Adding to the craziness of an already insane news cycle is the story involving Seth Rich, a murdered Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer who has been the subject of conspiracy theories involving WikiLeaks. But these conspiracy theories simply do not hold up under scrutiny.
Here are seven things you need to know about Rich’s murder.
1. Rich was murdered on July 10 as he was walking home late at night. Prior to his murder, people noticed that Rich was “noticeably drunk” at his usual watering hole, Lou’s City Bar. He was offered a ride home but declined, stating that he was going to the Wonderland Ballroom bar, although nobody saw him there that night. Rich was found at 4:19 a.m. at a street corner with gunshot wounds and was eventually pronounced dead at the hospital. None of his possessions were taken.
2. The WikiLeaks conspiracy theories started when Julian Assange implied that Rich’s murder was connected. Assange brought up the murder on a Dutch news network, stating, “our sources face serious risks.” That was enough to spark a firestorm of conspiracy theories that Rich was murdered for handing over the DNC’s files to WikiLeaks.
3. New life was given to these conspiracy theories when a Fox report stated that there was supposedly evidence that Rich was corresponding with WikiLeaks. Rod Wheeler, a Fox News contributor and private investigator who had been working with the Rich family, stated on a local Fox station that it was “confirmed” that Rich was linked to WikiLeaks. A Fox News report later came out claiming that Rich gave 44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments from the DNC to Gavin MacFadyen, the American journalist and WikiLeaks director who passed away in October.
4. The Rich-WikiLeaks story eventually unraveled upon further investigation. Wheeler eventually admitted to CNN that he didn’t have any evidence to corroborate his prior claim that Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks, as he said that he had heard it from the reporter who wrote the story on Fox News. Additionally, a current and former FBI official told NBC News that there were zero emails between Rich and WikiLeaks found on his laptop; in fact, the local D.C. police never gave it to the FBI.
The story unravels even further when taking into account reports that Wheeler was being paid by Ed Butowsky, a financial adviser who provides commentary to Fox News and Breitbart. Butowksy initially denied involvement to NBC News, but later admitted to CNN that he offered to pay the Rich family’s fees to investigate the murder of Seth Rich. Butowsky still claims that he has yet to pay anyone for it.
The notion that Rich handed over DNC files also doesn’t make any sense, as Los Angeles Times deputy editorial page editor Jon Healy wrote in an op-ed that all evidence points to the DNC being hacked by “an external intruder,” which would explain how WikiLeaks obtained their emails. This would contradict the conspiracy theories that Rich went rogue against his former employer.
5. The Rich family is pushing back. They released a statement that read, “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. Even if tomorrow, an email was found, it is not a high enough bar of evidence to prove any interactions as emails can be altered and we’ve seen that those interested in pushing conspiracies will stop at nothing to do so.”
The statement also noted that Wheeler “was barred from speaking to press or anyone outside of law enforcement or the family unless explicitly authorized by the family” under his contract. When CNN pointed this out to Wheeler, he simply stated he would have to discuss it with the Rich family.
The family’s spokesman, Brad Bauman, criticized Fox News for their report, telling CNN, “I think it’s important for everyone at Fox News to be careful with this information and how this story breaks because using the legacy of a murder victim in such an overtly political way is morally reprehensible.”
The Bloomingdale area that Rich had been walking in at the time of his murder had been terrorized by a recent string of armed robberies. In fact, [Daily Mail reporter Alana] Goodman found that Rich’s murder occurred at a street corner where two other robberies occurred. Goodman described the corner as “a desolate-looking residential block shielded by new construction sites and notably absent of surveillance cameras.”
The police have yet to find any leads on who murdered Rich.
7. In the end, the only thing that the new batch of conspiracy theories have accomplished is angering Rich’s family. The Washington Examiner‘s T. Becket Adams wrote in a column that the Fox reports were “a hot hunk of hokum” that “have done nothing to answer some of the conspiracies surrounding Rich’s unsolved murder.”
“They have, however, done a great job of infuriating the victim’s still-grieving family,” Adams added. “Great work all around, fellas.”
Indeed, in this era of hyper-partisan, tribalism politics, there has been a disturbing trend among some on the Right to quickly jump to conclusions and promulgate conspiracy theories just because they are harmful to the Clintons and the DNC. The definition of being a conservative rests on a focus on facts, not rampant speculation that supports one’s biases. Perpetuating ludicrous conspiracy theories like this latest Rich-WikiLeaks one are the antithesis of conservatism and hand the leftist media ammo to discredit the Right at large.
But more importantly, this conspiracy theory has only worsened the anguish of the Rich family during an extraordinarily difficult time for them, which is, as Bauman put it, “morally reprehensible.”