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'Alt-right' Using Cruel Seth Rich Conspiracy Theory to Deflect From Trump’s Russia Scandal

Pro-Trump outlets claim murdered DNC staffer was source of emails released by WikiLeaks last summer, even though there is little evidence to back up allegation

Seth Rich.
Seth Rich.Credit: Facebook, JTA Photo Archive

One week after first publishing the story, Fox News has officially retracted its Seth Rich conspiracy, admitting it wasn't 'subjected' to a 'high degree of editorial scrutiny.' Here is an explainer of exactly what Fox News was saying about Seth Rich:

It’s hard to imagine anything more painful than having your 27-year-old son shot dead in cold blood. But for the parents of Seth Rich, a young Jewish Democratic National Committee staffer killed on the streets of Washington in July 2016, their grief is compounded by the fact that their son’s murder is at the center of a right-wing media campaign and wild-eyed internet conspiracy theories aimed at undermining the credibility of the Russia scandal rocking the White House.

As the revelations about President Donald Trump and fired FBI Director James Comey exploded across all mainstream news outlets on Tuesday, conservative, pro-Trump outlets – from Breitbart and Fox News to Rush Limbaugh and InfoWars – operated on the other side of the looking glass. This is the bizarre story they told: That the entire Trump-Comey-Russia story is “fake news,” all manufactured by the crooked mainstream media to distract from the real story – that real proof was emerging that Rich, not Russia, had been the real source of WikiLeaks information that damaged the DNC.

The report has the potential to be one of the biggest cover-ups in American political history, dispelling the widespread claim that the Russians were behind hacks on the DNC,” reported Breitbart, the outlet previously headed by Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

“This could become one of the biggest scandals in American history,” echoed Fox host Sean Hannity, who devoted much of his show Tuesday night to the Rich case instead of the goings-on at the White House, calling the latter the result of a complicated, multipronged alliance aimed at unseating the president.

Hannity’s star guest was Rod Wheeler, a private investigator whose claims he had seen evidence proving that Rich had contact with WikiLeaks days before his murder sparked the conservative media frenzy. (Rich worked as the DNC’s voter expansion data director.)

But Wheeler himself admitted he had “never seen the emails directly.” Furthermore, his claims of “evidence” were based on the fact that an unnamed federal investigator had told him he saw the emails between Seth and WikiLeaks but that when he went to the police with concerns, he had been “shut down” and the investigation was being impeded by “a high-ranking official at the DNC.”

The theory is that Rich was the source of the DNC emails released by WikiLeaks that revealed antagonism among the DNC leadership toward Bernie Sanders and showed they were inclined toward encouraging the nomination of Hillary Clinton. The revelations led to the resignation of top DNC staff members. U.S. law enforcement officials have pointed the finger at Russia-based hackers, along with the release of masses of emails from the hacked account of Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta.

The flimsiness of the story and lack of evidence has done little to quell it. Across Twitter, where the #SethRich hashtag was trending throughout the day on Tuesday, memes and theories swirled – many of them accusing Clinton of being behind the murder. This has been the refrain of the extreme right for years, portraying the Clintons as homicidal monsters with killed all those who supposedly stood in the way of their climb to power.

Seth Rich’s family have repeatedly asked the public not to traffic in conspiracy theories, albeit with little success. But the fact WikiLeaks has offered a $20,000 reward for any information leading to the conviction of Rich’s murderer, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has hinted at Rich’s involvement – without providing evidence – have added fuel to the conspiracy theories.

The unsolved murder is believed to be a botched robbery – botched because Rich’s telephone, wallet and watch were still with him when he was found in the Bloomingdale neighborhood.

On Tuesday, the Rich family released a statement refuting Wheeler’s assertions and denying his claim that he was hired by them. “As we’ve seen through the past year of unsubstantiated claims, we see no facts, we have seen no evidence, we have been approached with no emails and only learned about this when contacted by the press,” they said.

Wheeler, they added, had been paid for by a Republican lobbyist who had offered to quadruple the amount of money offered as a reward for information that would lead to the killer’s arrest.

“We are a family who is committed to facts, not fake evidence,” the family statement continued. “The services of the private investigator who spoke to the press was offered to the Rich family and paid for by a third party, and contractually was barred from speaking to press or anyone outside of law enforcement or the family unless explicitly authorized by the family.”

The family’s spokesman, Brad Bauman, used far less measured words. “It’s sad but unsurprising that a group of media outlets who have repeatedly lied to the American people would try and manipulate the legacy of a murder victim in order to forward their own political agenda,” Bauman told Business Insider. “I think there is a special place in hell for people like that.”

Rich’s family are pillars of the small Jewish community in Omaha, Nebraska, which was deeply rocked by the murder last summer, as was the community of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, where Rich was a longtime camper and counselor.

A camp scholarship fund has been set up in his name, reminding the world that to those who knew him, he is remembered not as a hashtag or a political weapon, but, as his parents described him, “a young man committed to making a difference.”

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