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Reading the Far Right: 'Alternative Facts' on DNC Staffer's Death

Seth Rich
Seth Rich

Reading the fringe sources so you don't have to, we delve into the Seth Rich conspiracy theory and offer evidence that Martin Luther King was not a Republican.


The conspiracy-minded segment of the right has a new Vince Foster.

In case you don't remember -- or weren't born yet -- Foster was a longtime associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton who became deputy White House counsel when Bill became president. Then as now, there were many scandalous allegations swirling around the Clintons and their circle, mostly with little basis in fact. But the allegations were enough to send Foster into a depression so deep that he killed himself in 1993.

Many on the right promoted a theory that the Clintons had him killed because of well, something. Maybe he knew too many secrets. Maybe he was having an affair with Hillary. This theory has been roundly debunked, but a few true believers still cling to it.

Now the right-wing extremists who see the Clintons, and Democrats in general, as pretty much the devil incarnate, are seeing a conspiracy at work in the death of a young Democratic National Committee staffer named Seth Rich. Rich was shot to death last July in Washington, D.C., when he was about to take a job with Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. It appears that Rich was killed during a failed robbery attempt, according to police, who continue to investigate.

But for the past couple of weeks, the far-right news sources that we read so you don't have to have been full of allegations that something more dastardly was at work. World Net Daily and other fringe sites claim that Rich supplied DNC emails to Wikileaks and was killed because of that, likely at the behest of someone ranking high in the party.

"The unsolved case of Democratic National Committee data analyst Seth Rich's death shares some eerie similarities with many mysterious deaths of individuals linked to former President Bill Clinton and twice failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton," WND reported in an "exclusive" earlier this month. "Just as in the Rich case, several of the people who died mysterious deaths were shot spontaneously and in public places, sometimes from behind, sometimes by unknown assailants and often just before they were set to release incriminating evidence concerning the Clintons' activities."

No, there is no evidence tying the Clintons to any of these deaths, which include Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown's death in a plane crash, and but that isn't stopping WND. The site has also made far-fetched claims that a spokesman for the Rich family is being paid by the DNC and that no less than former DNC head Donna Brazile told a private eye to lay off his investigation of the case. WND got suspended from Twitter for 12 hours for the latter one. And there is also no evidence that Seth Rich was sharing emails with Wikileaks.

And the Fox News Channel and one of its star hosts, Sean Hannity -- both deeply conservative but usually not fringe -- are in trouble over promoting the Rich-Wikileaks theory. Fox last week had to retract a story on its website, written by Malia Zimmerman, that alleged Rich was a leaker, based on anonymous sourcing.

"The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting," said a statement issued by Fox News. "The article was found not to meet those standards, and has since been removed."

Hannity has been all over the theory himself, but the statement did not mention him, and he said on his radio show, "I retracted nothing." However, he announced later, on his TV program, that out of respect for Rich's family, he would cease discussing the matter "at this time," although he left the door open for addressing it at some point.

Rich's brother and his parents have pleaded with the conspiracy theorists to lay off. "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," his parents, Mary and Joel Rich, wrote in The Washington Post last week. "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."

Nonetheless, WND and others have continued to advance these theories. Even after the Riches' column appeared, it published an article on the "big names" who "smell a rat" in the Rich case, including right-wing commentators Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, and Pamela Geller, failed presidential candidate Herman Cain, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

And after liberal media watchdog group Media Matters and others called on advertisers to pull out of Hannity's Fox show, conservative media watchdog Brent Bozell denounced this as "part of the liberal strategy to re-establish their monopoly over television news," as Breitbart reported. Funny, we had no idea that such a monopoly ever existed.

It would be nice if the far right would leave Rich's family alone, but that doesn't seem likely. Maybe the fact that Donald Trump has become increasingly indefensible is what has led the extreme types to latch on to another way to demonize his opponents, even if they have to bring further grief to a bereaved family to do so.


Speaking of demonizing: Hillary Clinton's well-received commencement speech at her alma mater, Wellesley College, brought out some of the trolls who love to call her a "sore loser." As a matter of fact, that's exactly how Breitbart contributor Joel B. Pollak described her.

He also accused her of presenting "alternative facts" when she called Trump's proposed budget, full of cuts to social programs, "an attack of unimaginable cruelty on the most vulnerable among us." Actually, that sounds like real facts.

He went on to describe her address as "a petty, petulant performance," adding: "In a bitterly divisive speech, she accused Trump of fomenting division." We'll just leave our readers to decide who the divisive one is.

And some right-wingers, finding little else good to say about Trump with a straight face, are falling back on the "at least he's not Clinton" trope. Here's a sample from Townhall columnist Kurt Schlicter: "He has done an incredible job of doing exactly what I had hoped he would do in the off chance he defeated that naggy harridan and her corps of gender indeterminate hipsters, coastal snobs, race hustlers, aspiring libfascists, media scum, and wussy pseudo-conservatives terrified that a Hillary loss would mean people might expect them to do more than wear bow ties and go on NPR to prattle about Burke in their high-pitched, nasal voices. There can be no serious debate. Donald Trump has done a truly outstanding job of not being Hillary Clinton." Well, conversely, she would certainly do an outstanding job of not being Donald Trump. And much, much more besides that.


And in the realm of alternative facts, WND founder Joseph Farah presented some real whoppers in a column over the weekend. He posited that Democrats want statues of Confederate leaders removed from public places because these leaders were almost all Democrats.

They were largely Democrats, that's true -- but the party has changed a great deal in 150-plus years. Once the party of slavery and segregation, it discarded those stances and took up civil rights and racial equality in the 20th century, under presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson, who famously said when he signed civil rights legislation that the party had lost the South. And yes, many Republicans, whose party was once, after all, the party of Lincoln and emancipation, supported Johnson's civil rights moves, and some Democrats opposed them -- the parties were a mixed bag in the 1960s.

But, according to Farah, the Democratic Party is still racist, and Johnson's antipoverty programs provide the evidence. "It was President Lyndon Baines Johnson who got the idea of the Democrat Party becoming the 'champion' of black Americans by enticing them into dependency through welfare-style programs," he wrote.

As offensive and ahistorical as that statement is, there's more. "This is why the late Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican," Farah asserted. "He understood the history. He recognized who represented political allies and political foes."

That assertion has been made before -- and thoroughly debunked. King was not a member of either major party, and he was skeptical of both. He praised them when they supported the civil rights cause and pushed back when they didn't. ThinkProgress did a comprehensive piece back in 2013 on King's relationship to party politics, quoting such sources as King's son Martin Luther King III and Pulitzer Prize-winning King biographer David Garrow. And this from King himself, on the Republican convention that nominated Barry Goldwater for president in 1964:

"The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism. All people of goodwill viewed with alarm and concern the frenzied wedding at the Cow Palace of the KKK with the radical right. The 'best man' at this ceremony was a senator whose voting record, philosophy, and program were anathema to all the hard-won achievements of the past decade. ... While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulated a philosophy which gave aid and comfort to the racist." King also called on "every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that did not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy."

So Farah would get multiple Pinocchios or a "pants on fire" rating from fact-checking sites for that statement.

We'll continue to monitor the "alternative facts" and extreme opinions put out by the far right, so you don't have to. Check back next week for more.

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.
Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.