The alt-right unearths an ugly conspiracy theory to distract from Trump’s Russia meltdown
Die-hard Donald Trump supporters are facing a choice — start acknowledging that their messiah might not be all that great or go deeper down the rabbit hole of Trumpkin insanity.
Rabbit hole it is.
Conservative media and pro-Trump zealots have begun flooding the internet with a conspiracy theory tied to the July 2016 murder of a Democratic National Committee staffer — just hours after the Washington Post broke the news that Trump had divulged classified intelligence to Russian representatives.
By Tuesday morning, the theory was trending on Twitter and dominated most conservative websites and message boards. The story topped Breitbart and Drudge Report at various times and has completely dominated the front page of /r/The_Donald, a subreddit of particularly faithful Trump supporters.
The theory centers around Seth Rich, a DNC staffer who was murdered in Washington, D.C. His case remains unsolved, and was seized on by online conspiracy theorists who linked the death to Hillary Clinton with, of course, no evidence. One theory that began to gain traction claimed that Rich had been leaking DNC documents to Wikileaks — something Wikileaks propped up by offering a $20,000 reward for information about Rich’s death. Wikileaks later clarified that it did not mean to imply Rich had been a source.
Police and the victim’s family have asked for the conspiracy theories to stop.
Meanwhile, police and Rich’s family have asked for these theories to stop. Snopes has a good in-depth write up of the theory’s history and why it is easily debunked.
After the initial burst of theories, Rich’s murder floated around the alt-right world for some time until Monday evening. A local Fox affiliate in Washington, D.C., reported that a private investigator (not mentioned in that report — the investigator is also a Fox News contributor) claimed Rich’s laptop held evidence of his contact with Wikileaks. Fox News also reported a similar story on Tuesday morning citing a “federal investigator.”
Rich’s family again rejected the story in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
That was enough to kickstart a groundswell of action from Trump supporters — who just so happened to have found a story to distract from the Post‘s Trump reporting. The few that did want to acknowledge that issue had a ready retort — the classified intel story was a plant in an effort to hide the update to the Rich story.
The reaction is particularly telling compared to the firing of James Comey. That news was not ignored by die-hard Trump supporters. It was cheered, and cheered loudly. Trump was draining the swamp and pissing off Democrats along the way. That’s the guy they voted for.
Giving secrets to the Russians during a photo op in the Oval Office? Not as much. That’s not the guy they voted for, and they had to figure out how to justify it. They can shout “fake news,” for sure. It’s even better to concoct something else entirely.
And yet even the Seth Rich story is hard to square.
If there was any doubt about how far down their own rabbit hole Trumpkins would be willing to go, Tuesday morning eliminated it. With the president facing a serious crisis over his handling of classified information, the collective decision among conservatives was to retreat to one of its most twisted and paranoid conspiracies. This beyond a denial of reality; it is an outright disassociation with it by the most vocal people in Trump’s base.
And the little reality that does make its way in is instantly met with a clear assumption — it is in fact just part of the conspiracy. In this moment, as I look at /r/The_Donald, things are entirely flipped.
The conspiracy is the reality; the small does of reality is the conspiracy.
Not a good sign.