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Tech Is Killing Off America's Independent Pizzerias, Says Industry Report

Tech Is Killing Off America's Independent Pizzerias, Says Industry Report

According to a new study conducted by restaurant industry consultant Aaron Allen & Associates, independent pizzerias have lost 21 percent of their market share to pizza chains (companies with 10 or more locations). In the past decade, about 7,800 independent pizzerias have closed—with over 2,500 folding last year alone.

Chains like Domino’s, combined with the proliferation of ordering platforms like UberEats, Caviar, Seamless and more, have been able to take more slices of the proverbial pie by making it easier than ever to connect people with their food. And restaurants that fail to adapt new technology are losing out in a big way.

In the U.S., there are about 75,000 pizza joints, which account for 7.5 percent of all restaurants. Most pizza restaurants faced declining revenues last year but chain pizza brands saw a 3.38 percent increase in sales in 2015. Domino’s saw a 9 percent increase while Papa John’s saw its revenues increase over 7 percent.

Independent pizza companies faced a 5 percent average decrease in sales.

Americans still love pizza—ordering roughly $38.5 billion worth of pies in 2015. But they also love convenience, according to the firm’s report which argues that larger chains' ability to quickly adapt new technology-- and spend more money on marketing campaigns-- has saved them from going potentially going under.

The country’s three biggest pizza chains (Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Little Cesar’s respectively) processed almost 15 percent of all of the pizza industry revenue via their digital platforms. And that figure is only growing.

Six years ago, pizza places processed 1.39 billion delivery orders over the phone. Last year, that figure was down to 1.02 billion—a 27 percent decrease in five years. In the same time period, online orders grew from 403 million to 904 million – a whopping 124 percent growth.

Aaron Allen found that while 51 percent of all mobile searches on Google are for restaurants, by some estimates as many as 95 percent of independent restaurants do not have mobile-optimized websites.

This means that you could be just a few blocks from a great small-time pizza joint but a chain location further away could trump your search if you’re looking on a phone. And it’s even more unlikely that the independent restaurant has its own ordering app.

The growth of new digital food ordering services like UberEats, Caviar, Postmates and DoorDash could spell more bad news for smaller chains. In 2014, they collectively reported $400 million in revenue but that figure is expected to jump to $1.6 billion by the end of this year.

The future may be bleak for small pizza joints unwilling to adopt digital, social and mobile technologies to reach customers.

But if you really want to save your favorite small-time pizza spot in the meantime, think twice before swiping a few times and just pick up the phone to place an order.

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How Seth Rich’s death became an Internet conspiracy theory

Two weeks before the Democratic National Convention in July, Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was shot and killed in his Washington neighborhood. His family and Metropolitan D.C. police have said his death was the result of a botched robbery. But conspiracy theories have circulated in right-wing and conservative social and news media spheres fueling unsubstantiated rumors that Rich's killing was political in nature.

Ten months later, the unsolved homicide and the conspiracy theories attached to it reached their biggest audience yet when they aired on Fox News, bringing fringe speculation about Rich&rsquos death into the mainstream.

Here&rsquos how the rumors took off.

Seth Rich is killed

Before dawn, 27-year-old Rich spoke to his girlfriend, Kelsey Mulka, over the phone as he walked home from a bar. Just days before, Hillary Clinton &rsquos campaign had offered him a new job that would bring him to New York.

As the couple talked, Mulka heard voices on the other end. Rich abruptly ended the call.

There had been a rise in street robberies that summer in the northwest D.C. neighborhood of Bloomingdale. Some blamed a lack of lighting surrounding a vast construction project that had turned much of the area into a dark maze. Residents were troubled.

When police got to the scene, they found Rich had been shot multiple times, and his credit cards, wallet and watch were still on him. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Police ruled his death a homicide &mdash an attempted robbery turned deadly.

"There had been a struggle. His hands were bruised, his knees are bruised, his face is bruised, and yet he had two shots to his back, and yet they never took anything," Rich's mother, Mary, told NBC shortly after his death.

With no suspects or witnesses to the crime, it remained one of 65 unsolved cases in the District of Columbia that year.

Julian Assange fuels conspiracy rumors

&ldquoOur sources take risks,&rdquo WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in an interview with a Dutch television program, just after addressing Rich&rsquos murder.

When asked if he was implying that Rich was a source for WikiLeaks, which on July 22 released thousands of emails from DNC accounts &mdash centering around Clinton, her campaign and the DNC's treatment of Sen. Bernie Sanders &mdash Assange cryptically responded.

&ldquoWe don&rsquot comment on our sources,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe have to understand how high the stakes are on the case.&rdquo

The comments fueled a growing conspiracy theory on Twitter, and later on message boards Reddit and 4chan that Rich&rsquos death was connected to the DNC. Despite police statements and Rich&rsquos family concluding that his death was the result of an attempted robbery, the rumor spread within the same circles that churned out the bogus &ldquoPizzaGate&rdquo story &mdash a theory that a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor was at the center of a child sex-trafficking operation that involved Hillary Clinton&rsquos campaign manager, John Podesta .

WikiLeaks has stated that it doesn&rsquot confirm or deny whether any person has ever been a source as a matter of policy.

But the site has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in Rich&rsquos slaying.

Republican lobbyist offers his assistance to Rich family

After police came up empty-handed in solving Rich&rsquos case, Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman offered his public relations services, pro bono, to Rich&rsquos family. He increased the reward for information to $130,000 and plastered posters throughout the Bloomingdale neighborhood and its surrounding areas that asked &ldquoDo you know who murdered Seth Rich?&rdquo

In late November, he held a joint news conference with Rich&rsquos family.

&ldquoNone of us can solve this. Only you can solve this,&rdquo Burkman said. &ldquoIt&rsquos only through the media that this can be solved.&rdquo

When asked to address the conspiracy theories about Rich&rsquos slaying, it was clear that Burkman and the Rich family were on different pages.

&ldquoThere is no politicization here. There are no ulterior motives here. There is no conspiracy theory here. This is a genuine attempt to get to the facts of the case,&rdquo Brad Bauman, a spokesperson from the family, said.

&ldquoI don&rsquot believe there&rsquos much evidence of a robbery.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father, Joel, interjected.

&ldquoThere are signs of a struggle,&rdquo he said. &ldquoThere&rsquos no other evidence to show anything else.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father tries to quell conspiracy theories

Six months after his son&rsquos death, Joel Rich tried to dispel the rumors that followed Assange&rsquos statements.

&ldquoAnyone who knew Seth knew that wasn&rsquot the way he would have handled the problem," he told Fox News. "He would not go outside the system.&rdquo

Rich continued to reiterate what police and his family had said before, that his son was in the &ldquowrong place at the wrong time.&rdquo

&ldquoThere are all kinds of scenarios, but until something else is proven, these are just scenarios,&rdquo he said.

Burkman pushes another conspiracy theory

Conspiracists theorized that the Clinton campaign and the DNC were connected to Rich&rsquos slaying. Burkman didn&rsquot believe that the Clinton campaign was involved in Rich&rsquos death. But he did think someone, beyond random robbers, was behind it.

During an interview with the local Fox News affiliate, Burkman said he was approached by a man he believed to be &ldquothe first credible lead&rdquo in the case.

&ldquoSeth discovered that the Russians had been hacking [the DNC], and therefore the Russian government did away with Seth,&rdquo Burkman theorized.

Meanwhile, the Rich family distanced themselves from the lobbyist&rsquos statements. Rich&rsquos brother Aaron set up a GoFundMe page in an attempt to raise money for the investigation into Rich&rsquos slaying, seemingly separate from Burkman&rsquos initial funds.

Mass media publications, retractions

On May 15, Fox 5 DC &ndash the local Fox News affiliate &ndash aired a story that cited Rod Wheeler &mdash a man claiming to be a private investigator in Rich&rsquos death. Wheeler said he had evidence that Rich&rsquos slaying was connected to the DNC. Fox 5 DC said it corroborated the claims with an unnamed &ldquofederal investigator&rdquo who said an FBI analysis of Rich&rsquos computer showed he had transferred more than 44,000 DNC emails to someone connected with WikiLeaks.

The national Fox News website prominently featured the local report, and Sean Hannity gave the story attention on his show that same night.

But a law enforcement official said the FBI wasn&rsquot involved in Rich&rsquos case, and Wheeler walked back his claims.

The Rich family called for Fox, both local and national, to retract the stories. Though the local affiliate did so two days after the story aired, the national news network waited one week, until Tuesday.

By then, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had already discussed the unsubstantiated claim on &ldquoFox and Friends,&rdquo citing it is as proof that Russia was not involved in the DNC email leak.

&ldquoWe have this very strange story now of this young man who worked for the Democratic National Committee, who apparently was assassinated at four in the morning, having given WikiLeaks something like 23,000 &mdash I&rsquom sorry, 53,000 emails and 17,000 attachments. Nobody is investigating that. What does that tell you about what was going on? Because it turns out, it wasn&rsquot the Russians. It was this young guy,&rdquo he said.

And Hannity refused to stand down.

&ldquoI am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com. I retracted nothing,&rdquo he said on his nationally syndicated radio program Tuesday.

Hannity refuses to back down

Hannity insisted there was more to Rich&rsquos death, despite his network pulling its initial report. He continued to cite tweets made by Kim Dotcom , the founder of the piracy website Megaupload, who has claimed that Rich passed DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

&ldquoI knew Seth Rich. I know he was the @WikiLeaks source. I was involved,&rdquo Dotcom tweeted on Saturday.

Dotcom issued a statement on his website Tuesday elaborating on his claims, saying that in 2014, he was contacted by an individual going by the name &ldquoPanda&rdquo who said he was working on voter analytics tools and other technologies that would be useful in starting a branch of the Internet Party in the U.S.

&ldquoI now know that Panda was Seth Rich,&rdquo said Dotcom. He added that he communicated with Panda on a number of topics including corruption and the influence of corporate money in politics.

Dotcom said he believes a full statement &ldquoshould be provided to the authorities and I am prepared to do that so that there can be a full investigation.&rdquo

Hannity &mdash a Trump booster and quasi-advisor during his presidential campaign &mdash has also been a longtime critic of the media&rsquos coverage of Russia&rsquos possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Like Gingrich, he implied that Rich&rsquos death is bigger than that issue, which has dogged Trump&rsquos young presidency.

&ldquoThis issue, it&rsquos so big now that the entire Russia collusion narrative is hanging by a thread,&rdquo he said on his radio show.

&ldquoIf in fact, take Seth out of it, there was a whistleblower within the DNC, a truth-teller that actually [was] the source for WikiLeaks, and not Russia, working with the Trump campaign, these are questions that I have a moral obligation to ask. And I will do the mainstream media&rsquos job, like I have most of my career.&rdquo

Rich family calls for end to conspiracy theories

As Hannity tweeted out conspiracy allegations surrounding Rich&rsquos death and stood by his assertions on radio and T.V. broadcasts on Tuesday, Rich&rsquos parents penned a Washington Post op-ed titled &ldquoWe&rsquore Seth Rich&rsquos parents. Stop politicizing our son&rsquos murder.&rdquo

In it, they addressed the unknown factors surrounding their son&rsquos death.

&ldquoThe circumstances of what happened next are still unclear. We know that Seth was abruptly confronted on the street, that he had been on the phone and quickly ended the call. We also know that there were signs of a struggle, including a watchband torn when the assailants attempted to rip it off his wrist. Law-enforcement officials told us that Seth&rsquos murder looked like a botched robbery attempt in which the assailants &mdash after shooting our son &mdash panicked, immediately ran and abandoned Seth&rsquos personal belongings. We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth&rsquos murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics. Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying.&rdquo

They pleaded with media and online commentators to stop fueling conspiracy claims.

&ldquoConservative news outlets and commentators continue, day after painful day, to peddle discredited conspiracy theories that Seth was killed after having provided WikiLeaks with emails from the DNC. Those theories, which some reporters have since retracted, are baseless, and they are unspeakably cruel,&rdquo the wrote.

On his show Tuesday night, Hannity said he would respect the Rich family&rsquos wishes and refrain from discussing the case, with the caveat, &ldquofor now.&rdquo

But he doubled down on his belief that there&rsquos more to Rich&rsquos death than what police, and Rich&rsquos family, have already said.

&ldquoI promise you I am not going to stop doing my job. I am not going to stop trying to find the truth.&rdquo

Support our journalism

Already a subscriber? Thank you for your support. If you are not, please consider subscribing today. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.


How Seth Rich’s death became an Internet conspiracy theory

Two weeks before the Democratic National Convention in July, Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was shot and killed in his Washington neighborhood. His family and Metropolitan D.C. police have said his death was the result of a botched robbery. But conspiracy theories have circulated in right-wing and conservative social and news media spheres fueling unsubstantiated rumors that Rich's killing was political in nature.

