Alex Jones, the conspiracy-loving media personality, apologized Friday for his role in promoting "Pizzagate," the baseless viral story that a Washington pizza restaurant was the locale of a child sex-abuse ring run by Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman, John Podesta.
In a surprising and rare bit of backtracking, Jones posted a six-minute video on his website, "InfoWars," in which he read a prepared statement formally distancing himself and his site from what became a textbook story of fake news run amok. He addressed his apology to James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong, the restaurant that was the supposed locale of the alleged conspiracy last year.
"I made comments about Mr. Alefantis that in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him," Jones said. "We relied on third-party accounts of alleged activities and conduct at the restaurant. We also relied on accounts of [two] reporters who are no longer with us."
He added, "To my knowledge today, neither Mr. Alefantis nor his restaurant Comet Ping Pong, were involved in any human trafficking as was part of the theories about Pizzagate." The story, he said, "was based upon what we now believe was an incorrect narrative."
Jones, a staunch supporter of Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, offered no comment or apology to Clinton or Podesta for outlandish statements about their alleged involvement in the abuse of hundreds of children.
Jones didn't say what prompted his apology but it may have been motivated by a letter Alefantis wrote to him in February. The letter demands an apology and retraction for InfoWars' postings about Pizzagate; it does not threaten legal action, but refers to what Alefantis describes as "defaming" comments by InfoWars.
But the timing of Jones' apology suggests he was concerned about a potential lawsuit. Under Texas law, the Austin-based Jones had to retract or apologize for the stories by Friday - one full month after receiving Alefantis' letter - to avoid exposing InfoWars to punitive damages in a libel suit.
In a statement, Alefantis said, "I am pleased that Mr. Jones has apologized and admitted that he and his employees repeatedly spread falsehoods about me and my restaurant. I wish that he would have made this admission and apology months ago. And his apology, while welcome, does nothing to address the harm he and his company have done to me, my business, and my community."
Alefantis' spokeswoman, Molly Levinson, said Friday that Alefantis and his attorney "continue to evaluate our legal claims."
As the story spread, Alefantis and his employees received multiple death threats. The rumors culminated in December when a North Carolina man, Edgar Madisson Welch, came to the restaurant with a loaded assault rifle and handgun in what he called an attempt to investigate the claims. He fired the rifle several times while inside the restaurant, according to court documents.
Welch coincidentally pleaded guilty on Friday to weapons and assault charges in an agreement with federal prosecutors in the District.
InfoWars wasn't the principal progenitor of the false story. The story spread primarily through such user-generated sites as Reddit and 4chan, as well as through fake-news websites and social media.
But InfoWars played a role, publishing numerous articles and commentaries that speculated about the alleged involvement of Clinton and Podesta. Pizzagate was sparked by cryptic comments made by Podesta in emails that were stolen and later released by WikiLeaks during the campaign.
Among the more damaging elements cited by Alefantis in his Feb. 22 letter was InfoWars' role in encouraging its followers "to go out and investigate the 'Pizzagate' conspiracy theory, to come to my restaurant and investigate lies."
In his statement, Alefantis noted, "We can all hope that Mr. Jones' retreat is the beginning of a process to hold accountable the people who motivated an armed gunman to travel across state lines and fire his weapon in a family-friendly restaurant."