ConWebWatch home
ConWebBlog: the weblog of ConWebWatch
Search and browse through the ConWebWatch archive
About ConWebWatch
Who's behind the news sites that ConWebWatch watches?
Letters to and from ConWebWatch
ConWebWatch Links
Buy books and more through ConWebWatch

The Seth Rich Conspiracy Dead-Enders At WND

WorldNetDaily writers like Jack Cashill are desperate to keep bogus Seth Rich conspiracy theories alive -- and they won't tell readers about the retractions and apologies that have debunked many of them.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 8/31/2023

Seth Rich

The Seth Rich conspiracy theory has almost completely fallen apart, and WorldNetDaily -- which heavily promoted it out of a desire to put its personal animosity against Hillary Clinton ahead of reporting facts -- won't tell readers about it.

In November 2020, Fox News settled with Rich's family -- reportedly for seven figures -- over a false story it published on its website pushing the conspiracy theory that Rich, a Democratic staffer who was murdered in 2016, was killed because he leaked Democratic emails to WikiLeaks. WND censored this story, telling its readers nothing about it. That was followed by another settlement in January 2021, as CNN reported:

"I take full responsibility for my comments and I apologize for any pain I have caused," the businessman, Ed Butowsky, said in a statement retracting his previous comments. "I sincerely hope the Rich family is able to find out who murdered their son and bring this tragic chapter in their lives to a close."

"Today we retract and disavow our statements and we offer our apology to Mr. Rich and his family," said the fringe internet activist, Matt Couch, in a separate video posted online. "I take full responsibility for my actions ... and would like to apologize to Mr. Rich and his family."

The retractions came as part of a settlement Aaron Rich, Seth Rich's brother, reached with Butowsky and Couch over a lawsuit he filed against them in March 2018. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. The Washington Times, a conservative news outlet that was also sued, also retracted its claims and settled with Aaron Rich in October 2018.


Seth Rich was fatally shot in Washington, DC, in July 2016. Police have said evidence indicates he was the victim of a botched robbery, but in the wake of his death, far-right activists and media organizations suggested something far more sinister.

Without real evidence, these far-right activists peddled a conspiracy theory that posited Seth Rich leaked a trove of DNC emails to Wikileaks and was killed in retribution for the supposed leak. The theory was convenient for some on the right as they disputed allegations Russia hacked the DNC, something President Donald Trump had disputed.

WND has censored this story as well -- strange, because Butowsky played a key role in WND's reporting on Rich. WND touted Butowsky as "a Texas businessman who hired a private eye to look into Rich’s murder" -- Rod Wheeler, who was a major source for WND's early stories on Rich. (Wheeler later tried to sue Fox News for making up quotes from him in the notorious false story, which was thrown out of court.)

The empathy-devoid conspiracy-mongerer Couch, meanwhile, was promoted by WND columnist conspiracy maven Jack Cashill in an attempt to perpetuate the bogus conspiracy theories. in December 2019, Cashill repeated a claim by "independent journalist" Couch that discovery in a Rich-related lawsuit was kept under seal: "Isn't that interesting, America?" Cashill quoted Couch as saying. (Fact-check: discovery had not been sealed.)

In April 2020, as ConWebWatch documented, Cashill gushed that Couch was "irrepressible"; he also tried to defend Butowsky as "well-intentioned" and declared that one reporter had "less interest in solving Rich's murder than he did in slandering Butowsky." So it seems Cashill should be required by WND to issue a retraction as well.

And don't forget that WND knew or should have known that the Seth Rich conspiracy was bogus all along. ConWebWatch has documented how reports showed that then-WND reporter Jerome Corsi knew as early as August 2016 -- less than a month after Rich's death in what police investigators believe was an apparent botched robbery attempt -- that Russian hackers, not Rich, gave those emails to WikiLeaks.

An April 2021 article by Bob Unruh continued to perpetuate the false conspiracy:

The FBI, in its release of heavily redacted documents regarding murdered Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich, has included a cryptic "pay for his death" note.

Rich was the DNC employee who was shot and killed as he walked to his Washington, D.C., home at about 4 a.m. on July 10, 2016. There was evidence of a struggle, with his hands, knees and face bruised, yet he had two shots in his back. Police determined it was a robbery, but his wallet and other items were not taken. Two weeks later, WikiLeaks began releasing DNC emails damaging to Hillary Clinton, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange mentioned Rich on Dutch TV: "Whistleblowers go to significant efforts to get us material and often very significant risks. There's a 27-year-old, works for the DNC, was shot in the back, murdered just a few weeks ago for unknown reasons as he was walking down the street in Washington."