Ten months later, the unsolved homicide and the conspiracy theories attached to it reached their biggest audience yet when they aired on Fox News, bringing fringe speculation about Rich&rsquos death into the mainstream.

Here&rsquos how the rumors took off.

Seth Rich is killed

Before dawn, 27-year-old Rich spoke to his girlfriend, Kelsey Mulka, over the phone as he walked home from a bar. Just days before, Hillary Clinton &rsquos campaign had offered him a new job that would bring him to New York.

As the couple talked, Mulka heard voices on the other end. Rich abruptly ended the call.

There had been a rise in street robberies that summer in the northwest D.C. neighborhood of Bloomingdale. Some blamed a lack of lighting surrounding a vast construction project that had turned much of the area into a dark maze. Residents were troubled.

When police got to the scene, they found Rich had been shot multiple times, and his credit cards, wallet and watch were still on him. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Police ruled his death a homicide &mdash an attempted robbery turned deadly.

"There had been a struggle. His hands were bruised, his knees are bruised, his face is bruised, and yet he had two shots to his back, and yet they never took anything," Rich's mother, Mary, told NBC shortly after his death.

With no suspects or witnesses to the crime, it remained one of 65 unsolved cases in the District of Columbia that year.

Julian Assange fuels conspiracy rumors

&ldquoOur sources take risks,&rdquo WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in an interview with a Dutch television program, just after addressing Rich&rsquos murder.

When asked if he was implying that Rich was a source for WikiLeaks, which on July 22 released thousands of emails from DNC accounts &mdash centering around Clinton, her campaign and the DNC's treatment of Sen. Bernie Sanders &mdash Assange cryptically responded.

&ldquoWe don&rsquot comment on our sources,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe have to understand how high the stakes are on the case.&rdquo

The comments fueled a growing conspiracy theory on Twitter, and later on message boards Reddit and 4chan that Rich&rsquos death was connected to the DNC. Despite police statements and Rich&rsquos family concluding that his death was the result of an attempted robbery, the rumor spread within the same circles that churned out the bogus &ldquoPizzaGate&rdquo story &mdash a theory that a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor was at the center of a child sex-trafficking operation that involved Hillary Clinton&rsquos campaign manager, John Podesta .

WikiLeaks has stated that it doesn&rsquot confirm or deny whether any person has ever been a source as a matter of policy.

But the site has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in Rich&rsquos slaying.

Republican lobbyist offers his assistance to Rich family

After police came up empty-handed in solving Rich&rsquos case, Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman offered his public relations services, pro bono, to Rich&rsquos family. He increased the reward for information to $130,000 and plastered posters throughout the Bloomingdale neighborhood and its surrounding areas that asked &ldquoDo you know who murdered Seth Rich?&rdquo

In late November, he held a joint news conference with Rich&rsquos family.

&ldquoNone of us can solve this. Only you can solve this,&rdquo Burkman said. &ldquoIt&rsquos only through the media that this can be solved.&rdquo

When asked to address the conspiracy theories about Rich&rsquos slaying, it was clear that Burkman and the Rich family were on different pages.

&ldquoThere is no politicization here. There are no ulterior motives here. There is no conspiracy theory here. This is a genuine attempt to get to the facts of the case,&rdquo Brad Bauman, a spokesperson from the family, said.

&ldquoI don&rsquot believe there&rsquos much evidence of a robbery.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father, Joel, interjected.

&ldquoThere are signs of a struggle,&rdquo he said. &ldquoThere&rsquos no other evidence to show anything else.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father tries to quell conspiracy theories

Six months after his son&rsquos death, Joel Rich tried to dispel the rumors that followed Assange&rsquos statements.

&ldquoAnyone who knew Seth knew that wasn&rsquot the way he would have handled the problem," he told Fox News. "He would not go outside the system.&rdquo

Rich continued to reiterate what police and his family had said before, that his son was in the &ldquowrong place at the wrong time.&rdquo

&ldquoThere are all kinds of scenarios, but until something else is proven, these are just scenarios,&rdquo he said.

Burkman pushes another conspiracy theory

Conspiracists theorized that the Clinton campaign and the DNC were connected to Rich&rsquos slaying. Burkman didn&rsquot believe that the Clinton campaign was involved in Rich&rsquos death. But he did think someone, beyond random robbers, was behind it.

During an interview with the local Fox News affiliate, Burkman said he was approached by a man he believed to be &ldquothe first credible lead&rdquo in the case.

&ldquoSeth discovered that the Russians had been hacking [the DNC], and therefore the Russian government did away with Seth,&rdquo Burkman theorized.

Meanwhile, the Rich family distanced themselves from the lobbyist&rsquos statements. Rich&rsquos brother Aaron set up a GoFundMe page in an attempt to raise money for the investigation into Rich&rsquos slaying, seemingly separate from Burkman&rsquos initial funds.

Mass media publications, retractions

On May 15, Fox 5 DC &ndash the local Fox News affiliate &ndash aired a story that cited Rod Wheeler &mdash a man claiming to be a private investigator in Rich&rsquos death. Wheeler said he had evidence that Rich&rsquos slaying was connected to the DNC. Fox 5 DC said it corroborated the claims with an unnamed &ldquofederal investigator&rdquo who said an FBI analysis of Rich&rsquos computer showed he had transferred more than 44,000 DNC emails to someone connected with WikiLeaks.

The national Fox News website prominently featured the local report, and Sean Hannity gave the story attention on his show that same night.

But a law enforcement official said the FBI wasn&rsquot involved in Rich&rsquos case, and Wheeler walked back his claims.

The Rich family called for Fox, both local and national, to retract the stories. Though the local affiliate did so two days after the story aired, the national news network waited one week, until Tuesday.

By then, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had already discussed the unsubstantiated claim on &ldquoFox and Friends,&rdquo citing it is as proof that Russia was not involved in the DNC email leak.

&ldquoWe have this very strange story now of this young man who worked for the Democratic National Committee, who apparently was assassinated at four in the morning, having given WikiLeaks something like 23,000 &mdash I&rsquom sorry, 53,000 emails and 17,000 attachments. Nobody is investigating that. What does that tell you about what was going on? Because it turns out, it wasn&rsquot the Russians. It was this young guy,&rdquo he said.

And Hannity refused to stand down.

&ldquoI am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com. I retracted nothing,&rdquo he said on his nationally syndicated radio program Tuesday.

Hannity refuses to back down

Hannity insisted there was more to Rich&rsquos death, despite his network pulling its initial report. He continued to cite tweets made by Kim Dotcom , the founder of the piracy website Megaupload, who has claimed that Rich passed DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

&ldquoI knew Seth Rich. I know he was the @WikiLeaks source. I was involved,&rdquo Dotcom tweeted on Saturday.

Dotcom issued a statement on his website Tuesday elaborating on his claims, saying that in 2014, he was contacted by an individual going by the name &ldquoPanda&rdquo who said he was working on voter analytics tools and other technologies that would be useful in starting a branch of the Internet Party in the U.S.

&ldquoI now know that Panda was Seth Rich,&rdquo said Dotcom. He added that he communicated with Panda on a number of topics including corruption and the influence of corporate money in politics.

Dotcom said he believes a full statement &ldquoshould be provided to the authorities and I am prepared to do that so that there can be a full investigation.&rdquo

Hannity &mdash a Trump booster and quasi-advisor during his presidential campaign &mdash has also been a longtime critic of the media&rsquos coverage of Russia&rsquos possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Like Gingrich, he implied that Rich&rsquos death is bigger than that issue, which has dogged Trump&rsquos young presidency.

&ldquoThis issue, it&rsquos so big now that the entire Russia collusion narrative is hanging by a thread,&rdquo he said on his radio show.

&ldquoIf in fact, take Seth out of it, there was a whistleblower within the DNC, a truth-teller that actually [was] the source for WikiLeaks, and not Russia, working with the Trump campaign, these are questions that I have a moral obligation to ask. And I will do the mainstream media&rsquos job, like I have most of my career.&rdquo

Rich family calls for end to conspiracy theories

As Hannity tweeted out conspiracy allegations surrounding Rich&rsquos death and stood by his assertions on radio and T.V. broadcasts on Tuesday, Rich&rsquos parents penned a Washington Post op-ed titled &ldquoWe&rsquore Seth Rich&rsquos parents. Stop politicizing our son&rsquos murder.&rdquo

In it, they addressed the unknown factors surrounding their son&rsquos death.

&ldquoThe circumstances of what happened next are still unclear. We know that Seth was abruptly confronted on the street, that he had been on the phone and quickly ended the call. We also know that there were signs of a struggle, including a watchband torn when the assailants attempted to rip it off his wrist. Law-enforcement officials told us that Seth&rsquos murder looked like a botched robbery attempt in which the assailants &mdash after shooting our son &mdash panicked, immediately ran and abandoned Seth&rsquos personal belongings. We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth&rsquos murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics. Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying.&rdquo

They pleaded with media and online commentators to stop fueling conspiracy claims.

&ldquoConservative news outlets and commentators continue, day after painful day, to peddle discredited conspiracy theories that Seth was killed after having provided WikiLeaks with emails from the DNC. Those theories, which some reporters have since retracted, are baseless, and they are unspeakably cruel,&rdquo the wrote.

On his show Tuesday night, Hannity said he would respect the Rich family&rsquos wishes and refrain from discussing the case, with the caveat, &ldquofor now.&rdquo

But he doubled down on his belief that there&rsquos more to Rich&rsquos death than what police, and Rich&rsquos family, have already said.

&ldquoI promise you I am not going to stop doing my job. I am not going to stop trying to find the truth.&rdquo

Support our journalism

Already a subscriber? Thank you for your support. If you are not, please consider subscribing today. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.


How Seth Rich’s death became an Internet conspiracy theory

Two weeks before the Democratic National Convention in July, Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was shot and killed in his Washington neighborhood. His family and Metropolitan D.C. police have said his death was the result of a botched robbery. But conspiracy theories have circulated in right-wing and conservative social and news media spheres fueling unsubstantiated rumors that Rich's killing was political in nature.

Ten months later, the unsolved homicide and the conspiracy theories attached to it reached their biggest audience yet when they aired on Fox News, bringing fringe speculation about Rich&rsquos death into the mainstream.

Here&rsquos how the rumors took off.

Seth Rich is killed

Before dawn, 27-year-old Rich spoke to his girlfriend, Kelsey Mulka, over the phone as he walked home from a bar. Just days before, Hillary Clinton &rsquos campaign had offered him a new job that would bring him to New York.

As the couple talked, Mulka heard voices on the other end. Rich abruptly ended the call.

There had been a rise in street robberies that summer in the northwest D.C. neighborhood of Bloomingdale. Some blamed a lack of lighting surrounding a vast construction project that had turned much of the area into a dark maze. Residents were troubled.

When police got to the scene, they found Rich had been shot multiple times, and his credit cards, wallet and watch were still on him. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Police ruled his death a homicide &mdash an attempted robbery turned deadly.

"There had been a struggle. His hands were bruised, his knees are bruised, his face is bruised, and yet he had two shots to his back, and yet they never took anything," Rich's mother, Mary, told NBC shortly after his death.

With no suspects or witnesses to the crime, it remained one of 65 unsolved cases in the District of Columbia that year.

Julian Assange fuels conspiracy rumors

&ldquoOur sources take risks,&rdquo WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in an interview with a Dutch television program, just after addressing Rich&rsquos murder.

When asked if he was implying that Rich was a source for WikiLeaks, which on July 22 released thousands of emails from DNC accounts &mdash centering around Clinton, her campaign and the DNC's treatment of Sen. Bernie Sanders &mdash Assange cryptically responded.

&ldquoWe don&rsquot comment on our sources,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe have to understand how high the stakes are on the case.&rdquo

The comments fueled a growing conspiracy theory on Twitter, and later on message boards Reddit and 4chan that Rich&rsquos death was connected to the DNC. Despite police statements and Rich&rsquos family concluding that his death was the result of an attempted robbery, the rumor spread within the same circles that churned out the bogus &ldquoPizzaGate&rdquo story &mdash a theory that a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor was at the center of a child sex-trafficking operation that involved Hillary Clinton&rsquos campaign manager, John Podesta .

WikiLeaks has stated that it doesn&rsquot confirm or deny whether any person has ever been a source as a matter of policy.

But the site has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in Rich&rsquos slaying.

Republican lobbyist offers his assistance to Rich family

After police came up empty-handed in solving Rich&rsquos case, Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman offered his public relations services, pro bono, to Rich&rsquos family. He increased the reward for information to $130,000 and plastered posters throughout the Bloomingdale neighborhood and its surrounding areas that asked &ldquoDo you know who murdered Seth Rich?&rdquo

In late November, he held a joint news conference with Rich&rsquos family.

