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We don't even know where to start with the rabbit hole that journalist Michael Isikoff sent us down with his newly released investigation of the REAL origin of the Seth Rich murder conspiracy theory, except to say that it was the Russians. It was all the Russians. The big fake story Fox News breathlessly pushed, based on questionable sources, seems to have come from the Russians. The fake counter-narrative to the conclusion of all US intelligence agencies that the Russians had stolen and disseminated emails from the DNC and laundered them through their cut-outs at WikiLeaks -- namely that actually the emails were stolen by a supposedly disgruntled BernieBro DNC staffer and handed to WikiLeaks, an act for which we were supposed to believe Rich was murdered by Hillary Clinton's death squads -- it all came from the Russians. (Fun fact in Isikoff's reporting: Rich had never even suggested that he favored Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary. Another fun fact: Seth Rich's job at the DNC wouldn't have even given him access to the emails that were stolen. How odd!)

And the pain and anguish the Rich family has gone through -- the harassment, the death threats, all of it -- that came from Fox News, the worst, most glue-felching corners of the internet, and the Trump White House, but at its inception, it came from the Russians.


Isikoff does not bury the lede, as these are the first two paragraphs of his report, which is explored in further detail in the special Yahoo! News "Conspiracyland" podcast:

In the summer of 2016, Russian intelligence agents secretly planted a fake report claiming that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was gunned down by a squad of assassins working for Hillary Clinton, giving rise to a notorious conspiracy theory that captivated conservative activists and was later promoted from inside President Trump's White House, a Yahoo News investigation has found.

Russia's foreign intelligence service, known as the SVR, first circulated a phony "bulletin" — disguised to read as a real intelligence report —about the alleged murder of the former DNC staffer on July 13, 2016, according to the U.S. federal prosecutor who was in charge of the Rich case. That was just three days after Rich, 27, was killed in what police believed was a botched robbery while walking home to his group house in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C., about 30 blocks north of the Capitol.

How successful have Russia's active measures against the stupidest and most gullible of America's citizenry been? This successful.

We know a lot of things about the Seth Rich conspiracy theory at this point, much of it from the Mueller Report. We know Julian Assange actually got that treasure trove of DNC emails from Russian intelligence sources masquerading (poorly) as regular ole hackers days after Rich was murdered. We know Assange helped push the conspiracy theory anyway, coyly insinuating Rich was his real source and offering a reward for information on Rich's REAL killers, all while continuing to communicate with his real sources, which really makes it hard to believe that Assange didn't know exactly who he was working for. We know the conspiracy theory was shamelessly and breathlessly pushed by Sean Hannity (who has never apologized to Rich's family) and Newt Gingrich and Roger Stone (nope, no apologies there either) and so many other pro-Trump assholes, because for some reason, it's been very important to absolve Trump's masters in Russia of all guilt in ratfucking the election for him.

Also something something Clinton Body Count, because how else are you going to add "victims" to the Clinton Body Count if you don't make up victims for the Clinton Body Count? It is very hard work being a conspiracy-huffing Clinton-hating wingnut, but those guys are up to the task.

And apparently so is Russia, because the TOP SECRET BREAKING NEWS BULLETIN the SVR released just three days after the Rich murder featured pretty much the exact same details we'd all come to hear Hannity barking about each and every night.

The purported details in the SVR account seemed improbable on their face: that Rich, a data director in the DNC's voter protection division, was on his way to alert the FBI to corrupt dealings by Clinton when he was slain in the early hours of a Sunday morning by the former secretary of state's hit squad.

Yet in a graphic example of how fake news infects the internet, those precise details popped up the same day on an obscure website, whatdoesitmean.com, that is a frequent vehicle for Russian propaganda. The website's article, which attributed its claims to "Russian intelligence," was the first known instance of Rich's murder being publicly linked to a political conspiracy.

Much of Isikoff's reporting comes from the former assistant US attorney in charge of the Rich murder case, Deborah Sines, who is now speaking out about what the Russians were doing to try to fuck up her investigation. And, she says, they were partially successful:

Sines, the former prosecutor, said that the Russian conspiracy-mongering vastly complicated her efforts to solve the murder by forcing her and the Washington, D.C., police department to investigate a blizzard of false allegations in order to make sure there was nothing to any of them. "To waste your time investigating BS is just horrible," said Sines. [...]

