WH denounces 'corrosive' effect of fake news after Comet arrest

WH denounces 'corrosive' effect of fake news after Comet arrest
© Flickr user Elizabeth Murphy

The White House on Monday denounced the “corrosive” effect of fake news after a gunman was arrested at a Washington pizza parlor connected to an online conspiracy theory about Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonImpeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP GOP divided over impeachment trial strategy 'Too Far Left' hashtag trends on Twitter MORE

“Even without knowing precisely what the motives were, there’s no denying the corrosive effect that some of these false reports have had on our political debate,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. 

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“That’s concerning in a political context,” he added. “It’s deeply troubling that some of those false reports could lead to violence.” 

A North Carolina man was arrested Sunday after he walked into the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria and fired at least one shot, according to police. 

No one was injured in the incident, which shook the quiet Northwest Washington neighborhood where Comet Ping Pong is located. Comet is popular with families and children and also hosts local live music acts. 

Earnest credited D.C. police for preventing any bloodshed and cautioned that investigators are still working to determine the exact motive of the suspect. 

The gunman, identified as Edgar Maddison Welch, of Salisbury, N.C., told police he was there to “self-investigate” a baseless conspiracy theory that Clinton and her campaign chairman were running a child sex trafficking ring from the restaurant. 

The so-called “pizzagate” story picked up steam in the final days of the campaign. Comet’s owner, staff and nearby business owners have been attacked online and some have received death threats. 

Trump’s pick to lead the White House’s National Security Council, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, shared separate-but-related false stories about Clinton’s supposed involvement in child trafficking. 

Michael Flynn Jr., the general’s son, stoked the flames, tweeting Sunday evening that “until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it'll remain a story. The left seems to forget #PodestaEmails and the many 'coincidences' tied to it.”

Flynn Jr. has advised his father and accompanied him to meetings at Trump Tower.

Earnest said the spread of fake news is something "the next administration is going to have to spend some time thinking about and working on as well." But he stopped short of calling on Trump to speak out about it. 

"We all hold a responsibility regardless of whether or not we are planning to serve in a government position, or if one of our family members is planning to serve in a government position, that we shouldn't be propagating false things that could inspire violence," he said.  

James Alefantis, Comet’s owner, said in a statement to The Washington Post the arrest shows "promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences."

“I hope that those involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today, and stop promoting these falsehoods right away.” 

This post was updated at 2:45 p.m.