&ldquoNone of us can solve this. Only you can solve this,&rdquo Burkman said. &ldquoIt&rsquos only through the media that this can be solved.&rdquo

When asked to address the conspiracy theories about Rich&rsquos slaying, it was clear that Burkman and the Rich family were on different pages.

&ldquoThere is no politicization here. There are no ulterior motives here. There is no conspiracy theory here. This is a genuine attempt to get to the facts of the case,&rdquo Brad Bauman, a spokesperson from the family, said.

&ldquoI don&rsquot believe there&rsquos much evidence of a robbery.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father, Joel, interjected.

&ldquoThere are signs of a struggle,&rdquo he said. &ldquoThere&rsquos no other evidence to show anything else.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father tries to quell conspiracy theories

Six months after his son&rsquos death, Joel Rich tried to dispel the rumors that followed Assange&rsquos statements.

&ldquoAnyone who knew Seth knew that wasn&rsquot the way he would have handled the problem," he told Fox News. "He would not go outside the system.&rdquo

Rich continued to reiterate what police and his family had said before, that his son was in the &ldquowrong place at the wrong time.&rdquo

&ldquoThere are all kinds of scenarios, but until something else is proven, these are just scenarios,&rdquo he said.

Burkman pushes another conspiracy theory

Conspiracists theorized that the Clinton campaign and the DNC were connected to Rich&rsquos slaying. Burkman didn&rsquot believe that the Clinton campaign was involved in Rich&rsquos death. But he did think someone, beyond random robbers, was behind it.

During an interview with the local Fox News affiliate, Burkman said he was approached by a man he believed to be &ldquothe first credible lead&rdquo in the case.

&ldquoSeth discovered that the Russians had been hacking [the DNC], and therefore the Russian government did away with Seth,&rdquo Burkman theorized.

Meanwhile, the Rich family distanced themselves from the lobbyist&rsquos statements. Rich&rsquos brother Aaron set up a GoFundMe page in an attempt to raise money for the investigation into Rich&rsquos slaying, seemingly separate from Burkman&rsquos initial funds.

Mass media publications, retractions

On May 15, Fox 5 DC &ndash the local Fox News affiliate &ndash aired a story that cited Rod Wheeler &mdash a man claiming to be a private investigator in Rich&rsquos death. Wheeler said he had evidence that Rich&rsquos slaying was connected to the DNC. Fox 5 DC said it corroborated the claims with an unnamed &ldquofederal investigator&rdquo who said an FBI analysis of Rich&rsquos computer showed he had transferred more than 44,000 DNC emails to someone connected with WikiLeaks.

The national Fox News website prominently featured the local report, and Sean Hannity gave the story attention on his show that same night.

But a law enforcement official said the FBI wasn&rsquot involved in Rich&rsquos case, and Wheeler walked back his claims.

The Rich family called for Fox, both local and national, to retract the stories. Though the local affiliate did so two days after the story aired, the national news network waited one week, until Tuesday.

By then, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had already discussed the unsubstantiated claim on &ldquoFox and Friends,&rdquo citing it is as proof that Russia was not involved in the DNC email leak.

&ldquoWe have this very strange story now of this young man who worked for the Democratic National Committee, who apparently was assassinated at four in the morning, having given WikiLeaks something like 23,000 &mdash I&rsquom sorry, 53,000 emails and 17,000 attachments. Nobody is investigating that. What does that tell you about what was going on? Because it turns out, it wasn&rsquot the Russians. It was this young guy,&rdquo he said.

And Hannity refused to stand down.

&ldquoI am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com. I retracted nothing,&rdquo he said on his nationally syndicated radio program Tuesday.

Hannity refuses to back down

Hannity insisted there was more to Rich&rsquos death, despite his network pulling its initial report. He continued to cite tweets made by Kim Dotcom , the founder of the piracy website Megaupload, who has claimed that Rich passed DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

&ldquoI knew Seth Rich. I know he was the @WikiLeaks source. I was involved,&rdquo Dotcom tweeted on Saturday.

Dotcom issued a statement on his website Tuesday elaborating on his claims, saying that in 2014, he was contacted by an individual going by the name &ldquoPanda&rdquo who said he was working on voter analytics tools and other technologies that would be useful in starting a branch of the Internet Party in the U.S.

&ldquoI now know that Panda was Seth Rich,&rdquo said Dotcom. He added that he communicated with Panda on a number of topics including corruption and the influence of corporate money in politics.

Dotcom said he believes a full statement &ldquoshould be provided to the authorities and I am prepared to do that so that there can be a full investigation.&rdquo

Hannity &mdash a Trump booster and quasi-advisor during his presidential campaign &mdash has also been a longtime critic of the media&rsquos coverage of Russia&rsquos possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Like Gingrich, he implied that Rich&rsquos death is bigger than that issue, which has dogged Trump&rsquos young presidency.

&ldquoThis issue, it&rsquos so big now that the entire Russia collusion narrative is hanging by a thread,&rdquo he said on his radio show.

&ldquoIf in fact, take Seth out of it, there was a whistleblower within the DNC, a truth-teller that actually [was] the source for WikiLeaks, and not Russia, working with the Trump campaign, these are questions that I have a moral obligation to ask. And I will do the mainstream media&rsquos job, like I have most of my career.&rdquo

Rich family calls for end to conspiracy theories

As Hannity tweeted out conspiracy allegations surrounding Rich&rsquos death and stood by his assertions on radio and T.V. broadcasts on Tuesday, Rich&rsquos parents penned a Washington Post op-ed titled &ldquoWe&rsquore Seth Rich&rsquos parents. Stop politicizing our son&rsquos murder.&rdquo

In it, they addressed the unknown factors surrounding their son&rsquos death.

&ldquoThe circumstances of what happened next are still unclear. We know that Seth was abruptly confronted on the street, that he had been on the phone and quickly ended the call. We also know that there were signs of a struggle, including a watchband torn when the assailants attempted to rip it off his wrist. Law-enforcement officials told us that Seth&rsquos murder looked like a botched robbery attempt in which the assailants &mdash after shooting our son &mdash panicked, immediately ran and abandoned Seth&rsquos personal belongings. We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth&rsquos murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics. Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying.&rdquo

They pleaded with media and online commentators to stop fueling conspiracy claims.

&ldquoConservative news outlets and commentators continue, day after painful day, to peddle discredited conspiracy theories that Seth was killed after having provided WikiLeaks with emails from the DNC. Those theories, which some reporters have since retracted, are baseless, and they are unspeakably cruel,&rdquo the wrote.

On his show Tuesday night, Hannity said he would respect the Rich family&rsquos wishes and refrain from discussing the case, with the caveat, &ldquofor now.&rdquo

But he doubled down on his belief that there&rsquos more to Rich&rsquos death than what police, and Rich&rsquos family, have already said.

&ldquoI promise you I am not going to stop doing my job. I am not going to stop trying to find the truth.&rdquo

Support our journalism

Already a subscriber? Thank you for your support. If you are not, please consider subscribing today. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.


How Seth Rich’s death became an Internet conspiracy theory

Two weeks before the Democratic National Convention in July, Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was shot and killed in his Washington neighborhood. His family and Metropolitan D.C. police have said his death was the result of a botched robbery. But conspiracy theories have circulated in right-wing and conservative social and news media spheres fueling unsubstantiated rumors that Rich's killing was political in nature.

Ten months later, the unsolved homicide and the conspiracy theories attached to it reached their biggest audience yet when they aired on Fox News, bringing fringe speculation about Rich&rsquos death into the mainstream.

Here&rsquos how the rumors took off.

Seth Rich is killed

Before dawn, 27-year-old Rich spoke to his girlfriend, Kelsey Mulka, over the phone as he walked home from a bar. Just days before, Hillary Clinton &rsquos campaign had offered him a new job that would bring him to New York.

As the couple talked, Mulka heard voices on the other end. Rich abruptly ended the call.

There had been a rise in street robberies that summer in the northwest D.C. neighborhood of Bloomingdale. Some blamed a lack of lighting surrounding a vast construction project that had turned much of the area into a dark maze. Residents were troubled.

When police got to the scene, they found Rich had been shot multiple times, and his credit cards, wallet and watch were still on him. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Police ruled his death a homicide &mdash an attempted robbery turned deadly.

"There had been a struggle. His hands were bruised, his knees are bruised, his face is bruised, and yet he had two shots to his back, and yet they never took anything," Rich's mother, Mary, told NBC shortly after his death.

With no suspects or witnesses to the crime, it remained one of 65 unsolved cases in the District of Columbia that year.

Julian Assange fuels conspiracy rumors

&ldquoOur sources take risks,&rdquo WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in an interview with a Dutch television program, just after addressing Rich&rsquos murder.

When asked if he was implying that Rich was a source for WikiLeaks, which on July 22 released thousands of emails from DNC accounts &mdash centering around Clinton, her campaign and the DNC's treatment of Sen. Bernie Sanders &mdash Assange cryptically responded.

&ldquoWe don&rsquot comment on our sources,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe have to understand how high the stakes are on the case.&rdquo

The comments fueled a growing conspiracy theory on Twitter, and later on message boards Reddit and 4chan that Rich&rsquos death was connected to the DNC. Despite police statements and Rich&rsquos family concluding that his death was the result of an attempted robbery, the rumor spread within the same circles that churned out the bogus &ldquoPizzaGate&rdquo story &mdash a theory that a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor was at the center of a child sex-trafficking operation that involved Hillary Clinton&rsquos campaign manager, John Podesta .

WikiLeaks has stated that it doesn&rsquot confirm or deny whether any person has ever been a source as a matter of policy.

But the site has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in Rich&rsquos slaying.

Republican lobbyist offers his assistance to Rich family

After police came up empty-handed in solving Rich&rsquos case, Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman offered his public relations services, pro bono, to Rich&rsquos family. He increased the reward for information to $130,000 and plastered posters throughout the Bloomingdale neighborhood and its surrounding areas that asked &ldquoDo you know who murdered Seth Rich?&rdquo

In late November, he held a joint news conference with Rich&rsquos family.

&ldquoNone of us can solve this. Only you can solve this,&rdquo Burkman said. &ldquoIt&rsquos only through the media that this can be solved.&rdquo

When asked to address the conspiracy theories about Rich&rsquos slaying, it was clear that Burkman and the Rich family were on different pages.

&ldquoThere is no politicization here. There are no ulterior motives here. There is no conspiracy theory here. This is a genuine attempt to get to the facts of the case,&rdquo Brad Bauman, a spokesperson from the family, said.

&ldquoI don&rsquot believe there&rsquos much evidence of a robbery.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father, Joel, interjected.

&ldquoThere are signs of a struggle,&rdquo he said. &ldquoThere&rsquos no other evidence to show anything else.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father tries to quell conspiracy theories

Six months after his son&rsquos death, Joel Rich tried to dispel the rumors that followed Assange&rsquos statements.

&ldquoAnyone who knew Seth knew that wasn&rsquot the way he would have handled the problem," he told Fox News. "He would not go outside the system.&rdquo

Rich continued to reiterate what police and his family had said before, that his son was in the &ldquowrong place at the wrong time.&rdquo

&ldquoThere are all kinds of scenarios, but until something else is proven, these are just scenarios,&rdquo he said.

Burkman pushes another conspiracy theory

Conspiracists theorized that the Clinton campaign and the DNC were connected to Rich&rsquos slaying. Burkman didn&rsquot believe that the Clinton campaign was involved in Rich&rsquos death. But he did think someone, beyond random robbers, was behind it.

During an interview with the local Fox News affiliate, Burkman said he was approached by a man he believed to be &ldquothe first credible lead&rdquo in the case.

&ldquoSeth discovered that the Russians had been hacking [the DNC], and therefore the Russian government did away with Seth,&rdquo Burkman theorized.

Meanwhile, the Rich family distanced themselves from the lobbyist&rsquos statements. Rich&rsquos brother Aaron set up a GoFundMe page in an attempt to raise money for the investigation into Rich&rsquos slaying, seemingly separate from Burkman&rsquos initial funds.

Mass media publications, retractions

On May 15, Fox 5 DC &ndash the local Fox News affiliate &ndash aired a story that cited Rod Wheeler &mdash a man claiming to be a private investigator in Rich&rsquos death. Wheeler said he had evidence that Rich&rsquos slaying was connected to the DNC. Fox 5 DC said it corroborated the claims with an unnamed &ldquofederal investigator&rdquo who said an FBI analysis of Rich&rsquos computer showed he had transferred more than 44,000 DNC emails to someone connected with WikiLeaks.

The national Fox News website prominently featured the local report, and Sean Hannity gave the story attention on his show that same night.

But a law enforcement official said the FBI wasn&rsquot involved in Rich&rsquos case, and Wheeler walked back his claims.

The Rich family called for Fox, both local and national, to retract the stories. Though the local affiliate did so two days after the story aired, the national news network waited one week, until Tuesday.

