One of the uglier sideshows this news cycle has been the conspiracy theory surrounding Seth Rich, a DNC staffer tragically murdered this summer. The family has begged outlets like Fox News to stop giving the theory, which has no supporting evidence, air time, and they’ve largely if begrudgingly complied. But how it got started in the first place seems to have ties to a White House official, specifically Steve Bannon.
The conspiracy, in brief, is this: Rich was the “true” source of the DNC email leaks last summer that were provided to Wikileaks, not Russian intelligence. Rich was supposedly killed for this, and the belief is that Russian intelligence has been elaborately framed for the leaks. This has been thoroughly disproven; Rich was likely the victim of a robbery gone wrong.
Buzzfeed tracked down Ed Butowsky, the man who privately funded an investigation into Rich’s case without the family’s consent, and found Butowsky has connects to both Bannon, currently the White House’s chief strategist, and Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who have vague but important roles in the background of the Trump administration. Rebekah had the job of filling the many, many smaller roles in the Trump administration, for example, and Robert, her father, was one of Trump’s top campaign contributors.
They’re connected to Butowsky through a group called Reclaim New York, where Bannon and the Mercers are both involved, and which Butowsky, a Dallas-area wealth manager, claimed to be on the board of. When contacted by Buzzfeed, all involved disclaimed any real connection. Butowsky claims to be a friend, but not “close,” to Bannon, while Reclaim New York claims Butowsky was never on the board.
However, Butowsky has written for Bannon’s right-wing media site Breitbart, was interviewed by Bannon for Breitbart’s radio arm in 2015, and in March posted a photo of himself in the White House Briefing Room to Facebook, although Butowsky, when questioned, stated he didn’t speak to any indviduals. Of interest is that Thomas Basile, a former New York State politician who left Albany in 2011 for a job as a Brietbart contributor and author of several pro-Trump op-eds for Forbes, is a key executive.
Butowsky, of course, could simply have stumbled over the story on a message board; the debunked theory flowed from pro-Trump message boards to Russian state-run media to right-wing pundits like Sean Hannity. No matter how it spread, though, it’s gotten progressively more out of control. The Washington Post has reported today that Rich’s email received a contact from Mega.com, a website run by Kim Dotcom, who has been Sean Hannity’s sole ally in pursuing this theory:
According to experts and Rich’s family, the emailed invitation from firstname.lastname@example.org appeared to be an attempt to gain access to Rich’s email. Joel Rich, who maintains his late son’s Gmail account, did not click the link. Meanwhile, Dotcom was promising on Twitter to prove that the younger Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks — and Fox News host Sean Hannity was telling his 2.37 million Twitter followers to be ready for a revelation.