Now, One America News reports the FBI's release of records in reponse to a Freedom of Information Act request "appear to show that an undisclosed entity either wanted to pay or actually paid a lot of money to get Seth Rich killed."

An FBI document dated Nov. 7, 2017, states: "Given [redacted] it is conceivable that an individual or group would want to pay for his death."

Unruh, however, is too committed to the conspiracy to tell reader that this proves nothing. As blogger Emptywheel explained, the document in which the "pay for his death" statement appears "may reflect the FBI investigation into allegations that someone tried to hack Rich’s email." Indeed, the whole tranche of FBI documents isn't worth much since the FBI didn't do the primary investigation into Rich's death.

In other words, this is a lot of nothing. But Unruh's mandate is to perpetuate the conspiracy, so he uncritically quotes OAN complaining that "Democrats and mainstream media have baselessly dismissed Rich’s murder as a 'conspiracy theory' and claimed it was a robbery, although none of his valuable items was taken."

Needless to say, Unruh was silent on all the retractions and apologies its compatriots have made to Rich's family.

WND's ghoulish cynicism continued in a Nov. 2 article by Unruh that contradicted itself right out of the gate:

Virtually all of the details of the death of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee worker who was shot and killed as he walked to his Washington, D.C., home about 4 a.m. on July 10, 2016, remain a mystery.

There was evidence of a struggle, with his hands, knees and face bruised, yet he had two shots in his back. Police said it was a robbery, but his wallet and other items weren't taken.

That's a lot of information for something that he had just called a "mystery." Unruh went on to rehash:

Two weeks later, WikiLeaks began releasing DNC emails damaging to Hillary Clinton, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange mentioned Rich on Dutch TV: "Whistleblowers go to significant efforts to get us material and often very significant risks. There's a 27-year-old, works for the DNC, was shot in the back, murdered just a few weeks ago for unknown reasons as he was walking down the street in Washington."

Assange has never offered any proof that Rich leaked those DNC emails to him -- indeed, the evidence is clear that the Russians stole those emails and gave them to Assange. That was followed by more rehashing:

To further the mystery, the FBI earlier released a tidbit of information, a cryptic note about the idea that someone would "pay for his death."

That meaningless claim is based on above-cited April 2021 article Unruh wrote. But he has a new thing to peddle:

Now Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, has written a commentary at pointing out the additional mystery of why "does FBI want Seth Rich records sealed for 66 years?"

He pointed out at one time, the FBI claimed to have "no records" relating to Rich's murder.

"Now they’re asking a federal court for an order to seal the records that they said they didn’t have — they have them, all right — for 66 years," Huckabee explained.

Huckabee's source for this claim is a report from an obscure, sketchy-looking site called Slay News, which in turn references a paywalled story by the Epoch Times, best known for being pro-Trump stooges and spreading lies and misinformation about COVID vaccines. Neither of these sources appear trustworthy, and Unruh made no apparent effort to fact-check anything they wrote; instead. Unruh went on to rehash conspiracy theories peddled by Ty Clevenger, who is only in it because he hates the Clintons, not because he cares about facts.

Meanwhile, in related happenings: A book about Rich's death, by Andy Kroll, has been published that reveals the false and hateful conspiracy theories spread about it, and Rich's parents have given interviews about the ordeal they have been put through because of the lies and conspiracy theories spread about their son's death peddled by the likes of WND. Unsurprisingly, WND has hidden these events from its readers.

Conspiratorial columnists

After all these years, WND columnists are still cranking out Seth Rich conspiracy theories. An Oct. 31 column by Scott Lively portrayed Rich as the victim of murder by a vindictive Hillary Clinton:

Enemy No. 1 was not, surprisingly, Donald Trump. It was Seth Rich, because he was the Benedict Arnold of the Army of the Dems – the one who (I am convinced) ratted her out to WikiLeaks and created the fatal email-scandal that she never really recovered from. Ironically, "Bernie Bot" Seth Rich was (I am convinced) seeking revenge on Hillary for her seriously dirty tricks against the Bern-Meister in the 2016 Democratic primary. (Remember that charnel-house chapter of the internal Democrat civil war? Wow!)

Technically, Seth Rich was murdered on July 10, 2016, four months before the election, but the sin for which he was struck down did not bear its ultimate fruit until Nov. 3. Rich's murder (to use the satirical term I invented during law school) was an act of "anticipatory retaliation" on Hillary's part (allegedly).

Needless to say, Lively offered no evidence whatsoever to support his bizarre conspiracy theory.

Jack Cashill wrote in his Dec. 21 column:

In my 2019 book, "Unmasking Obama," I focus the spotlight on those intrepid investigators who are doing the work that mainstream journalists are paid to but don't.