By then, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had already discussed the unsubstantiated claim on &ldquoFox and Friends,&rdquo citing it is as proof that Russia was not involved in the DNC email leak.

&ldquoWe have this very strange story now of this young man who worked for the Democratic National Committee, who apparently was assassinated at four in the morning, having given WikiLeaks something like 23,000 &mdash I&rsquom sorry, 53,000 emails and 17,000 attachments. Nobody is investigating that. What does that tell you about what was going on? Because it turns out, it wasn&rsquot the Russians. It was this young guy,&rdquo he said.

And Hannity refused to stand down.

&ldquoI am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com. I retracted nothing,&rdquo he said on his nationally syndicated radio program Tuesday.

Hannity refuses to back down

Hannity insisted there was more to Rich&rsquos death, despite his network pulling its initial report. He continued to cite tweets made by Kim Dotcom , the founder of the piracy website Megaupload, who has claimed that Rich passed DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

&ldquoI knew Seth Rich. I know he was the @WikiLeaks source. I was involved,&rdquo Dotcom tweeted on Saturday.

Dotcom issued a statement on his website Tuesday elaborating on his claims, saying that in 2014, he was contacted by an individual going by the name &ldquoPanda&rdquo who said he was working on voter analytics tools and other technologies that would be useful in starting a branch of the Internet Party in the U.S.

&ldquoI now know that Panda was Seth Rich,&rdquo said Dotcom. He added that he communicated with Panda on a number of topics including corruption and the influence of corporate money in politics.

Dotcom said he believes a full statement &ldquoshould be provided to the authorities and I am prepared to do that so that there can be a full investigation.&rdquo

Hannity &mdash a Trump booster and quasi-advisor during his presidential campaign &mdash has also been a longtime critic of the media&rsquos coverage of Russia&rsquos possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Like Gingrich, he implied that Rich&rsquos death is bigger than that issue, which has dogged Trump&rsquos young presidency.

&ldquoThis issue, it&rsquos so big now that the entire Russia collusion narrative is hanging by a thread,&rdquo he said on his radio show.

&ldquoIf in fact, take Seth out of it, there was a whistleblower within the DNC, a truth-teller that actually [was] the source for WikiLeaks, and not Russia, working with the Trump campaign, these are questions that I have a moral obligation to ask. And I will do the mainstream media&rsquos job, like I have most of my career.&rdquo

Rich family calls for end to conspiracy theories

As Hannity tweeted out conspiracy allegations surrounding Rich&rsquos death and stood by his assertions on radio and T.V. broadcasts on Tuesday, Rich&rsquos parents penned a Washington Post op-ed titled &ldquoWe&rsquore Seth Rich&rsquos parents. Stop politicizing our son&rsquos murder.&rdquo

In it, they addressed the unknown factors surrounding their son&rsquos death.

&ldquoThe circumstances of what happened next are still unclear. We know that Seth was abruptly confronted on the street, that he had been on the phone and quickly ended the call. We also know that there were signs of a struggle, including a watchband torn when the assailants attempted to rip it off his wrist. Law-enforcement officials told us that Seth&rsquos murder looked like a botched robbery attempt in which the assailants &mdash after shooting our son &mdash panicked, immediately ran and abandoned Seth&rsquos personal belongings. We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth&rsquos murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics. Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying.&rdquo

They pleaded with media and online commentators to stop fueling conspiracy claims.

&ldquoConservative news outlets and commentators continue, day after painful day, to peddle discredited conspiracy theories that Seth was killed after having provided WikiLeaks with emails from the DNC. Those theories, which some reporters have since retracted, are baseless, and they are unspeakably cruel,&rdquo the wrote.

On his show Tuesday night, Hannity said he would respect the Rich family&rsquos wishes and refrain from discussing the case, with the caveat, &ldquofor now.&rdquo

But he doubled down on his belief that there&rsquos more to Rich&rsquos death than what police, and Rich&rsquos family, have already said.

&ldquoI promise you I am not going to stop doing my job. I am not going to stop trying to find the truth.&rdquo

Support our journalism

Already a subscriber? Thank you for your support. If you are not, please consider subscribing today. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.


How Seth Rich’s death became an Internet conspiracy theory

Two weeks before the Democratic National Convention in July, Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was shot and killed in his Washington neighborhood. His family and Metropolitan D.C. police have said his death was the result of a botched robbery. But conspiracy theories have circulated in right-wing and conservative social and news media spheres fueling unsubstantiated rumors that Rich's killing was political in nature.

Ten months later, the unsolved homicide and the conspiracy theories attached to it reached their biggest audience yet when they aired on Fox News, bringing fringe speculation about Rich&rsquos death into the mainstream.

Here&rsquos how the rumors took off.

Seth Rich is killed

Before dawn, 27-year-old Rich spoke to his girlfriend, Kelsey Mulka, over the phone as he walked home from a bar. Just days before, Hillary Clinton &rsquos campaign had offered him a new job that would bring him to New York.

As the couple talked, Mulka heard voices on the other end. Rich abruptly ended the call.

There had been a rise in street robberies that summer in the northwest D.C. neighborhood of Bloomingdale. Some blamed a lack of lighting surrounding a vast construction project that had turned much of the area into a dark maze. Residents were troubled.

When police got to the scene, they found Rich had been shot multiple times, and his credit cards, wallet and watch were still on him. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Police ruled his death a homicide &mdash an attempted robbery turned deadly.

"There had been a struggle. His hands were bruised, his knees are bruised, his face is bruised, and yet he had two shots to his back, and yet they never took anything," Rich's mother, Mary, told NBC shortly after his death.

With no suspects or witnesses to the crime, it remained one of 65 unsolved cases in the District of Columbia that year.

Julian Assange fuels conspiracy rumors

&ldquoOur sources take risks,&rdquo WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in an interview with a Dutch television program, just after addressing Rich&rsquos murder.

When asked if he was implying that Rich was a source for WikiLeaks, which on July 22 released thousands of emails from DNC accounts &mdash centering around Clinton, her campaign and the DNC's treatment of Sen. Bernie Sanders &mdash Assange cryptically responded.

&ldquoWe don&rsquot comment on our sources,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe have to understand how high the stakes are on the case.&rdquo

The comments fueled a growing conspiracy theory on Twitter, and later on message boards Reddit and 4chan that Rich&rsquos death was connected to the DNC. Despite police statements and Rich&rsquos family concluding that his death was the result of an attempted robbery, the rumor spread within the same circles that churned out the bogus &ldquoPizzaGate&rdquo story &mdash a theory that a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor was at the center of a child sex-trafficking operation that involved Hillary Clinton&rsquos campaign manager, John Podesta .

WikiLeaks has stated that it doesn&rsquot confirm or deny whether any person has ever been a source as a matter of policy.

But the site has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in Rich&rsquos slaying.

Republican lobbyist offers his assistance to Rich family

After police came up empty-handed in solving Rich&rsquos case, Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman offered his public relations services, pro bono, to Rich&rsquos family. He increased the reward for information to $130,000 and plastered posters throughout the Bloomingdale neighborhood and its surrounding areas that asked &ldquoDo you know who murdered Seth Rich?&rdquo

In late November, he held a joint news conference with Rich&rsquos family.

&ldquoNone of us can solve this. Only you can solve this,&rdquo Burkman said. &ldquoIt&rsquos only through the media that this can be solved.&rdquo

When asked to address the conspiracy theories about Rich&rsquos slaying, it was clear that Burkman and the Rich family were on different pages.

&ldquoThere is no politicization here. There are no ulterior motives here. There is no conspiracy theory here. This is a genuine attempt to get to the facts of the case,&rdquo Brad Bauman, a spokesperson from the family, said.

&ldquoI don&rsquot believe there&rsquos much evidence of a robbery.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father, Joel, interjected.

&ldquoThere are signs of a struggle,&rdquo he said. &ldquoThere&rsquos no other evidence to show anything else.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father tries to quell conspiracy theories

Six months after his son&rsquos death, Joel Rich tried to dispel the rumors that followed Assange&rsquos statements.

&ldquoAnyone who knew Seth knew that wasn&rsquot the way he would have handled the problem," he told Fox News. "He would not go outside the system.&rdquo

Rich continued to reiterate what police and his family had said before, that his son was in the &ldquowrong place at the wrong time.&rdquo

&ldquoThere are all kinds of scenarios, but until something else is proven, these are just scenarios,&rdquo he said.

Burkman pushes another conspiracy theory

Conspiracists theorized that the Clinton campaign and the DNC were connected to Rich&rsquos slaying. Burkman didn&rsquot believe that the Clinton campaign was involved in Rich&rsquos death. But he did think someone, beyond random robbers, was behind it.

During an interview with the local Fox News affiliate, Burkman said he was approached by a man he believed to be &ldquothe first credible lead&rdquo in the case.

&ldquoSeth discovered that the Russians had been hacking [the DNC], and therefore the Russian government did away with Seth,&rdquo Burkman theorized.

Meanwhile, the Rich family distanced themselves from the lobbyist&rsquos statements. Rich&rsquos brother Aaron set up a GoFundMe page in an attempt to raise money for the investigation into Rich&rsquos slaying, seemingly separate from Burkman&rsquos initial funds.

Mass media publications, retractions

On May 15, Fox 5 DC &ndash the local Fox News affiliate &ndash aired a story that cited Rod Wheeler &mdash a man claiming to be a private investigator in Rich&rsquos death. Wheeler said he had evidence that Rich&rsquos slaying was connected to the DNC. Fox 5 DC said it corroborated the claims with an unnamed &ldquofederal investigator&rdquo who said an FBI analysis of Rich&rsquos computer showed he had transferred more than 44,000 DNC emails to someone connected with WikiLeaks.

The national Fox News website prominently featured the local report, and Sean Hannity gave the story attention on his show that same night.

But a law enforcement official said the FBI wasn&rsquot involved in Rich&rsquos case, and Wheeler walked back his claims.

The Rich family called for Fox, both local and national, to retract the stories. Though the local affiliate did so two days after the story aired, the national news network waited one week, until Tuesday.

By then, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had already discussed the unsubstantiated claim on &ldquoFox and Friends,&rdquo citing it is as proof that Russia was not involved in the DNC email leak.

&ldquoWe have this very strange story now of this young man who worked for the Democratic National Committee, who apparently was assassinated at four in the morning, having given WikiLeaks something like 23,000 &mdash I&rsquom sorry, 53,000 emails and 17,000 attachments. Nobody is investigating that. What does that tell you about what was going on? Because it turns out, it wasn&rsquot the Russians. It was this young guy,&rdquo he said.

And Hannity refused to stand down.

&ldquoI am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com. I retracted nothing,&rdquo he said on his nationally syndicated radio program Tuesday.

Hannity refuses to back down

Hannity insisted there was more to Rich&rsquos death, despite his network pulling its initial report. He continued to cite tweets made by Kim Dotcom , the founder of the piracy website Megaupload, who has claimed that Rich passed DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

&ldquoI knew Seth Rich. I know he was the @WikiLeaks source. I was involved,&rdquo Dotcom tweeted on Saturday.

Dotcom issued a statement on his website Tuesday elaborating on his claims, saying that in 2014, he was contacted by an individual going by the name &ldquoPanda&rdquo who said he was working on voter analytics tools and other technologies that would be useful in starting a branch of the Internet Party in the U.S.

&ldquoI now know that Panda was Seth Rich,&rdquo said Dotcom. He added that he communicated with Panda on a number of topics including corruption and the influence of corporate money in politics.

Dotcom said he believes a full statement &ldquoshould be provided to the authorities and I am prepared to do that so that there can be a full investigation.&rdquo

Hannity &mdash a Trump booster and quasi-advisor during his presidential campaign &mdash has also been a longtime critic of the media&rsquos coverage of Russia&rsquos possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Like Gingrich, he implied that Rich&rsquos death is bigger than that issue, which has dogged Trump&rsquos young presidency.

&ldquoThis issue, it&rsquos so big now that the entire Russia collusion narrative is hanging by a thread,&rdquo he said on his radio show.

&ldquoIf in fact, take Seth out of it, there was a whistleblower within the DNC, a truth-teller that actually [was] the source for WikiLeaks, and not Russia, working with the Trump campaign, these are questions that I have a moral obligation to ask. And I will do the mainstream media&rsquos job, like I have most of my career.&rdquo

Rich family calls for end to conspiracy theories

As Hannity tweeted out conspiracy allegations surrounding Rich&rsquos death and stood by his assertions on radio and T.V. broadcasts on Tuesday, Rich&rsquos parents penned a Washington Post op-ed titled &ldquoWe&rsquore Seth Rich&rsquos parents. Stop politicizing our son&rsquos murder.&rdquo

In it, they addressed the unknown factors surrounding their son&rsquos death.

