The North Carolina man who took an assault rifle to a popular Washington, D.C., pizza joint to investigate a fictitious online rumor demonstrates a problem that has long vexed the FBI, the Washington Post reports. The Internet — a breeding ground for radical ideologies and bizarre conspiracy theories — can quickly move troubled souls to violence. In an age when fake news is magnified by those with political and financial interests, the problem is getting harder to stop. The FBI has made a priority of preventing Islamic State-inspired attacks, developing informants who can tip agents to plots before they happen and connecting the often Internet-radicalized plotters with people working for the FBI.
The bizarre conspiracy theory that a child sex ring was operating underneath D.C.’s Comet Ping Pong restaurant, which prompted 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch to drive from North Carolina to launch his own violent investigation. would probably have registered as “barely a blip” on the bureau’s radar, said Ron Hosko, a former FBI assistant director. “There is so much to do that is tangible and real and fitting squarely within the bureau’s jurisdiction and priorities,” Hosko said. “There’s not a lot of bandwidth for sort of these one-offs.” FBI director James Comey has said, “Our daily job is finding needles in a haystack … it’s harder than that even. It’s finding pieces of hay that may become a needle.” He added, “It used to be that the person who’s now on Twitter would be down at the end of the bar late at night shouting at the television … Now he can shout with 600 other people who are at their own metaphorical bars, and it’s a constant reinforcement of their view of the world.”