One unsung investigator who deserves more attention is Ty Clevenger, a self-described, "Ex-cop, ex-journalist, disgruntled lawyer, muckraking blogger (, and cheerful optimist. (OK, maybe that last one is a stretch.)"

In a sense, all the investigators I have highlighted are, like myself, optimists. We continue to believe that surrender is not an option and that despair is for losers. For the last several years, Clevenger has dug away the dirt surrounding what may be the most revealing mystery of our time, the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich.

Through his legal efforts on behalf of client Brian Huddleston, Clevenger has discovered that the FBI has in its possession not just Rich's personal laptop but his work computer as well. "I think it's huge," Clevenger recently told Emerald Robinson on her program "The Absolute Truth."
Clevenger, again, is a discredited lawyer who is perhaps the chief remaining Seth Rich conspiracy-mongerer. He made a big splash when he represented right-wing operative Ed Butowsky in suing various people and media outlets for purported defamation -- nearly all of which have been either withdrawn or thrown out of court, in no small part because Butowsky lied during his lawsuit against one outlet, NPR. (Butowsky has also been made to apologize to Rich's brother for false statements he made about him.) And Robinson, if you'll recall, is a former Newsmax correspondent who got booted from there after spreading wacky anti-vaccine conspiracy theories on her Twitter account. So neither of these people are what anyone would call credible.

Cashill didn't mention any of this unsavory history, of course. Instead, he rehashed the bogus conspiracy:

The media accepted the explanation of the Metropolitan D.C. Police that Rich's murder was the result of a botched robbery – but how does one botch a "robbery" after beating and then killing the victim.

"I think Julian Assange was telling the truth," Clevenger told Robinson. Two weeks after Rich's death, Assange suggested on Dutch TV that Rich was his source for the DNC emails then unsettling the Democratic Party. Assange offered a $20,000 reward to find Rich's killer.

The media has mindlessly blamed the Russians for hacking this information, but as Clevenger pointed out the FBI never looked at the DNC computers that were allegedly hacked. Instead, the alleged crime victim, the DNC, took the unlikely step of circumventing the FBI and hiring its own investigator, the Democrat-friendly firm CrowdStrike.

In fact, the Mueller report found that the DNC emails were, in fact, stolen by Russia and that Assange had been in communication with Russian military officials before and after Rich's death.

Cashill went on to try to make a big deal out of journalist Ellen Ratner being told by Assange that Rich was the source for the leaked DNC emails. But as one observer noted, Clevenger and Butowsky wanted to treat Ratner as a hostile witness in at least one of their lawsuits even though she was supposedly their own witness.

After parroting more claims from Clevenger -- whose word, again, is of dubious value to anyone who's not a Seth Rich conspiracy obsessive -- Cashill concluded: "What neither the FBI nor the mainstream media can deny is that Seth Rich was murdered on a Washington Street and that his killer or killers remain at large. The real scandal here, the undeniable one, is that our media have less than zero interest in finding out just who those killers are." Just as it's undeniable that Cashill will put conspiracy theories ahead of facts.

In his Feb. 9 podcast, Cashill and co-host Loy Edge rehashed various right-wing conspiracy theories including those about Vince Foster (whom he called "the Seth Rich of his day") and purported gay liaisons involving Barack Obama before getting around to talking about Rich, making a big deal about how none of his valuables were taken when he was killed (though one might suspect that if you've killed someone, later trying to fence his valuables would make it easier to be blamed for his murder). He repeated the dubious claims Clevenger made about Rich's laptop, and he repeated Assange's unproven claims about DNC hacking while staying silent about how the Mueller report found that the DNC emails were hacked by Russia, not taken by Rich. Cashill went into complain that people aren't steeped in right-wing conspiracy theories (or, in his words, "politically attuned") as he is: "So how do I talk about Seth Rich when they don't even know who Seth Rich is? How do I talk about Ray Epps when they don't know who Ray Epps is?"

ConWebWatch is "politically attuned" to what Cashill says, but he has never reached out to discuss those issues with us.

We know WND is capable of correcting a story when it turns out to be false. If it has any genuine desire to be treated as a credible news source (not to mention head off a defamation suit by Rich's family that they are more than entitled to file), now is the time for WND (and Cashill) to fully embrace what it means to set the record straight and fully retract and apologize for all the Seth Rich conspiracy theories it promoted since 2016.

If not, all the tiny walkbacks it does won't make a difference because they will never erase WND's notorious reputation for pushing fact-free conspiracy theories.

Send this page to:

Bookmark and Share
The latest from

In Association with
Support This Site

home | letters | archive | about | primer | links | shop
This site © Copyright 2000-2023 Terry Krepel