&ldquoThe circumstances of what happened next are still unclear. We know that Seth was abruptly confronted on the street, that he had been on the phone and quickly ended the call. We also know that there were signs of a struggle, including a watchband torn when the assailants attempted to rip it off his wrist. Law-enforcement officials told us that Seth&rsquos murder looked like a botched robbery attempt in which the assailants &mdash after shooting our son &mdash panicked, immediately ran and abandoned Seth&rsquos personal belongings. We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth&rsquos murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics. Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying.&rdquo

They pleaded with media and online commentators to stop fueling conspiracy claims.

&ldquoConservative news outlets and commentators continue, day after painful day, to peddle discredited conspiracy theories that Seth was killed after having provided WikiLeaks with emails from the DNC. Those theories, which some reporters have since retracted, are baseless, and they are unspeakably cruel,&rdquo the wrote.

On his show Tuesday night, Hannity said he would respect the Rich family&rsquos wishes and refrain from discussing the case, with the caveat, &ldquofor now.&rdquo

But he doubled down on his belief that there&rsquos more to Rich&rsquos death than what police, and Rich&rsquos family, have already said.

&ldquoI promise you I am not going to stop doing my job. I am not going to stop trying to find the truth.&rdquo

Support our journalism

Already a subscriber? Thank you for your support. If you are not, please consider subscribing today. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.


How Seth Rich’s death became an Internet conspiracy theory

Two weeks before the Democratic National Convention in July, Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was shot and killed in his Washington neighborhood. His family and Metropolitan D.C. police have said his death was the result of a botched robbery. But conspiracy theories have circulated in right-wing and conservative social and news media spheres fueling unsubstantiated rumors that Rich's killing was political in nature.

Ten months later, the unsolved homicide and the conspiracy theories attached to it reached their biggest audience yet when they aired on Fox News, bringing fringe speculation about Rich&rsquos death into the mainstream.

Here&rsquos how the rumors took off.

Seth Rich is killed

Before dawn, 27-year-old Rich spoke to his girlfriend, Kelsey Mulka, over the phone as he walked home from a bar. Just days before, Hillary Clinton &rsquos campaign had offered him a new job that would bring him to New York.

As the couple talked, Mulka heard voices on the other end. Rich abruptly ended the call.

There had been a rise in street robberies that summer in the northwest D.C. neighborhood of Bloomingdale. Some blamed a lack of lighting surrounding a vast construction project that had turned much of the area into a dark maze. Residents were troubled.

When police got to the scene, they found Rich had been shot multiple times, and his credit cards, wallet and watch were still on him. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Police ruled his death a homicide &mdash an attempted robbery turned deadly.

"There had been a struggle. His hands were bruised, his knees are bruised, his face is bruised, and yet he had two shots to his back, and yet they never took anything," Rich's mother, Mary, told NBC shortly after his death.

With no suspects or witnesses to the crime, it remained one of 65 unsolved cases in the District of Columbia that year.

Julian Assange fuels conspiracy rumors

&ldquoOur sources take risks,&rdquo WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in an interview with a Dutch television program, just after addressing Rich&rsquos murder.

When asked if he was implying that Rich was a source for WikiLeaks, which on July 22 released thousands of emails from DNC accounts &mdash centering around Clinton, her campaign and the DNC's treatment of Sen. Bernie Sanders &mdash Assange cryptically responded.

&ldquoWe don&rsquot comment on our sources,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe have to understand how high the stakes are on the case.&rdquo

The comments fueled a growing conspiracy theory on Twitter, and later on message boards Reddit and 4chan that Rich&rsquos death was connected to the DNC. Despite police statements and Rich&rsquos family concluding that his death was the result of an attempted robbery, the rumor spread within the same circles that churned out the bogus &ldquoPizzaGate&rdquo story &mdash a theory that a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor was at the center of a child sex-trafficking operation that involved Hillary Clinton&rsquos campaign manager, John Podesta .

WikiLeaks has stated that it doesn&rsquot confirm or deny whether any person has ever been a source as a matter of policy.

But the site has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in Rich&rsquos slaying.

Republican lobbyist offers his assistance to Rich family

After police came up empty-handed in solving Rich&rsquos case, Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman offered his public relations services, pro bono, to Rich&rsquos family. He increased the reward for information to $130,000 and plastered posters throughout the Bloomingdale neighborhood and its surrounding areas that asked &ldquoDo you know who murdered Seth Rich?&rdquo

In late November, he held a joint news conference with Rich&rsquos family.

&ldquoNone of us can solve this. Only you can solve this,&rdquo Burkman said. &ldquoIt&rsquos only through the media that this can be solved.&rdquo

When asked to address the conspiracy theories about Rich&rsquos slaying, it was clear that Burkman and the Rich family were on different pages.

&ldquoThere is no politicization here. There are no ulterior motives here. There is no conspiracy theory here. This is a genuine attempt to get to the facts of the case,&rdquo Brad Bauman, a spokesperson from the family, said.

&ldquoI don&rsquot believe there&rsquos much evidence of a robbery.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father, Joel, interjected.

&ldquoThere are signs of a struggle,&rdquo he said. &ldquoThere&rsquos no other evidence to show anything else.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father tries to quell conspiracy theories

Six months after his son&rsquos death, Joel Rich tried to dispel the rumors that followed Assange&rsquos statements.

&ldquoAnyone who knew Seth knew that wasn&rsquot the way he would have handled the problem," he told Fox News. "He would not go outside the system.&rdquo

Rich continued to reiterate what police and his family had said before, that his son was in the &ldquowrong place at the wrong time.&rdquo

&ldquoThere are all kinds of scenarios, but until something else is proven, these are just scenarios,&rdquo he said.

Burkman pushes another conspiracy theory

Conspiracists theorized that the Clinton campaign and the DNC were connected to Rich&rsquos slaying. Burkman didn&rsquot believe that the Clinton campaign was involved in Rich&rsquos death. But he did think someone, beyond random robbers, was behind it.

During an interview with the local Fox News affiliate, Burkman said he was approached by a man he believed to be &ldquothe first credible lead&rdquo in the case.

&ldquoSeth discovered that the Russians had been hacking [the DNC], and therefore the Russian government did away with Seth,&rdquo Burkman theorized.

Meanwhile, the Rich family distanced themselves from the lobbyist&rsquos statements. Rich&rsquos brother Aaron set up a GoFundMe page in an attempt to raise money for the investigation into Rich&rsquos slaying, seemingly separate from Burkman&rsquos initial funds.

Mass media publications, retractions

On May 15, Fox 5 DC &ndash the local Fox News affiliate &ndash aired a story that cited Rod Wheeler &mdash a man claiming to be a private investigator in Rich&rsquos death. Wheeler said he had evidence that Rich&rsquos slaying was connected to the DNC. Fox 5 DC said it corroborated the claims with an unnamed &ldquofederal investigator&rdquo who said an FBI analysis of Rich&rsquos computer showed he had transferred more than 44,000 DNC emails to someone connected with WikiLeaks.

The national Fox News website prominently featured the local report, and Sean Hannity gave the story attention on his show that same night.

But a law enforcement official said the FBI wasn&rsquot involved in Rich&rsquos case, and Wheeler walked back his claims.

The Rich family called for Fox, both local and national, to retract the stories. Though the local affiliate did so two days after the story aired, the national news network waited one week, until Tuesday.

By then, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had already discussed the unsubstantiated claim on &ldquoFox and Friends,&rdquo citing it is as proof that Russia was not involved in the DNC email leak.

&ldquoWe have this very strange story now of this young man who worked for the Democratic National Committee, who apparently was assassinated at four in the morning, having given WikiLeaks something like 23,000 &mdash I&rsquom sorry, 53,000 emails and 17,000 attachments. Nobody is investigating that. What does that tell you about what was going on? Because it turns out, it wasn&rsquot the Russians. It was this young guy,&rdquo he said.

And Hannity refused to stand down.

&ldquoI am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com. I retracted nothing,&rdquo he said on his nationally syndicated radio program Tuesday.

Hannity refuses to back down

Hannity insisted there was more to Rich&rsquos death, despite his network pulling its initial report. He continued to cite tweets made by Kim Dotcom , the founder of the piracy website Megaupload, who has claimed that Rich passed DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

&ldquoI knew Seth Rich. I know he was the @WikiLeaks source. I was involved,&rdquo Dotcom tweeted on Saturday.

Dotcom issued a statement on his website Tuesday elaborating on his claims, saying that in 2014, he was contacted by an individual going by the name &ldquoPanda&rdquo who said he was working on voter analytics tools and other technologies that would be useful in starting a branch of the Internet Party in the U.S.

&ldquoI now know that Panda was Seth Rich,&rdquo said Dotcom. He added that he communicated with Panda on a number of topics including corruption and the influence of corporate money in politics.

Dotcom said he believes a full statement &ldquoshould be provided to the authorities and I am prepared to do that so that there can be a full investigation.&rdquo

Hannity &mdash a Trump booster and quasi-advisor during his presidential campaign &mdash has also been a longtime critic of the media&rsquos coverage of Russia&rsquos possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Like Gingrich, he implied that Rich&rsquos death is bigger than that issue, which has dogged Trump&rsquos young presidency.

&ldquoThis issue, it&rsquos so big now that the entire Russia collusion narrative is hanging by a thread,&rdquo he said on his radio show.

&ldquoIf in fact, take Seth out of it, there was a whistleblower within the DNC, a truth-teller that actually [was] the source for WikiLeaks, and not Russia, working with the Trump campaign, these are questions that I have a moral obligation to ask. And I will do the mainstream media&rsquos job, like I have most of my career.&rdquo

Rich family calls for end to conspiracy theories

As Hannity tweeted out conspiracy allegations surrounding Rich&rsquos death and stood by his assertions on radio and T.V. broadcasts on Tuesday, Rich&rsquos parents penned a Washington Post op-ed titled &ldquoWe&rsquore Seth Rich&rsquos parents. Stop politicizing our son&rsquos murder.&rdquo

In it, they addressed the unknown factors surrounding their son&rsquos death.

&ldquoThe circumstances of what happened next are still unclear. We know that Seth was abruptly confronted on the street, that he had been on the phone and quickly ended the call. We also know that there were signs of a struggle, including a watchband torn when the assailants attempted to rip it off his wrist. Law-enforcement officials told us that Seth&rsquos murder looked like a botched robbery attempt in which the assailants &mdash after shooting our son &mdash panicked, immediately ran and abandoned Seth&rsquos personal belongings. We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth&rsquos murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics. Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying.&rdquo

They pleaded with media and online commentators to stop fueling conspiracy claims.

&ldquoConservative news outlets and commentators continue, day after painful day, to peddle discredited conspiracy theories that Seth was killed after having provided WikiLeaks with emails from the DNC. Those theories, which some reporters have since retracted, are baseless, and they are unspeakably cruel,&rdquo the wrote.

On his show Tuesday night, Hannity said he would respect the Rich family&rsquos wishes and refrain from discussing the case, with the caveat, &ldquofor now.&rdquo

But he doubled down on his belief that there&rsquos more to Rich&rsquos death than what police, and Rich&rsquos family, have already said.

&ldquoI promise you I am not going to stop doing my job. I am not going to stop trying to find the truth.&rdquo

Support our journalism

Already a subscriber? Thank you for your support. If you are not, please consider subscribing today. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.


How Seth Rich’s death became an Internet conspiracy theory

Two weeks before the Democratic National Convention in July, Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was shot and killed in his Washington neighborhood. His family and Metropolitan D.C. police have said his death was the result of a botched robbery. But conspiracy theories have circulated in right-wing and conservative social and news media spheres fueling unsubstantiated rumors that Rich's killing was political in nature.

Ten months later, the unsolved homicide and the conspiracy theories attached to it reached their biggest audience yet when they aired on Fox News, bringing fringe speculation about Rich&rsquos death into the mainstream.

Here&rsquos how the rumors took off.

Seth Rich is killed

Before dawn, 27-year-old Rich spoke to his girlfriend, Kelsey Mulka, over the phone as he walked home from a bar. Just days before, Hillary Clinton &rsquos campaign had offered him a new job that would bring him to New York.

As the couple talked, Mulka heard voices on the other end. Rich abruptly ended the call.

There had been a rise in street robberies that summer in the northwest D.C. neighborhood of Bloomingdale. Some blamed a lack of lighting surrounding a vast construction project that had turned much of the area into a dark maze. Residents were troubled.

When police got to the scene, they found Rich had been shot multiple times, and his credit cards, wallet and watch were still on him. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Police ruled his death a homicide &mdash an attempted robbery turned deadly.

"There had been a struggle. His hands were bruised, his knees are bruised, his face is bruised, and yet he had two shots to his back, and yet they never took anything," Rich's mother, Mary, told NBC shortly after his death.

With no suspects or witnesses to the crime, it remained one of 65 unsolved cases in the District of Columbia that year.

