming outraged by right-wing talk on social media that it was central to a pedophile network with deep connections to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

No one was hurt, but police had to lock down the neighborhood before Welch surrendered.

The incident followed President Donald Trump's election upset over Clinton, after a campaign in which fake news circulated on social media became a significant factor.

Welch, who drove from North Carolina to Washington to "investigate" Comet himself, was seen by some as much a victim for having believed reports on websites such as Reddit and Infowars that the restaurant hid a politically connected pedophile ring.

Asking for a lighter sentence, Welch told the court he "came to DC with the intent of helping people" and "felt very passionate about the possibility of human suffering."

But prosecutors argued that Welch "armed himself for a confrontation with non-existent criminals; and he terrorized innocent families and employees who were just trying to enjoy their Sunday afternoon at a neighborhood restaurant."