Authorities seek man in arson fire at 'Pizzagate' eatery

Federal law enforcement agents circulated security video of a man they want to question, calling him a "person of interest."
Comet Pin Pong
Federal authorities were looking for a man Saturday for questioning in an arson fire at the Comet Ping Pong pizza shop in Washington known for being a target of conspiracy theorists. Jose Luis Magana / AP file

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By Dennis Romero

Federal authorities were looking for a man Saturday for questioning in an arson fire at a Washington pizzeria known for being a target of conspiracy theorists.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives circulated imagery of a man taken from security video following the Wednesday night fire at the Comet Ping Pong pizza shop in Washington.

"ATF is seeking the pictured suspect for questioning," the agency tweeted.

Vito Maggiolo, spokesman for the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, said pizzeria employees had extinguished the fire by the time firefighters arrived. No injuries were reported.

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"It involved some curtains in the rear of the restaurant," Maggiolo said. "It was a deliberately set fire."

A task force comprised of the ATF, the city fire department and the Metropolitan Police Department was investigating, he said. He called the man wanted for questioning a "person of interest."

It wasn't clear if the fire was connected to conspiracy theories that have dogged the eatery.

In 2016, Comet was targeted by some users of Reddit and 4chan discussion groups online who said a child sex ring was being operated out of the business' basement.

The business does not have a basement. Conspiracy theorists posted that readers could uncover a child sex ring in the hacked emails of John Podesta — if only one were to replace words like “pizza” with “little girl.”

Podesta casually knows the owner of Comet and once mentioned a fundraiser for President Obama at the restaurant.

The "Pizzagate" conspiracies were widely seen as a prelude to the blossoming of a community of online conspiracy theorists known as Qanon.

On Dec. 4, 2017 Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, traveled from North Carolina to Washington to rescue sex trafficking victims he believed were being held at the restaurant. He brought an AR-15 rifle and a .38 caliber handgun with him and opened fire on a door he couldn't open, authorities said. No one was injured.

He was later convicted of federal and local weapons charges.

"We are still searching for a suspect or suspects," said Maggiolo of the city fire department.