New York

New York restaurant threatened by Pizzagate hoax callers

A popular New York restaurant has become the latest victim of a fake-news conspiracy about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza joint.

Roberta's, a Brooklyn restaurant known for its wood-fired pizza, received telephone calls threatening its employees, police confirmed on Wednesday.

There have been no arrests. A telephone call to the restaurant on Wednesday night went unanswered.

The threatening calls to Roberta's came after social-media users connected the restaurant to the Pizzagate hoax centered on the Washington restaurant Comet Ping Pong. One caller referenced an email from Clinton's private server and noted the Clintons attended a donor's birthday party at Roberta's years ago.

The hoax took a dangerous turn on Sunday when a man, Edgar Maddison Welch, fired a rifle inside Comet Ping Pong while trying to "self-investigate" the conspiracy, police said.

Court records state Welch, of Salisbury, North Carolina, fired an AR-15 assault rifle in the restaurant but later walked out with his hands up, leaving his rifle and other weapons inside. They say he told police he had "read online that the Comet restaurant was harboring child sex slaves and that he wanted to see for himself if they were there."

They say he said he "was armed to help rescue them" and "surrendered peacefully when he found no evidence that underage children were being harbored in the restaurant."

Welch was arrested on several charges, including assault with a dangerous weapon. No one was injured in the shooting.

One of Welch's friends told The Washington Post she doesn't think he intended to shoot anyone.

"He most likely really believes the conspiracy theory," said Kathy Sue Holtorf, who lives in California and works as a film producer. "He's a good guy with the best of intentions. He probably saw himself as more on a hero mission to save children than anything else."

The origins of the conspiracy theory are unclear. Some elements trace back to hacked emails from Clinton chief of staff John Podesta that were released by Wikileaks and refer to pizza parties, with online commentators speculating that "pizza party" is code for something nefarious.

By Nov. 3, Comet Ping Pong, so named because patrons can play Ping-Pong on tables in the back, had been pulled into the conspiracy, which the restaurant's owner has flatly denied.

"Let me state unequivocally: These stories are completely and entirely false, and there is no basis in fact to any of them," owner James Alefantis said in a statement on Sunday. "What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences."

The threatening calls to Roberta's were first reported by DNAinfo.