Fact Check

Seth Rich's Parents 'Thank' Internet for Spreading Rumor He Leaked Thousands of E-Mails to WikiLeaks?

The murdered DNC staffer's parents posted a video to the family's GoFundMe page a month ago thanking people who donated — not those who spread the baseless rumor.

Published May 22, 2017

The parents of murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich thanked "the Internet" for spreading a debunked claim he had leaked thousands of e-mails to WikiLeaks.

On 20 May 2017, a Twitter user with the handle @RedPillDropper tweeted a month-old video, using it to bolster a claim that it showed the parents of murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich "thanking the Internet" for spreading a debunked rumor that Rich leaked tens of thousands of e-mails to the document-dumping web site WikiLeaks just before he was killed:

The tweet referred to a now-debunked Fox News story from mid-May 2017 involving Rod Wheeler, a Fox commentator who claims to be a private investigator and former D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) homicide detective.

Wheeler told the network that his inside sources at MPD and the FBI informed him Rich had "44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments" on his computer, and that he had been in contact with WikiLeaks. He added that his sources told him police and the feds were told to "stand down" from the murder investigation. The story was picked up and aggregated by multiple web sites, but it only took a few hours for it to fall apart.

Wheeler later backtracked on his claims, saying the Fox story wasn't accurate. We have been unable to locate a private detective license under his name in Washington, D.C. or Maryland, where his company, Capitol Investigations, is based.

Rich's family did not "thank the Internet" for spreading the false story. On the contrary, they sent a cease and desist letter on 18 May 2017, threatening to sue Wheeler if he continued to make comments about the case to the media. The family also responded vehemently to the rumor through their spokesman Brad Bauman, saying the claims were false and that the stories were exacerbating their grief.

The video supposedly showing Rich's parents "thanking" people was originally posted to the family's GoFundMe page and uploaded to YouTube on 24 April 2017 — weeks before Wheeler made the claims. In the video, Rich's parents thank people who donated money to the family's campaign to keep the investigation active until the murder is solved:

Despite the fact that the video demonstrably does not show Rich's parents "thanking the Internet" for spreading bogus claims about their son, popular right-wing conspiracy site The Gateway Pundit on 21 May 2017 picked up the tweet and reported the false claim along with incorrect details about the murder, while alluding to another debunked (and outlandish) story — that Rich was en route to meet with the FBI but was taken out by hit men acting on behalf of Clinton:

Now it is being reported that the parents of Seth Rich are on the Internet thanking everyone who is helping the family find the two individuals who killed Seth Rich. A video of Rich’s parents was tweeted as follows:

Now it looks like the Seth’s parents want help in finding their son’s killers.

On July 8, 2016, 27 year-old Democratic staffer Seth Conrad Rich was murdered in Washington DC. The killer or killers took nothing from their victim, leaving behind his wallet, watch and phone.

Shortly after the killing, Redditors and social media users were pursuing a “lead” saying that Rich was en route to the FBI the morning of his murder, apparently intending to speak to special agents about an “ongoing court case” possibly involving the Clinton family.

Bauman, the family's spokesman, told us that he and Aaron Rich, Seth Rich's brother, had encouraged Rich's parents to make the video "in order to thank folks who had given money to the GoFundMe effort."

On the GoFundMe page, Aaron Rich noted that his brother's death has been convenient fodder for conspiracy theories:

His murder remains a mystery, and despite the hard work of the detectives at the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, we have still been unable to get the answers to the questions surrounding his death. Because of the lack of clear evidence in the case, Seth’s job working for the Democratic National Committee and the caustic political environment we find ourselves in today, many people have used my brother’s murder for their own agendas. Every few weeks another conspiracy theory surfaces, another promise of credible information and another lack of evidence to support the crazy claims being made.

Everyone from former Georgia representative Newt Gingrich to Fox News pundit Sean Hannity to the Russian government has promoted the baseless story even after it was debunked.

Rich was shot at 4:19 a.m. on 10 July 2016, during what MPD investigators suspect was an attempted robbery, based on a string of similar crimes in the Bloomingdale neighborhood in which he lived. He was transported to a nearby hospital, where he passed away from his wounds.


Hoft, Jim. "BREAKING VIDEO: Seth Rich’s Parents Grateful for Assistance Finding Son’s Murderers – No Indication They Want Search Stopped."   TheGatewayPundit.com. 21 May 2017.

Taylor, Scott. "Democratic National Committee Staffer Shot, Killed in Northwest D.C."   ABC7. 11 July 2016.

Stein, Jeff. "Seth Rich: Inside the Killing of the DNC Staffer."   Newsweek. 20 August 2016.

Zimmerman, Malia. "Family of Slain DNC Staffer Seth Rich Blasts Detective Over Report of WikiLeaks Link."   Fox News. 16 May 2017.

Weigel, David. "The Seth Rich Conspiracy Shows How Fake News Still Works."   The Washington Post. 20 May 2017.

Weigel, David. "Gingrich Spreads Conspiracy Theory About Slain DNC Staffer."   The Washington Post. 21 May 2017.

Seitz-Wald, Alex. "Slain DNC Staffer’s Family Orders Blabbing Detective to ‘Cease and Desist.’"   NBC News. 19 May 2017.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.