Politics & Policy

The Seth Rich Conspiracy Theory Is Shameful Nonsense

Sean Hannity at CPAC 2015 (Photo: Sen Hannity)
Sean Hannity and others’ hyping of the fake story is a disgrace.

Do you want to hear a truly insane conspiracy theory? It’s a theory with almost as many moving parts as LBJ’s alleged mob hit on John F. Kennedy.

Multiple agencies involving hundreds of separate government actors are working together, you see, to deceive the American people, advance false narratives, and bring down a president. It’s the world’s greatest con, and Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, and Geraldo Rivera are the only ones brave enough to ask the right questions. They’re the only ones bold enough to confront the fake-news media, to do the hard work of investigative journalism, and bring the dark truth to the nation.

The conspiracy is based on a true event — the terrible and unsolved murder of Seth Rich, a young Democratic National Committee staffer. Early the morning on July 10, an unidentified assailant shot Rich in the back. The police haven’t solved the crime, and their current best theory is that the attack occurred as part of a botched or interrupted robbery. Rich’s valuables, however, were still on his body, and the police (so far as we know) have no leads.

Here’s where things get strange. Hannity and others have been “asking questions” and “raising concerns” that Rich was no ordinary DNC employee. Instead, disgruntled at the DNC’s treatment of Bernie Sanders, he may have leaked Democratic documents to WikiLeaks. He is the source of the document dump, not Russian hackers. Thus, the key elements of the Russian interference story are a hoax. There is no Russia scandal. Here’s Hannity:

Geraldo Rivera also laid out the elements in a tweet:

This weekend, Newt Gingrich laid out the conspiracy theory as fact on Fox & Friends:

”We have this very strange story now of this young man who worked for the Democratic National Committee, who apparently was assassinated at 4 in the morning, having given WikiLeaks something like 53,000 emails and 17,000 attachments,” Gingrich said.

“Nobody’s investigating that, and what does that tell you about what’s going on? Because it turns out, it wasn’t the Russians. It was this young guy who, I suspect, was disgusted by the corruption of the Democratic National Committee. He’s been killed, and apparently nothing serious has been done to investigative his murder. So I’d like to see how [Robert] Mueller is going to define what his assignment is.”

The consequences of such an allegation are staggering to contemplate. For the theory to be true, its believers have to demonstrate that Rich leaked to WikiLeaks, that someone in the DNC (or the Clinton camp) in turn had Rich murdered, that the D.C. police are intentionally slow-walking the investigation, that the major intelligence agencies (namely the CIA, FBI, and NSA) are together either deliberately concocting a story about Russian interference or too stupid to recognize an inside job, and finally, that the remainder of official Washington is either oblivious to or colluding with conspirators who’ve damaged relations with Russia in hopes of bringing down a president. Oh, and did I mention that the family of the slain young man is also either in on the conspiracy or unaware of its existence?

But, sure, I suppose it’s the New York Times that has a problem spreading fake news.

So, what’s the evidence for this fantastical theory? Try not to laugh when I tell you. First, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has rather cleverly raised Rich’s name and then refused to confirm or deny that he was a WikiLeaks source. Here’s the key excerpt of an interview with a Dutch broadcaster:

Assange: “Whistleblowers go to significant efforts to get us material, often very significant risks. There’s a 27-year-old that works for the DNC who was shot in the back, murdered, just two weeks ago, for unknown reasons as he was walking down the street in Washington. So#…#”

Anchor: “That was just a robbery, I believe, wasn’t it?”

Assange: “No, there’s no finding. So, ah—“

Anchor: “What are you suggesting? What are you suggesting?”

Assange: “I am suggesting that our sources, ah, take risks and they, they become concerned to see things occurring like that.”

Anchor: “But was he one of your sources then, I mean?”

Assange: “We don’t comment on who our sources are.”