Julian Assange fuels conspiracy rumors

&ldquoOur sources take risks,&rdquo WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in an interview with a Dutch television program, just after addressing Rich&rsquos murder.

When asked if he was implying that Rich was a source for WikiLeaks, which on July 22 released thousands of emails from DNC accounts &mdash centering around Clinton, her campaign and the DNC's treatment of Sen. Bernie Sanders &mdash Assange cryptically responded.

&ldquoWe don&rsquot comment on our sources,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe have to understand how high the stakes are on the case.&rdquo

The comments fueled a growing conspiracy theory on Twitter, and later on message boards Reddit and 4chan that Rich&rsquos death was connected to the DNC. Despite police statements and Rich&rsquos family concluding that his death was the result of an attempted robbery, the rumor spread within the same circles that churned out the bogus &ldquoPizzaGate&rdquo story &mdash a theory that a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor was at the center of a child sex-trafficking operation that involved Hillary Clinton&rsquos campaign manager, John Podesta .

WikiLeaks has stated that it doesn&rsquot confirm or deny whether any person has ever been a source as a matter of policy.

But the site has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in Rich&rsquos slaying.

Republican lobbyist offers his assistance to Rich family

After police came up empty-handed in solving Rich&rsquos case, Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman offered his public relations services, pro bono, to Rich&rsquos family. He increased the reward for information to $130,000 and plastered posters throughout the Bloomingdale neighborhood and its surrounding areas that asked &ldquoDo you know who murdered Seth Rich?&rdquo

In late November, he held a joint news conference with Rich&rsquos family.

&ldquoNone of us can solve this. Only you can solve this,&rdquo Burkman said. &ldquoIt&rsquos only through the media that this can be solved.&rdquo

When asked to address the conspiracy theories about Rich&rsquos slaying, it was clear that Burkman and the Rich family were on different pages.

&ldquoThere is no politicization here. There are no ulterior motives here. There is no conspiracy theory here. This is a genuine attempt to get to the facts of the case,&rdquo Brad Bauman, a spokesperson from the family, said.

&ldquoI don&rsquot believe there&rsquos much evidence of a robbery.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father, Joel, interjected.

&ldquoThere are signs of a struggle,&rdquo he said. &ldquoThere&rsquos no other evidence to show anything else.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father tries to quell conspiracy theories

Six months after his son&rsquos death, Joel Rich tried to dispel the rumors that followed Assange&rsquos statements.

&ldquoAnyone who knew Seth knew that wasn&rsquot the way he would have handled the problem," he told Fox News. "He would not go outside the system.&rdquo

Rich continued to reiterate what police and his family had said before, that his son was in the &ldquowrong place at the wrong time.&rdquo

&ldquoThere are all kinds of scenarios, but until something else is proven, these are just scenarios,&rdquo he said.

Burkman pushes another conspiracy theory

Conspiracists theorized that the Clinton campaign and the DNC were connected to Rich&rsquos slaying. Burkman didn&rsquot believe that the Clinton campaign was involved in Rich&rsquos death. But he did think someone, beyond random robbers, was behind it.

During an interview with the local Fox News affiliate, Burkman said he was approached by a man he believed to be &ldquothe first credible lead&rdquo in the case.

&ldquoSeth discovered that the Russians had been hacking [the DNC], and therefore the Russian government did away with Seth,&rdquo Burkman theorized.

Meanwhile, the Rich family distanced themselves from the lobbyist&rsquos statements. Rich&rsquos brother Aaron set up a GoFundMe page in an attempt to raise money for the investigation into Rich&rsquos slaying, seemingly separate from Burkman&rsquos initial funds.

Mass media publications, retractions

On May 15, Fox 5 DC &ndash the local Fox News affiliate &ndash aired a story that cited Rod Wheeler &mdash a man claiming to be a private investigator in Rich&rsquos death. Wheeler said he had evidence that Rich&rsquos slaying was connected to the DNC. Fox 5 DC said it corroborated the claims with an unnamed &ldquofederal investigator&rdquo who said an FBI analysis of Rich&rsquos computer showed he had transferred more than 44,000 DNC emails to someone connected with WikiLeaks.

The national Fox News website prominently featured the local report, and Sean Hannity gave the story attention on his show that same night.

But a law enforcement official said the FBI wasn&rsquot involved in Rich&rsquos case, and Wheeler walked back his claims.

The Rich family called for Fox, both local and national, to retract the stories. Though the local affiliate did so two days after the story aired, the national news network waited one week, until Tuesday.

By then, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had already discussed the unsubstantiated claim on &ldquoFox and Friends,&rdquo citing it is as proof that Russia was not involved in the DNC email leak.

&ldquoWe have this very strange story now of this young man who worked for the Democratic National Committee, who apparently was assassinated at four in the morning, having given WikiLeaks something like 23,000 &mdash I&rsquom sorry, 53,000 emails and 17,000 attachments. Nobody is investigating that. What does that tell you about what was going on? Because it turns out, it wasn&rsquot the Russians. It was this young guy,&rdquo he said.

And Hannity refused to stand down.

&ldquoI am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com. I retracted nothing,&rdquo he said on his nationally syndicated radio program Tuesday.

Hannity refuses to back down

Hannity insisted there was more to Rich&rsquos death, despite his network pulling its initial report. He continued to cite tweets made by Kim Dotcom , the founder of the piracy website Megaupload, who has claimed that Rich passed DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

&ldquoI knew Seth Rich. I know he was the @WikiLeaks source. I was involved,&rdquo Dotcom tweeted on Saturday.

Dotcom issued a statement on his website Tuesday elaborating on his claims, saying that in 2014, he was contacted by an individual going by the name &ldquoPanda&rdquo who said he was working on voter analytics tools and other technologies that would be useful in starting a branch of the Internet Party in the U.S.

&ldquoI now know that Panda was Seth Rich,&rdquo said Dotcom. He added that he communicated with Panda on a number of topics including corruption and the influence of corporate money in politics.

Dotcom said he believes a full statement &ldquoshould be provided to the authorities and I am prepared to do that so that there can be a full investigation.&rdquo

Hannity &mdash a Trump booster and quasi-advisor during his presidential campaign &mdash has also been a longtime critic of the media&rsquos coverage of Russia&rsquos possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Like Gingrich, he implied that Rich&rsquos death is bigger than that issue, which has dogged Trump&rsquos young presidency.

&ldquoThis issue, it&rsquos so big now that the entire Russia collusion narrative is hanging by a thread,&rdquo he said on his radio show.

&ldquoIf in fact, take Seth out of it, there was a whistleblower within the DNC, a truth-teller that actually [was] the source for WikiLeaks, and not Russia, working with the Trump campaign, these are questions that I have a moral obligation to ask. And I will do the mainstream media&rsquos job, like I have most of my career.&rdquo

Rich family calls for end to conspiracy theories

As Hannity tweeted out conspiracy allegations surrounding Rich&rsquos death and stood by his assertions on radio and T.V. broadcasts on Tuesday, Rich&rsquos parents penned a Washington Post op-ed titled &ldquoWe&rsquore Seth Rich&rsquos parents. Stop politicizing our son&rsquos murder.&rdquo

In it, they addressed the unknown factors surrounding their son&rsquos death.

&ldquoThe circumstances of what happened next are still unclear. We know that Seth was abruptly confronted on the street, that he had been on the phone and quickly ended the call. We also know that there were signs of a struggle, including a watchband torn when the assailants attempted to rip it off his wrist. Law-enforcement officials told us that Seth&rsquos murder looked like a botched robbery attempt in which the assailants &mdash after shooting our son &mdash panicked, immediately ran and abandoned Seth&rsquos personal belongings. We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth&rsquos murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics. Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying.&rdquo

They pleaded with media and online commentators to stop fueling conspiracy claims.

&ldquoConservative news outlets and commentators continue, day after painful day, to peddle discredited conspiracy theories that Seth was killed after having provided WikiLeaks with emails from the DNC. Those theories, which some reporters have since retracted, are baseless, and they are unspeakably cruel,&rdquo the wrote.

On his show Tuesday night, Hannity said he would respect the Rich family&rsquos wishes and refrain from discussing the case, with the caveat, &ldquofor now.&rdquo

But he doubled down on his belief that there&rsquos more to Rich&rsquos death than what police, and Rich&rsquos family, have already said.

&ldquoI promise you I am not going to stop doing my job. I am not going to stop trying to find the truth.&rdquo

Support our journalism

Already a subscriber? Thank you for your support. If you are not, please consider subscribing today. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.


How Seth Rich’s death became an Internet conspiracy theory

Two weeks before the Democratic National Convention in July, Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was shot and killed in his Washington neighborhood. His family and Metropolitan D.C. police have said his death was the result of a botched robbery. But conspiracy theories have circulated in right-wing and conservative social and news media spheres fueling unsubstantiated rumors that Rich's killing was political in nature.

Ten months later, the unsolved homicide and the conspiracy theories attached to it reached their biggest audience yet when they aired on Fox News, bringing fringe speculation about Rich&rsquos death into the mainstream.

Here&rsquos how the rumors took off.

Seth Rich is killed

Before dawn, 27-year-old Rich spoke to his girlfriend, Kelsey Mulka, over the phone as he walked home from a bar. Just days before, Hillary Clinton &rsquos campaign had offered him a new job that would bring him to New York.

As the couple talked, Mulka heard voices on the other end. Rich abruptly ended the call.

There had been a rise in street robberies that summer in the northwest D.C. neighborhood of Bloomingdale. Some blamed a lack of lighting surrounding a vast construction project that had turned much of the area into a dark maze. Residents were troubled.

When police got to the scene, they found Rich had been shot multiple times, and his credit cards, wallet and watch were still on him. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Police ruled his death a homicide &mdash an attempted robbery turned deadly.

"There had been a struggle. His hands were bruised, his knees are bruised, his face is bruised, and yet he had two shots to his back, and yet they never took anything," Rich's mother, Mary, told NBC shortly after his death.

With no suspects or witnesses to the crime, it remained one of 65 unsolved cases in the District of Columbia that year.

Julian Assange fuels conspiracy rumors

&ldquoOur sources take risks,&rdquo WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in an interview with a Dutch television program, just after addressing Rich&rsquos murder.

When asked if he was implying that Rich was a source for WikiLeaks, which on July 22 released thousands of emails from DNC accounts &mdash centering around Clinton, her campaign and the DNC's treatment of Sen. Bernie Sanders &mdash Assange cryptically responded.

&ldquoWe don&rsquot comment on our sources,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe have to understand how high the stakes are on the case.&rdquo

The comments fueled a growing conspiracy theory on Twitter, and later on message boards Reddit and 4chan that Rich&rsquos death was connected to the DNC. Despite police statements and Rich&rsquos family concluding that his death was the result of an attempted robbery, the rumor spread within the same circles that churned out the bogus &ldquoPizzaGate&rdquo story &mdash a theory that a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor was at the center of a child sex-trafficking operation that involved Hillary Clinton&rsquos campaign manager, John Podesta .

WikiLeaks has stated that it doesn&rsquot confirm or deny whether any person has ever been a source as a matter of policy.

But the site has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in Rich&rsquos slaying.

Republican lobbyist offers his assistance to Rich family

After police came up empty-handed in solving Rich&rsquos case, Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman offered his public relations services, pro bono, to Rich&rsquos family. He increased the reward for information to $130,000 and plastered posters throughout the Bloomingdale neighborhood and its surrounding areas that asked &ldquoDo you know who murdered Seth Rich?&rdquo

In late November, he held a joint news conference with Rich&rsquos family.

&ldquoNone of us can solve this. Only you can solve this,&rdquo Burkman said. &ldquoIt&rsquos only through the media that this can be solved.&rdquo

When asked to address the conspiracy theories about Rich&rsquos slaying, it was clear that Burkman and the Rich family were on different pages.

&ldquoThere is no politicization here. There are no ulterior motives here. There is no conspiracy theory here. This is a genuine attempt to get to the facts of the case,&rdquo Brad Bauman, a spokesperson from the family, said.

&ldquoI don&rsquot believe there&rsquos much evidence of a robbery.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father, Joel, interjected.

&ldquoThere are signs of a struggle,&rdquo he said. &ldquoThere&rsquos no other evidence to show anything else.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father tries to quell conspiracy theories

Six months after his son&rsquos death, Joel Rich tried to dispel the rumors that followed Assange&rsquos statements.

&ldquoAnyone who knew Seth knew that wasn&rsquot the way he would have handled the problem," he told Fox News. "He would not go outside the system.&rdquo

Rich continued to reiterate what police and his family had said before, that his son was in the &ldquowrong place at the wrong time.&rdquo

&ldquoThere are all kinds of scenarios, but until something else is proven, these are just scenarios,&rdquo he said.

Burkman pushes another conspiracy theory

Conspiracists theorized that the Clinton campaign and the DNC were connected to Rich&rsquos slaying. Burkman didn&rsquot believe that the Clinton campaign was involved in Rich&rsquos death. But he did think someone, beyond random robbers, was behind it.

