Fox News and Sean Hannity — Donald Trump’s most prominent media cheerleaders — are becoming increasingly desperate to push a right wing conspiracy theory into the spotlight as revelations surrounding Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey and his adminstration’s connections to Russia heat up.
Over the past week, Hannity has made the story of slain DNC staffer Seth Rich’s alleged connection to Wikileaks — a conspiracy fantasy that has been percolating in far-right online communities since July 2016 — the focal point of his show and a major talking point on social media. Hannity's interest in the tale seems to coincide with a story a Fox affiliate published on Monday, which claimed to contain revelations on the case... revelations which were immediately debunked.
The theory, for the uninitiated, goes something like this: DNC staffer Seth Rich, not the Russian government, was the source of the Clinton campaign emails published by WikiLeaks in 2016. While Rich was on his way to testify against Clinton to the FBI, he was mysteriously murdered — and the conspiracy implies he died at the hand of Democratic operatives. In reality, D.C. cops have repeatedly said Rich was most likely the victim of a robbery attempt gone wrong. Over time, the theory has been revealed to be wholly false, and had recently lost momentum even in conspiracy circles.
Hannity, however, is just getting started. The host has invited Kim Dotcom — a dubious figure who is well-known for making bombastic, conspiratorial claims that never manifest into anything — to appear on his show next week with evidence of Rich’s interactions with WikiLeaks. Dotcom strangely only started flogging the Seth Rich conspiracy theory this week, but now claims to not only have evidence that connects Rich to WikiLeaks, but says that he was personally involved in their interactions.
The Rich conspiracy, just like the Pizzagate affair, also extends to a Boston Bombing-like amateur manhunt on Reddit, with scores of forum-members scouring the internet to find their version of “the truth.”
Dotcom, who previously claimed — again without evidence — that the FBI deleted Hillary Clinton’s emails, has now suddenly decided to come forward with information about Rich’s death, saying that he personally knew Rich, that Rich was a MegaUpload user, and that the DNC staffer was in fact the WikiLeaks source.
The multimillionaire New Zealander who became famous after his mansion was raided amid a takedown of his filesharing company MegaUpload, frequently conjures obviously false conspiracy theories which he then pushes to his over half-million Twitter followers. Dotcom served up a “Clinton/Podesta sex gang” story the morning of the election, baselessly claimed the CIA spied on Donald Trump using Trump’s cellphone camera and microphone, and has previously promised political “bombshells” that never pan out. Now Dotcom says he has another bombshell, and the most watched Fox News host has publicly invited him to come on the show to spread it.
Hannity, who said this week that the Rich story “could become one of the biggest scandals in American history,” resurrected the story from the conspiracy graveyard the day after The Washington Post broke the news that Trump revealed classified information about an ISIS plot to Russian officials during their meeting in the Oval Office.
Hannity ramped up the theory, continuing to discuss it on his radio and TV show as Rich’s family begged him to stop. And as news broke that Trump asked former FBI director James Comey to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, Hannity doubled down on the claims, saying that he’s “not backing off.”
Seemingly desperate to shift the narrative away from the Trump news that’s been forcing Republicans to start the conversation about “impeachment,” Hannity seems to be reaching lower than usual, now clinging to a conspiracy theorist with baseless claims. Hannity — and Fox News, by proxy — will have more conspiratorial fuel for a desperate and transparent attempt to distract from damaging Trump news. And as the administration continues its public breakdown, there’s no sign that the right wing mouthpiece will let up on this counter-narrative, no matter how untrue it actually is.