Whatever you want to call that, it’s not “evidence” of anything. Additionally, there wasn’t just one relevant election hack, there were at least three, with hacks of the DNC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and John Podesta’s e-mail account. Is Hannity or Assange or anyone claiming Rich hacked everything? The story, however, gained fever-swamp legs with a Fox News report claiming that smoking-gun evidence existed. Rich was a WikiLeaks source. Here’s the Breitbart summary:

On Tuesday morning, FOX News reported that Rich, who was murdered in Washington D.C. last July, sent 44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments to deceased investigative reporter Gavin MacFayden, a man with close links to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

“My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks,” an investigative source told FOX. “I do believe that the answers to who murdered Seth Rich sits on his computer on a shelf at the DC police or FBI headquarters.”

There’s a small problem. If you follow the link to the Fox story, you’ll find that it’s gone. Why? Fox retracted it, and it did so days after the “investigative source,” an investigator and occasional Fox News guest named Rod Wheeler, immediately backtracked from his own report:

But Tuesday afternoon, Wheeler told CNN he had no evidence to suggest Rich had contacted Wikileaks before his death.

Wheeler instead said he only learned about the possible existence of such evidence through the reporter he spoke to for the FoxNews.com story. He explained that the comments he made to WTTG-TV were intended to simply preview Fox News’ Tuesday story. The WTTG-TV news director did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“I only got that [information] from the reporter at Fox News,” Wheeler told CNN.

Asked about a quote attributed to him in the Fox News story in which he said his “investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and Wikileaks,” Wheeler said he was referring to information that had already been reported in the media.

In addition, Rich’s family, the FBI, and the D.C. police all disputed key elements of the story. That left the “evidence” for the vast, world-busting conspiracy theory primarily in the hands of a person named — get this — Kim Dotcom. Dotcom is a rather colorful online personality, a hacker and businessman who claims he knew Rich by the name “Panda.” Hannity hyped Dotcom’s claims with extreme exuberance:

I too would encourage you to read Dotcom’s statement. Go. Now.

Are you back? Did you scroll past a collection of music videos? Did you watch them? (Please do. They’re unintentionally hilarious.) Once you got to his statement, it’s nothing more than a promise to provide information to investigators at a later date. Just so you know, Dotcom is currently fighting extradition to the U.S., where he’s been indicted on money laundering, racketeering, and copyright-infringement charges.

Seth Rich’s family is watching their son’s name get dragged into a bizarre and dishonest series of claims and counterclaims.

Conspiracy theories like this are common on the web, and no one should think that only conservatives are vulnerable. An alarming number of implausible and outright bizarre Russian narratives lurk in the leftist quarters of the Internet, but saying “they’ve got crazies too” is hardly an adequate defense of absurdity, and in this circumstance there’s a very real human cost. Seth Rich had a family, and that family is watching their son’s name get dragged into a bizarre and dishonest series of claims and counterclaims. They’ve begged for conspiracy theorists to stop. In a Washington Post op-ed, they made their feelings clear, explaining that the “amount of pain and anguish this has caused us is unbearable. With every conspiratorial flare-up, we are forced to relive Seth’s murder and a small piece of us dies as more of Seth’s memory is torn away from us.”

For Trump’s most loyal defenders (and Hannity certainly fits that bill), the story has an obvious appeal. It’s a dramatic and lurid misdirection, one that even the writers of House of Cards would find far-fetched, and it has the benefit of tricking gullible Trump supporters into further mistrusting the media. After all, the real story is over at Gateway Pundit or at Breitbart or Drudge, or on Fox News at 10:00 p.m. The true facts are known only to those who can perceive the pure evil of the Clintons, the deep state, and the rest of the establishment media.

Last night, finally, Hannity relented. Or did he? On-air he said that would not be discussing the matter “for now.” Then, moments later, he tweeted this:

Every time Hannity and his allies hyped this story, they disrespected their conservative audience, they hurt a grieving family, and they violated their own professional obligations to carefully check facts rather than engage in wild speculation. Decent people fell for this con. Decent people even spread it online. It’s time for Hannity and his allies to stand down, permanently, and relegate this story to the place where it belongs — right next to UFO documentaries, flat-earth videos, and “proof” that NASA faked the moon landing.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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