‘I Was Seth Rich for a Day’ — D.C. Man Misidentified as Murder Victim by Conspiracy Theorists

For Washington, D.C. business owner Jeff Gero it was just another day — until he saw a tweet identifying him as slain Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich.

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Jeff Gero, 36, has lived and worked in the nation’s capitol for 10 years, but the closest he ever came to involvement in national politics was when he was mistaken for a deceased Democratic Party campaign worker — and not just any deceased Democratic Party campaign worker.

As Gero quizzically informed his friends in a 7 August 2017 post on his Facebook page, a “conspiracy theory ding dong” had tagged him in a Twitter photo as Seth Rich, the 27-year-old Democratic National Committee (DNC) data analyst who was murdered two weeks before the 2016 Democratic convention:

This is Seth Rich at the Wonderland Ballroom, this is a Charity Event, but it proves he frequented the Bar quite often America. #SethRich

Gero, who owns and manages a bar called Looking Glass in Washington, D.C. (but never, to his knowledge, met or bumped into Seth Rich), says he was at a tennis match when a friend showed him a text message containing the post. “We had to leave for fear of disrupting the match because we were laughing so hard,” he told us via e-mail.

That is Gero in the photo, on the left, he confirmed. The photo was indeed taken at the Wonderland Ballroom (another D.C. watering hole), during a spring fundraising event called the “Sundress Fest” — which explains the frilly attire, in case you were wondering.

“I don’t often wear dresses but I think I pull it off pretty well,” Gero joked. “It’s an awesome party.”

We have not been able to piece together the precise chain of events leading up to the tweet identifying the sundress-clad Jeff Gero as Seth Rich, but we do know who issued the tweet, and, in general terms, why. Self-styled “conservative truth-slinger” Matt Couch tweeted the photo on 2 August 2017, as part of his ongoing effort to prove that Rich was “assassinated” for leaking a trove of internal DNC e-mails to WikiLeaks.

As of this writing, Rich’s murder remains unsolved. The Metropolitan Police Department says that he was shot twice in the back while walking home from a bar In the early morning hours of 10 July 2016, in what appears to have been a botched robbery attempt. Despite the MPD’s insistence that no evidence has emerged indicating that the homicide was related to Rich’s work at the DNC, conspiracy theorists on both the right and the left have relentlessly pushed the alternative narrative that it was Rich, not Russian hackers, who leaked the tens of thousands of DNC e-mails that showed up on the WikiLeaks web site less than a week after his death, and that was the “real” reason he was killed.

Matt Couch is one of the many “investigators” still promulgating these unsubstantiated claims, despite pleas from Rich’s family that they stop. “The continual push of false and inaccurate information about Seth’s death, along with the harassment of Seth’s friends, family and co-workers, hurts those who were closest to Seth, and does nothing to bring justice to his killers,” his parents and brother said in a joint statement released on the one-year anniversary — 10 July 2017 — of Rich’s death. “Those who still live in Seth’s neighborhood are owed the peace of mind that comes with finding those responsible for this heinous crime, and we deserve that no less.”

In some cases it fell on deaf ears, unfortunately:

Couch’s preoccupation with the Wonderland Ballroom stems, we assume, from unconfirmed reports that Rich either went there, or told someone he was going there, the night he was killed. Someone — whether it was Couch himself or a fellow “investigator,” we do not know — discovered the uncaptioned photograph of Gero on the Wonderland Ballroom’s web site and leaped to the conclusion that it was of Seth Rich, resulting in the tweet (since deleted, for obvious reasons) that would make Jeff Gero’s day.

Of the unknown number of Couch’s 43,000 or so followers who retweeted the photo, one, at least, called him on his misidentification of the subject, tweeting this visual aid for comparison:

This presumably figured in Couch’s decision to scrub the erroneous tweet. In any case, he never went on to correctly identify Gero as the subject of the photo, much less contact him to discuss it. “You would think, claiming to be the “truth slinger” he is,” Gero says, “he would have retracted it and publicly apologized.” 

The good news is that outing himself as the real subject of the photo did not lead to Gero’s being hounded or harassed by any of the folks he refers to as “crazies.” He and his friends “had a good laugh” upon sharing Couch’s tweet, Gero says, but he has little patience for the Seth Rich conspiracy theory itself, nor does anyone else in the circles in which he travels.

“Most people I know are rational people,” says Gero. “My thoughts are with Seth Rich’s family. I feel bad that they have to deal with people perpetuating this garbage.”

Our attempts to contact Matt Couch for comment were unsuccessful.

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Hermann, Peter and Williams, Clarence.   “Slain Democratic National Committee Staffer ‘Wanted to Make a Difference.”
   The Washington Post.   11 July 2016.

Nazaryan, Alexander.   “Why Seth Rich’s Murder Still Fuels Far-Right Conspiracy Theories a Year Later.”
   Newsweek.   10 July 201.

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

Ziv, Stav.   “Seth Rich Update: Family Pleads for End to Conspiracy Theories as Roger Stone Says They Were Paid Off.”
   Newsweek.   11 July 2017.