Media

Republican Conspiracy Theorizing About Seth Rich's Murder Stoops to a Grotesque New Low

A disgraceful report blames his death on the work of a hired killer. This is worse than fake news.

Photo Credit: Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Republican activists are again showing their bottomless capacity to turn personal tragedy into idiotic partisan attacks against Hillary Clinton by peddling a less-than-amateurish report to Washington, D.C. media that shamelessly suggests a young DNC worker murdered last summer was killed by an experienced killer. Its findings have since been reported by right-wing news sites such as WorldNetDaily and the Daily Caller.

The victim whose family is being dragged through the mud is Seth Rich, killed last summer in what police have said was a botched robbery attempt. The city police have not solved the crime, leading Republicans to speculate that somehow Rich was tied to the theft of Democratic National Committee emails that were released last summer by Wikileaks, which every federal intelligence agency has said was due to Russian-directed espionage.

Right-wing shouters like Fox News’ Sean Hannity have obsessed over the unsolved murder, taking advantage of the ambiguity left by D.C. police to try to solve the crime. But it’s not just Hannity who is part of this loathsome circle; Trump's endlessly slimy advisor Roger Stone has attacked Rich’s parents, saying they “should be charged with obstruction,” a deliberate use of the term Trump is likely guilty of in his efforts to stop the FBI investigation of his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The election is over, but the Hillary haters can’t wean themselves from that addiction, just as Trump’s spotlight-seeking minions have no shame in abusing a dead man and his family in their effort to deflect attention from Trump’s misdeeds as president and longstanding ties and fealty to Russia.

The latest twist in this unnecessarily abusive affair comes from George Washington University, where a cadre of graduate students funded by a Republican lobbyist are calling themselves the Profiling Project, and have decided to follow a police handbook for investigating murders and publish a report saying Rich wasn’t killed by amateurs.

As ABC’s Washington affiliate, WJLA-TV, reported, “The Profiling Project is funded by Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman who filed a lawsuit against D.C. Police demanding release of police records, including body cam and surveillance video, which isn't standard police policy in open homicide cases.” WJLA quotes Burkham as saying, “Every day we get closer to a conclusion, but we have a long way to go.”   

But these Republicans don’t want this fake news story to end. They have "a long way to go" because the police are still investigating and the report by the Profiling Project is as amateurish, inconclusive and idiotic as you might expect coming from a bunch of students who are playing police detective and producing propaganda. Their report is all innuendo, filled with questions that remain unanswered and theories that were probably hatched in midnight talks at bars. The report also has the audacity to say the D.C. police have not been cooperating by providing them the investigative materials they seek.

This would be a perfectly good exercise for a journalism 101 class to learn how police investigations work, in which case their immaturity and naivete could be forgiven. The students would surely be told by instructors that no police department will disclose any information or materials when there is an unsolved murder and an ongoing investigation. But this isn’t an academic exercise. Instead these far-right Republicans are abusing a grieving family and disregarding their torment to score political points.

The GWU students and the Republicans egging them on should pull out their dictionaries and look up the Latin phrase, res ipsa loquitur (“the thing speaks for itself”), the legal doctrine that describes behavior so obviously abhorrent that no further proof is needed.

WJLA contacted the Rich family spokesman, Brad Bauman, who said:

“The Rich family was not provided a copy of the preliminary report, never saw the report or was otherwise consulted in the preparation of the report. I received the report a half an hour before it was made public thus depriving myself, the family or the family's lawyers any reasonable time (to) review it. As noted, by the report's methodology, the 'Profiling Project' was given no special access to any materials, evidence or persons and due to case sensitivity, conducted only informal, limited interviews. Given that fact, the family hopes that the general public takes the findings at face value—valuable experience in research collection and report writing for students at George Washington University but in no way should take any findings contained within as new, credible or otherwise lending credence to conspiracy theories surround the circumstances of Seth’s death. We further hope that this doesn’t continue to impede the Metropolitan Police Department’s ability to find the killers and give folks who might have information to their arrest cover to stay silent.”

That’s right, the actions of these jerks—and that’s far too kind a word—might also be interfering with a police investigation. They have no shame. But when we are talking about the likes of Hannity and Stone, that’s not exactly breaking news.  

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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