Private investigator Rod Wheeler claims murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich had multiple contacts with WikiLeaks before his death. Courtesy: FOX News
ON ONE side sits the grieving parents of a murdered 27-year-old who want closure and peace. On the other side sits two high profile enemies of the US government, a rogue Fox News anchor and an army of online conspiracy theorists who just won’t go away.
The latter believe that Seth Rich, a former Democratic National Convention staffer in the US, was killed in a cover-up because he leaked damaging information about the DNC fixing the party’s presidential nomination in favour of Hillary Clinton.
US intelligence agencies have accused Russian operatives of hacking the DNC and of being the source of the leaks.
But those who refuse to believe the evidence and promote the conspiracy theory are hellbent on engaging in what’s been described as a full scale proxy war over the reputation of US president Donald Trump.
And Seth Rich’s parent are sadly caught in the crossfire.
Considered by US officials as a tool of Russian intelligence, Wikileaks added fuel to the fire by previously offering a $20,000 reward to find Seth Rich’s killer. Meanwhile, Australian born Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has continued to strongly hint that the 27-year-old — who was shot in the back walking home in an apparent botched robbery in July last year — was the source of the material.
This week he was joined by German born internet mogul and embattled founder of Megaupload Kim Dotcom who is currently fighting the FBI from his mansion in New Zealand.
“I know that Seth rich was involved in the DNC leak,” he posted in an online statement on Wednesday.
“I know this because in late 2014 a person contacted me about helping me to start a branch of the Internet Party in the United States. He called himself Panda. I now know that Panda was Seth Rich.”
— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) May 23, 2017
Internet sleuths have previously uncovered what appeared to be Mr Rich’s social media accounts, including the Twitter handle, “@panda4progress”.
It certainly doesn’t help their credibility that both Julian Assange and Kim Dotcom are locked in a bitter and protracted legal battle with the US government and have been staunch opponents of the previous Democratic administration.
Media outlets in the US have slammed the pair for promoting the right-wing conspiracy and are decrying the era of so-called fake news which has allowed it to persist for nearly a year.
A report published last week by Fox News which claimed a private investigator had discovered a link between Seth Rich and Wikileaks was quickly proved to be false. The outlet retracted the story on Tuesday night but said it would continue to investigate Mr Rich’s death.
“The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting,” the network said in a statement.
“Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed.”
However despite fierce criticism Fox News anchor Sean Hannity has been unrelenting in his quest to investigate the story and prop up those peddling the conspiracy of a cover-up.
But late Wednesday morning AEST he went to air saying he would back off and stop reporting on the conspiracy.
“Out of respect for the family’s wishes, for now, I am not discussing the matter at this time,” Mr Hannity said.
Ok TO BE CLEAR, I am closer to the TRUTH than ever. Not only am I not stopping, I am working harder. Updates when available. Stay tuned!
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) May 24, 2017
Online — where the conspiracy flourished — the battle has devolved into warring factions dominated by amateur internet sleuths who have been spurred on by seemingly curious instances such as the scrubbing of reddit comments made by Mr Rich and a deleted tweet by former DNC director of data science Andrew Therriault, which appeared to posthumously mock Mr Rich.
But the parents of Seth Rich have been caught in the middle and desperately want it all to stop.
Mary and Joel Rich wrote a deeply emotional piece published by The Washington Post (hours before Sean Hannity went to air) pleading with people to stop politicising their son’s murder.
“Imagine living in a nightmare that you can never wake up from. Imagine having to face every single day knowing that your son was murdered. Imagine you have no answers — that no one has been brought to justice and there are few clues leading to the killer or killers,” they wrote.
“Imagine that every single day, with every phone call you hope that it’s the police, calling to tell you that there has been a break in the case.
“Imagine that instead, every call that comes in is a reporter asking what you think of a series of lies or conspiracies about the death. That nightmare is what our family goes through every day.”
The thing about conspiracy theories is they lack evidence, otherwise they’d go by a different name.
Police have described the unsolved killing as a botched robbery attempt and to date there has been no evidence to the contrary — a fact Mr Rich’s parents wished carried more weight.
“We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth’s murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics. Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying,” they wrote.