During an interview with the local Fox News affiliate, Burkman said he was approached by a man he believed to be &ldquothe first credible lead&rdquo in the case.

&ldquoSeth discovered that the Russians had been hacking [the DNC], and therefore the Russian government did away with Seth,&rdquo Burkman theorized.

Meanwhile, the Rich family distanced themselves from the lobbyist&rsquos statements. Rich&rsquos brother Aaron set up a GoFundMe page in an attempt to raise money for the investigation into Rich&rsquos slaying, seemingly separate from Burkman&rsquos initial funds.

Mass media publications, retractions

On May 15, Fox 5 DC &ndash the local Fox News affiliate &ndash aired a story that cited Rod Wheeler &mdash a man claiming to be a private investigator in Rich&rsquos death. Wheeler said he had evidence that Rich&rsquos slaying was connected to the DNC. Fox 5 DC said it corroborated the claims with an unnamed &ldquofederal investigator&rdquo who said an FBI analysis of Rich&rsquos computer showed he had transferred more than 44,000 DNC emails to someone connected with WikiLeaks.

The national Fox News website prominently featured the local report, and Sean Hannity gave the story attention on his show that same night.

But a law enforcement official said the FBI wasn&rsquot involved in Rich&rsquos case, and Wheeler walked back his claims.

The Rich family called for Fox, both local and national, to retract the stories. Though the local affiliate did so two days after the story aired, the national news network waited one week, until Tuesday.

By then, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had already discussed the unsubstantiated claim on &ldquoFox and Friends,&rdquo citing it is as proof that Russia was not involved in the DNC email leak.

&ldquoWe have this very strange story now of this young man who worked for the Democratic National Committee, who apparently was assassinated at four in the morning, having given WikiLeaks something like 23,000 &mdash I&rsquom sorry, 53,000 emails and 17,000 attachments. Nobody is investigating that. What does that tell you about what was going on? Because it turns out, it wasn&rsquot the Russians. It was this young guy,&rdquo he said.

And Hannity refused to stand down.

&ldquoI am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com. I retracted nothing,&rdquo he said on his nationally syndicated radio program Tuesday.

Hannity refuses to back down

Hannity insisted there was more to Rich&rsquos death, despite his network pulling its initial report. He continued to cite tweets made by Kim Dotcom , the founder of the piracy website Megaupload, who has claimed that Rich passed DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

&ldquoI knew Seth Rich. I know he was the @WikiLeaks source. I was involved,&rdquo Dotcom tweeted on Saturday.

Dotcom issued a statement on his website Tuesday elaborating on his claims, saying that in 2014, he was contacted by an individual going by the name &ldquoPanda&rdquo who said he was working on voter analytics tools and other technologies that would be useful in starting a branch of the Internet Party in the U.S.

&ldquoI now know that Panda was Seth Rich,&rdquo said Dotcom. He added that he communicated with Panda on a number of topics including corruption and the influence of corporate money in politics.

Dotcom said he believes a full statement &ldquoshould be provided to the authorities and I am prepared to do that so that there can be a full investigation.&rdquo

Hannity &mdash a Trump booster and quasi-advisor during his presidential campaign &mdash has also been a longtime critic of the media&rsquos coverage of Russia&rsquos possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Like Gingrich, he implied that Rich&rsquos death is bigger than that issue, which has dogged Trump&rsquos young presidency.

&ldquoThis issue, it&rsquos so big now that the entire Russia collusion narrative is hanging by a thread,&rdquo he said on his radio show.

&ldquoIf in fact, take Seth out of it, there was a whistleblower within the DNC, a truth-teller that actually [was] the source for WikiLeaks, and not Russia, working with the Trump campaign, these are questions that I have a moral obligation to ask. And I will do the mainstream media&rsquos job, like I have most of my career.&rdquo

Rich family calls for end to conspiracy theories

As Hannity tweeted out conspiracy allegations surrounding Rich&rsquos death and stood by his assertions on radio and T.V. broadcasts on Tuesday, Rich&rsquos parents penned a Washington Post op-ed titled &ldquoWe&rsquore Seth Rich&rsquos parents. Stop politicizing our son&rsquos murder.&rdquo

In it, they addressed the unknown factors surrounding their son&rsquos death.

&ldquoThe circumstances of what happened next are still unclear. We know that Seth was abruptly confronted on the street, that he had been on the phone and quickly ended the call. We also know that there were signs of a struggle, including a watchband torn when the assailants attempted to rip it off his wrist. Law-enforcement officials told us that Seth&rsquos murder looked like a botched robbery attempt in which the assailants &mdash after shooting our son &mdash panicked, immediately ran and abandoned Seth&rsquos personal belongings. We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth&rsquos murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics. Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying.&rdquo

They pleaded with media and online commentators to stop fueling conspiracy claims.

&ldquoConservative news outlets and commentators continue, day after painful day, to peddle discredited conspiracy theories that Seth was killed after having provided WikiLeaks with emails from the DNC. Those theories, which some reporters have since retracted, are baseless, and they are unspeakably cruel,&rdquo the wrote.

On his show Tuesday night, Hannity said he would respect the Rich family&rsquos wishes and refrain from discussing the case, with the caveat, &ldquofor now.&rdquo

But he doubled down on his belief that there&rsquos more to Rich&rsquos death than what police, and Rich&rsquos family, have already said.

&ldquoI promise you I am not going to stop doing my job. I am not going to stop trying to find the truth.&rdquo

Support our journalism

Already a subscriber? Thank you for your support. If you are not, please consider subscribing today. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.


How Seth Rich’s death became an Internet conspiracy theory

Two weeks before the Democratic National Convention in July, Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was shot and killed in his Washington neighborhood. His family and Metropolitan D.C. police have said his death was the result of a botched robbery. But conspiracy theories have circulated in right-wing and conservative social and news media spheres fueling unsubstantiated rumors that Rich's killing was political in nature.

Ten months later, the unsolved homicide and the conspiracy theories attached to it reached their biggest audience yet when they aired on Fox News, bringing fringe speculation about Rich&rsquos death into the mainstream.

Here&rsquos how the rumors took off.

Seth Rich is killed

Before dawn, 27-year-old Rich spoke to his girlfriend, Kelsey Mulka, over the phone as he walked home from a bar. Just days before, Hillary Clinton &rsquos campaign had offered him a new job that would bring him to New York.

As the couple talked, Mulka heard voices on the other end. Rich abruptly ended the call.

There had been a rise in street robberies that summer in the northwest D.C. neighborhood of Bloomingdale. Some blamed a lack of lighting surrounding a vast construction project that had turned much of the area into a dark maze. Residents were troubled.

When police got to the scene, they found Rich had been shot multiple times, and his credit cards, wallet and watch were still on him. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Police ruled his death a homicide &mdash an attempted robbery turned deadly.

"There had been a struggle. His hands were bruised, his knees are bruised, his face is bruised, and yet he had two shots to his back, and yet they never took anything," Rich's mother, Mary, told NBC shortly after his death.

With no suspects or witnesses to the crime, it remained one of 65 unsolved cases in the District of Columbia that year.

Julian Assange fuels conspiracy rumors

&ldquoOur sources take risks,&rdquo WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in an interview with a Dutch television program, just after addressing Rich&rsquos murder.

When asked if he was implying that Rich was a source for WikiLeaks, which on July 22 released thousands of emails from DNC accounts &mdash centering around Clinton, her campaign and the DNC's treatment of Sen. Bernie Sanders &mdash Assange cryptically responded.

&ldquoWe don&rsquot comment on our sources,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe have to understand how high the stakes are on the case.&rdquo

The comments fueled a growing conspiracy theory on Twitter, and later on message boards Reddit and 4chan that Rich&rsquos death was connected to the DNC. Despite police statements and Rich&rsquos family concluding that his death was the result of an attempted robbery, the rumor spread within the same circles that churned out the bogus &ldquoPizzaGate&rdquo story &mdash a theory that a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor was at the center of a child sex-trafficking operation that involved Hillary Clinton&rsquos campaign manager, John Podesta .

WikiLeaks has stated that it doesn&rsquot confirm or deny whether any person has ever been a source as a matter of policy.

But the site has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in Rich&rsquos slaying.

Republican lobbyist offers his assistance to Rich family

After police came up empty-handed in solving Rich&rsquos case, Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman offered his public relations services, pro bono, to Rich&rsquos family. He increased the reward for information to $130,000 and plastered posters throughout the Bloomingdale neighborhood and its surrounding areas that asked &ldquoDo you know who murdered Seth Rich?&rdquo

In late November, he held a joint news conference with Rich&rsquos family.

&ldquoNone of us can solve this. Only you can solve this,&rdquo Burkman said. &ldquoIt&rsquos only through the media that this can be solved.&rdquo

When asked to address the conspiracy theories about Rich&rsquos slaying, it was clear that Burkman and the Rich family were on different pages.

&ldquoThere is no politicization here. There are no ulterior motives here. There is no conspiracy theory here. This is a genuine attempt to get to the facts of the case,&rdquo Brad Bauman, a spokesperson from the family, said.

&ldquoI don&rsquot believe there&rsquos much evidence of a robbery.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father, Joel, interjected.

&ldquoThere are signs of a struggle,&rdquo he said. &ldquoThere&rsquos no other evidence to show anything else.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father tries to quell conspiracy theories

Six months after his son&rsquos death, Joel Rich tried to dispel the rumors that followed Assange&rsquos statements.

&ldquoAnyone who knew Seth knew that wasn&rsquot the way he would have handled the problem," he told Fox News. "He would not go outside the system.&rdquo

Rich continued to reiterate what police and his family had said before, that his son was in the &ldquowrong place at the wrong time.&rdquo

&ldquoThere are all kinds of scenarios, but until something else is proven, these are just scenarios,&rdquo he said.

Burkman pushes another conspiracy theory

Conspiracists theorized that the Clinton campaign and the DNC were connected to Rich&rsquos slaying. Burkman didn&rsquot believe that the Clinton campaign was involved in Rich&rsquos death. But he did think someone, beyond random robbers, was behind it.

During an interview with the local Fox News affiliate, Burkman said he was approached by a man he believed to be &ldquothe first credible lead&rdquo in the case.

&ldquoSeth discovered that the Russians had been hacking [the DNC], and therefore the Russian government did away with Seth,&rdquo Burkman theorized.

Meanwhile, the Rich family distanced themselves from the lobbyist&rsquos statements. Rich&rsquos brother Aaron set up a GoFundMe page in an attempt to raise money for the investigation into Rich&rsquos slaying, seemingly separate from Burkman&rsquos initial funds.

Mass media publications, retractions

On May 15, Fox 5 DC &ndash the local Fox News affiliate &ndash aired a story that cited Rod Wheeler &mdash a man claiming to be a private investigator in Rich&rsquos death. Wheeler said he had evidence that Rich&rsquos slaying was connected to the DNC. Fox 5 DC said it corroborated the claims with an unnamed &ldquofederal investigator&rdquo who said an FBI analysis of Rich&rsquos computer showed he had transferred more than 44,000 DNC emails to someone connected with WikiLeaks.

The national Fox News website prominently featured the local report, and Sean Hannity gave the story attention on his show that same night.

But a law enforcement official said the FBI wasn&rsquot involved in Rich&rsquos case, and Wheeler walked back his claims.

The Rich family called for Fox, both local and national, to retract the stories. Though the local affiliate did so two days after the story aired, the national news network waited one week, until Tuesday.

By then, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had already discussed the unsubstantiated claim on &ldquoFox and Friends,&rdquo citing it is as proof that Russia was not involved in the DNC email leak.

&ldquoWe have this very strange story now of this young man who worked for the Democratic National Committee, who apparently was assassinated at four in the morning, having given WikiLeaks something like 23,000 &mdash I&rsquom sorry, 53,000 emails and 17,000 attachments. Nobody is investigating that. What does that tell you about what was going on? Because it turns out, it wasn&rsquot the Russians. It was this young guy,&rdquo he said.

And Hannity refused to stand down.

&ldquoI am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com. I retracted nothing,&rdquo he said on his nationally syndicated radio program Tuesday.

Hannity refuses to back down

Hannity insisted there was more to Rich&rsquos death, despite his network pulling its initial report. He continued to cite tweets made by Kim Dotcom , the founder of the piracy website Megaupload, who has claimed that Rich passed DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

&ldquoI knew Seth Rich. I know he was the @WikiLeaks source. I was involved,&rdquo Dotcom tweeted on Saturday.

Dotcom issued a statement on his website Tuesday elaborating on his claims, saying that in 2014, he was contacted by an individual going by the name &ldquoPanda&rdquo who said he was working on voter analytics tools and other technologies that would be useful in starting a branch of the Internet Party in the U.S.