"It appeared to me that it was a very clear campaign to deflect an ongoing federal criminal investigation," Sines said. "So then you have to look at why is Russia doing this? … It's not rocket science before you add it up and you go, 'Oh, if Seth is the leaker to WikiLeaks — [the DNC email leak] doesn't have anything to do with the Russians. So of course Russia's interest in doing this is incredibly transparent." The Russian strategy, Sines said, was diabolically simple: "Let's blame it on Seth Rich. He's a very convenient target."

Isikoff details how Russian state-owned media pushed the story like a common Fox News, and how Russia's army of online trolls amplified the story like a common outhouse full of Sean Hannity viewers pooping on each other and tweeting at the same time. And all this time, an actual grieving family was being dragged through the mud again and again, by a Fox News-Kremlin-Trumpfucker conspiracy to hide the actual conspiracy, which was that Russia had actively worked -- successfully! -- to steal an election and install a brainless puppet with tiny hands and the best words as the president of the United States.

"You're used, you're lied to, you're a pawn in your own son's death," said Mary Rich, Seth Rich's mother, who, along with her husband, Joel, was interviewed for the podcast. "I wish they had the chance to experience the hell we have gone through. Because this is worse than losing my son the first time. This is like losing him all over again."

What really comes through in Isikoff's report is just how coordinated all these smears were. For instance, Isikoff notes that a month after Rich's 2016 murder, the same day -- the same day! -- that Assange was just casually suggesting that maybe the murdered Seth Rich had been his real source, Roger Stone was also doing his part to spread the conspiracy:

Stone tweeted a picture of Rich, calling the late DNC staffer in a tweet "another dead body in the Clinton's wake." He then added: "Coincidence? I think not."

And the conspiracy theory even made it into the Trump White House, which is odd, since that's usually such a fact-heavy zone:

"Huge story … he was a Bernie guy … it was a contract kill, obviously," then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon texted to a CBS "60 Minutes" producer about Rich on March 17, 2017, according to some of Bannon's text messages that were reviewed by Yahoo News.

A contract kill. By Hillary Clinton, obviously. Because she is the president of the Clinton Body Count. HUGE STORY!!1!

Two months later, in May 2017 came the big Fox News story claiming a secret "federal investigator" had the smoking laptop that proved that Seth Rich was in cahoots with WikiLeaks the whole time, even after he was dead probably. (There was another "source" for the story too, a weirdo "private investigator" named Rod Wheeler who pretty obviously pulled the whole thing out of his ass.) As Isikoff reminds us, Sean Hannity did that weird interpretive dance jerk-off thing he does all week long, saying the story could "expose the single biggest fraud, lies, perpetrated on the American people by the media and the Democrats in our history." Newly hired Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow even came on the show to lend Hannity a helping hand!

Media Matters has exhaustively reported on the fall-out from that story (which was almost immediate, it was such a fucking joke), but Isikoff adds some new details, first from the former prosecutor Deborah Sines, who knew the Fox story was bullshit from day one:

[T]he Fox story was a "complete fabrication," said Sines, who consulted with the FBI about the Fox News claims. There was "no connection between Seth and WikiLeaks. And there was no evidence on his work computer of him downloading and disseminating things from the DNC."

Meanwhile, inside the Fox News offices, once it retracted the story and started its internal investigation into how things could have gone so terribly awry that they got a story this important wrong just this one time ever:

"Conspiracyland" quotes a source familiar with the network's investigation saying that Fox executives grew frustrated they were unable to determine the identity of the other, and more important, source for the story: an anonymous "federal investigator" whose agency was never revealed. The Fox editors came to have doubts that the person was in fact who he claimed to be or whether the person actually existed, said the source.

Cool.

Know how Donald Trump likes to say the "Fake News" makes up sources out of whole cloth? Sounds like he's right about that, accidentally!

It's hard to believe, but Wonkette has only just scratched the surface of Isikoff's reporting, so why don't you just listen to this here podcast and learn stuff about batshit conspiracy theories? Because if we have to go down the rabbit hole, so do you.

Episode 2: “The Russia connection":

Episode 2: “The Russia connection" aca.st

[Yahoo! News]

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Evan Hurst

Evan Hurst is the senior editor of Wonkette, which means he is the boss of you, unless you are Rebecca, who is boss of him. His dog Lula is judging you right now.

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