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Why Seth Rich Conspiracy Theories Were Useful to a Variety of Terrible People

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Anna Merlan has an op-ed adding some valuable context to the Seth Rich Conspiracy Factory, including the prominent role of everyone’s favorite pro-Trump libertarian ratfucker:

But the Rich theories wouldn’t have gone beyond WhatDoesItMean.com and Reddit without the help of prominent backers. In August, Julian Assange insinuated that Mr. Rich could have been the source of the D.N.C. emails put out by WikiLeaks and offered a $20,000 reward for information on Mr. Rich’s death, despite the fact that a hacking persona going by Guccifer 2.0 claimed responsibility. Mr. Assange says that WikiLeaks doesn’t reveal its sources, but if Mr. Rich leaked the emails, he would be able to distance himself from accusations that he’d acted as a funnel for a Russian intelligence operation.

This is how the modern conspiracy ecosystem works. Theories are hijacked by the self-interested. Mr. Assange was trying to protect his reputation. For others, the motive is financial. Alex Jones, the founder of Infowars, claims fluoride is put in the water supply to control people — and then sells a Fluoride Shield supplement. Often the motives are partisan: Both Pizzagate and Spirit Cooking — wild theories that accused Democratic insiders of engaging in satanic rituals and child sex abuse — were shared by right-wing outlets like Drudge Report and The Washington Times to discredit Democrats.

Mr. Assange’s insinuations broke a dam: Before long, private “investigators” emerged, offering their dubious help to the Rich family. A Republican lobbyist named Jack Burkman offered more reward money, walking through Washington neighborhoods with posters reading, “Do you know who murdered Seth Rich?”

That pattern of attention-seekers attaching themselves to the case repeated itself again and again. Robbin Young, a former Playboy model who’s claimed to be in contact with Guccifer 2.0, has implied that she fears being killed as a result of her own “investigating.” Mike Cernovich, a far-right blogger, has also gotten involved. Even the Russian embassy in London tweeted “#WikiLeaks informer Seth Rich murdered in US but MSM was so busy accusing Russian hackers to take notice.”

The biggest fish in this foul pond, though, is Sean Hannity of Fox News, who recently latched onto the Rich story, promoting it on his popular prime-time show and on social media. Mr. Hannity, a fierce Trump partisan, seemed aware that his speculation about Mr. Rich’s death could deflect attention away from the multitude of disasters dogging the White House and at his own scandal-plagued network. And he surely knew that the story would play well with his audience, which was eager to see the news about the Trump team’s Russia connections as a mainstream media smoke screen and Mr. Rich’s murder as the real fire.

I’m looking forward to Merlan’s book on the subject — understanding what conspiracy theories gain traction and why seems pretty critical to understanding the 2016 election.

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