&ldquoI now know that Panda was Seth Rich,&rdquo said Dotcom. He added that he communicated with Panda on a number of topics including corruption and the influence of corporate money in politics.

Dotcom said he believes a full statement &ldquoshould be provided to the authorities and I am prepared to do that so that there can be a full investigation.&rdquo

Hannity &mdash a Trump booster and quasi-advisor during his presidential campaign &mdash has also been a longtime critic of the media&rsquos coverage of Russia&rsquos possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Like Gingrich, he implied that Rich&rsquos death is bigger than that issue, which has dogged Trump&rsquos young presidency.

&ldquoThis issue, it&rsquos so big now that the entire Russia collusion narrative is hanging by a thread,&rdquo he said on his radio show.

&ldquoIf in fact, take Seth out of it, there was a whistleblower within the DNC, a truth-teller that actually [was] the source for WikiLeaks, and not Russia, working with the Trump campaign, these are questions that I have a moral obligation to ask. And I will do the mainstream media&rsquos job, like I have most of my career.&rdquo

Rich family calls for end to conspiracy theories

As Hannity tweeted out conspiracy allegations surrounding Rich&rsquos death and stood by his assertions on radio and T.V. broadcasts on Tuesday, Rich&rsquos parents penned a Washington Post op-ed titled &ldquoWe&rsquore Seth Rich&rsquos parents. Stop politicizing our son&rsquos murder.&rdquo

In it, they addressed the unknown factors surrounding their son&rsquos death.

&ldquoThe circumstances of what happened next are still unclear. We know that Seth was abruptly confronted on the street, that he had been on the phone and quickly ended the call. We also know that there were signs of a struggle, including a watchband torn when the assailants attempted to rip it off his wrist. Law-enforcement officials told us that Seth&rsquos murder looked like a botched robbery attempt in which the assailants &mdash after shooting our son &mdash panicked, immediately ran and abandoned Seth&rsquos personal belongings. We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth&rsquos murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics. Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying.&rdquo

They pleaded with media and online commentators to stop fueling conspiracy claims.

&ldquoConservative news outlets and commentators continue, day after painful day, to peddle discredited conspiracy theories that Seth was killed after having provided WikiLeaks with emails from the DNC. Those theories, which some reporters have since retracted, are baseless, and they are unspeakably cruel,&rdquo the wrote.

On his show Tuesday night, Hannity said he would respect the Rich family&rsquos wishes and refrain from discussing the case, with the caveat, &ldquofor now.&rdquo

But he doubled down on his belief that there&rsquos more to Rich&rsquos death than what police, and Rich&rsquos family, have already said.

&ldquoI promise you I am not going to stop doing my job. I am not going to stop trying to find the truth.&rdquo

Support our journalism

Already a subscriber? Thank you for your support. If you are not, please consider subscribing today. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.


How Seth Rich’s death became an Internet conspiracy theory

Two weeks before the Democratic National Convention in July, Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was shot and killed in his Washington neighborhood. His family and Metropolitan D.C. police have said his death was the result of a botched robbery. But conspiracy theories have circulated in right-wing and conservative social and news media spheres fueling unsubstantiated rumors that Rich's killing was political in nature.

Ten months later, the unsolved homicide and the conspiracy theories attached to it reached their biggest audience yet when they aired on Fox News, bringing fringe speculation about Rich&rsquos death into the mainstream.

Here&rsquos how the rumors took off.

Seth Rich is killed

Before dawn, 27-year-old Rich spoke to his girlfriend, Kelsey Mulka, over the phone as he walked home from a bar. Just days before, Hillary Clinton &rsquos campaign had offered him a new job that would bring him to New York.

As the couple talked, Mulka heard voices on the other end. Rich abruptly ended the call.

There had been a rise in street robberies that summer in the northwest D.C. neighborhood of Bloomingdale. Some blamed a lack of lighting surrounding a vast construction project that had turned much of the area into a dark maze. Residents were troubled.

When police got to the scene, they found Rich had been shot multiple times, and his credit cards, wallet and watch were still on him. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Police ruled his death a homicide &mdash an attempted robbery turned deadly.

"There had been a struggle. His hands were bruised, his knees are bruised, his face is bruised, and yet he had two shots to his back, and yet they never took anything," Rich's mother, Mary, told NBC shortly after his death.

With no suspects or witnesses to the crime, it remained one of 65 unsolved cases in the District of Columbia that year.

Julian Assange fuels conspiracy rumors

&ldquoOur sources take risks,&rdquo WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in an interview with a Dutch television program, just after addressing Rich&rsquos murder.

When asked if he was implying that Rich was a source for WikiLeaks, which on July 22 released thousands of emails from DNC accounts &mdash centering around Clinton, her campaign and the DNC's treatment of Sen. Bernie Sanders &mdash Assange cryptically responded.

&ldquoWe don&rsquot comment on our sources,&rdquo he said. &ldquoWe have to understand how high the stakes are on the case.&rdquo

The comments fueled a growing conspiracy theory on Twitter, and later on message boards Reddit and 4chan that Rich&rsquos death was connected to the DNC. Despite police statements and Rich&rsquos family concluding that his death was the result of an attempted robbery, the rumor spread within the same circles that churned out the bogus &ldquoPizzaGate&rdquo story &mdash a theory that a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor was at the center of a child sex-trafficking operation that involved Hillary Clinton&rsquos campaign manager, John Podesta .

WikiLeaks has stated that it doesn&rsquot confirm or deny whether any person has ever been a source as a matter of policy.

But the site has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in Rich&rsquos slaying.

Republican lobbyist offers his assistance to Rich family

After police came up empty-handed in solving Rich&rsquos case, Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman offered his public relations services, pro bono, to Rich&rsquos family. He increased the reward for information to $130,000 and plastered posters throughout the Bloomingdale neighborhood and its surrounding areas that asked &ldquoDo you know who murdered Seth Rich?&rdquo

In late November, he held a joint news conference with Rich&rsquos family.

&ldquoNone of us can solve this. Only you can solve this,&rdquo Burkman said. &ldquoIt&rsquos only through the media that this can be solved.&rdquo

When asked to address the conspiracy theories about Rich&rsquos slaying, it was clear that Burkman and the Rich family were on different pages.

&ldquoThere is no politicization here. There are no ulterior motives here. There is no conspiracy theory here. This is a genuine attempt to get to the facts of the case,&rdquo Brad Bauman, a spokesperson from the family, said.

&ldquoI don&rsquot believe there&rsquos much evidence of a robbery.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father, Joel, interjected.

&ldquoThere are signs of a struggle,&rdquo he said. &ldquoThere&rsquos no other evidence to show anything else.&rdquo

Rich&rsquos father tries to quell conspiracy theories

Six months after his son&rsquos death, Joel Rich tried to dispel the rumors that followed Assange&rsquos statements.

&ldquoAnyone who knew Seth knew that wasn&rsquot the way he would have handled the problem," he told Fox News. "He would not go outside the system.&rdquo

Rich continued to reiterate what police and his family had said before, that his son was in the &ldquowrong place at the wrong time.&rdquo

&ldquoThere are all kinds of scenarios, but until something else is proven, these are just scenarios,&rdquo he said.

Burkman pushes another conspiracy theory

Conspiracists theorized that the Clinton campaign and the DNC were connected to Rich&rsquos slaying. Burkman didn&rsquot believe that the Clinton campaign was involved in Rich&rsquos death. But he did think someone, beyond random robbers, was behind it.

During an interview with the local Fox News affiliate, Burkman said he was approached by a man he believed to be &ldquothe first credible lead&rdquo in the case.

&ldquoSeth discovered that the Russians had been hacking [the DNC], and therefore the Russian government did away with Seth,&rdquo Burkman theorized.

Meanwhile, the Rich family distanced themselves from the lobbyist&rsquos statements. Rich&rsquos brother Aaron set up a GoFundMe page in an attempt to raise money for the investigation into Rich&rsquos slaying, seemingly separate from Burkman&rsquos initial funds.

Mass media publications, retractions

On May 15, Fox 5 DC &ndash the local Fox News affiliate &ndash aired a story that cited Rod Wheeler &mdash a man claiming to be a private investigator in Rich&rsquos death. Wheeler said he had evidence that Rich&rsquos slaying was connected to the DNC. Fox 5 DC said it corroborated the claims with an unnamed &ldquofederal investigator&rdquo who said an FBI analysis of Rich&rsquos computer showed he had transferred more than 44,000 DNC emails to someone connected with WikiLeaks.

The national Fox News website prominently featured the local report, and Sean Hannity gave the story attention on his show that same night.

But a law enforcement official said the FBI wasn&rsquot involved in Rich&rsquos case, and Wheeler walked back his claims.

The Rich family called for Fox, both local and national, to retract the stories. Though the local affiliate did so two days after the story aired, the national news network waited one week, until Tuesday.

By then, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had already discussed the unsubstantiated claim on &ldquoFox and Friends,&rdquo citing it is as proof that Russia was not involved in the DNC email leak.

&ldquoWe have this very strange story now of this young man who worked for the Democratic National Committee, who apparently was assassinated at four in the morning, having given WikiLeaks something like 23,000 &mdash I&rsquom sorry, 53,000 emails and 17,000 attachments. Nobody is investigating that. What does that tell you about what was going on? Because it turns out, it wasn&rsquot the Russians. It was this young guy,&rdquo he said.

And Hannity refused to stand down.

&ldquoI am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com. I retracted nothing,&rdquo he said on his nationally syndicated radio program Tuesday.

Hannity refuses to back down

Hannity insisted there was more to Rich&rsquos death, despite his network pulling its initial report. He continued to cite tweets made by Kim Dotcom , the founder of the piracy website Megaupload, who has claimed that Rich passed DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

&ldquoI knew Seth Rich. I know he was the @WikiLeaks source. I was involved,&rdquo Dotcom tweeted on Saturday.

Dotcom issued a statement on his website Tuesday elaborating on his claims, saying that in 2014, he was contacted by an individual going by the name &ldquoPanda&rdquo who said he was working on voter analytics tools and other technologies that would be useful in starting a branch of the Internet Party in the U.S.

&ldquoI now know that Panda was Seth Rich,&rdquo said Dotcom. He added that he communicated with Panda on a number of topics including corruption and the influence of corporate money in politics.

Dotcom said he believes a full statement &ldquoshould be provided to the authorities and I am prepared to do that so that there can be a full investigation.&rdquo

Hannity &mdash a Trump booster and quasi-advisor during his presidential campaign &mdash has also been a longtime critic of the media&rsquos coverage of Russia&rsquos possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Like Gingrich, he implied that Rich&rsquos death is bigger than that issue, which has dogged Trump&rsquos young presidency.

&ldquoThis issue, it&rsquos so big now that the entire Russia collusion narrative is hanging by a thread,&rdquo he said on his radio show.

&ldquoIf in fact, take Seth out of it, there was a whistleblower within the DNC, a truth-teller that actually [was] the source for WikiLeaks, and not Russia, working with the Trump campaign, these are questions that I have a moral obligation to ask. And I will do the mainstream media&rsquos job, like I have most of my career.&rdquo

Rich family calls for end to conspiracy theories

As Hannity tweeted out conspiracy allegations surrounding Rich&rsquos death and stood by his assertions on radio and T.V. broadcasts on Tuesday, Rich&rsquos parents penned a Washington Post op-ed titled &ldquoWe&rsquore Seth Rich&rsquos parents. Stop politicizing our son&rsquos murder.&rdquo

In it, they addressed the unknown factors surrounding their son&rsquos death.

&ldquoThe circumstances of what happened next are still unclear. We know that Seth was abruptly confronted on the street, that he had been on the phone and quickly ended the call. We also know that there were signs of a struggle, including a watchband torn when the assailants attempted to rip it off his wrist. Law-enforcement officials told us that Seth&rsquos murder looked like a botched robbery attempt in which the assailants &mdash after shooting our son &mdash panicked, immediately ran and abandoned Seth&rsquos personal belongings. We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth&rsquos murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics. Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying.&rdquo

They pleaded with media and online commentators to stop fueling conspiracy claims.

&ldquoConservative news outlets and commentators continue, day after painful day, to peddle discredited conspiracy theories that Seth was killed after having provided WikiLeaks with emails from the DNC. Those theories, which some reporters have since retracted, are baseless, and they are unspeakably cruel,&rdquo the wrote.

On his show Tuesday night, Hannity said he would respect the Rich family&rsquos wishes and refrain from discussing the case, with the caveat, &ldquofor now.&rdquo

But he doubled down on his belief that there&rsquos more to Rich&rsquos death than what police, and Rich&rsquos family, have already said.

&ldquoI promise you I am not going to stop doing my job. I am not going to stop trying to find the truth.&rdquo

Support our journalism

Already a subscriber? Thank you for your support. If you are not, please consider subscribing today. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.