The up-and-coming Bloomington neighborhood in Washington, D.C., where Seth Rich lived. (Ted Eytan / CC 2.0)

In mid-July, WikiLeaks released nearly 20,000 emails from within the Democratic National Committee’s servers. The leak sparked political indignation and eventually forced out DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

But where did the emails come from? This question has been at the forefront of many rumors and conspiracy theories, but one rumor involving DNC staffer Seth Rich has gained significant traction.

In the early hours of July 10, Rich was shot and killed while walking home in northwest Washington, D.C. Following the leak of the DNC emails less than two weeks later, many began to wonder whether Rich had been involved. The Washington Post reported in early August:

Some on the Internet wondered if Rich was killed because of his work as a staffer with the Democratic National Committee, even suggesting he had handed WikiLeaks the 20,000 emails that embarrassed the DNC and forced the ouster of its chairwoman. Others suggested he was helping the FBI expose wrongdoing in the presidential election, and that made him a target.

On Tuesday, WikiLeaks shoved those conspiracy theories into the mainstream when it announced on Twitter a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in Rich’s killing on July 10 in the 2100 block of Flagler Place NW. It adds to a $25,000 reward offered by D.C. police, customary in all District homicides.

The editor of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, said in a statement issued through an intermediary that he would not confirm or deny whether Rich or any person was a source for the organization, which over the years has obtained and released massive amounts of internal emails and other documents from the military, the State Department and other agencies. The statement says that policy “also covers alleged sources who were deceased.”

“We treat threats towards any suspected WikiLeaks sources with extreme gravity,” the statement says. “This should not be taken to imply that Seth Rich was a source to WikiLeaks or that his murder is connected to our publications. We hope our efforts will contribute to the family’s calls for information and to the separate reward issued by police. We have a history of obtaining information that has significantly contributed to many legal proceedings, including successful prosecutions.”

Around the same time this piece was published, however, WikiLeaks Editor in Chief Julian Assange spoke of a possible connection between Rich’s death and the DNC email leak. “I’m suggesting that our sources take risks,” he said in a video interview on the Dutch television program “Nieuwsuur,” although Assange refused to say whether Rich was a WikiLeaks source.

“It’s quite something to suggest a murder,” the interviewer responds, “and that’s basically what you’re doing.”

“Well, others have suggested that,” Assange carefully replies. “We are investigating to understand what happened in that situation, with Seth Rich. I think it is a concerning situation, but there’s not a conclusion yet.”

In the weeks since Rich’s death and Assange’s remarks, these rumors have gained momentum—so much so that Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman decided to offer $100,000 for information about Rich’s murder. RawStory writes:

Burkman hopes to confirm or deflate those rumors. “There are too many dimensions of the tragedy, and none seem to make sense,” the lobbyist said in a statement Wednesday. “I hope the $100,000 … will finally get to the truth of what happened here and will either debunk the conspiracy theories or validate them.”

Burkman is a political consultant, a talk-radio show host and founder of the lobbying firm JM Burkman & Associates. Although he is a Republican, he has publicly opposed Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Speaking with Newsweek, Burkman says his interest in the case is apolitical. “I’m not here to expound on anything even remotely conspiratorial,” he says. “The objective here really is just to get closure for this family. This is a young kid in our profession. This could have happened to any of the young people who work for me.”

RawStory also addresses the political implications of the unsolved murder. “Rich’s death has provided fodder for Hillary Clinton-hating conspiracy theorists online,” it notes.

Newsweek elaborates, saying that Rich’s death “was enough to fire up the right-wing Twitterverse with yet another round of Clinton conspiracy theories,” and that Assange “lit the fire” with his remarks on “Nieuwsuur”:

No matter that the Metropolitan Police Department issued a statement saying there was “no indication that Seth Rich’s death is connected to his employment at the DNC.” Right-wing media outlets continued to churn up sludge from the tragedy. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, normally cautious, may have inadvertently aided their cause during a crime-scene press conference on August 5, when she said, “Right now, we have more questions than answers.”

Rich’s family has publicly opposed conspiracy theories linking him to the DNC emails. Joel Rich, his father, said he is offended by the “bizarre” rumors floating around the internet. “I don’t think I want to comment,” he told The Washington Post. “I hope the additional money helps find out who did this. … I don’t want to play WikiLeaks’ game.”

In response to Burkman’s sizable reward offer, a spokesman for the family told RawStory, “[W]e want to be clear that some have attempted to politicize Seth’s murder and forward bizarre conspiracy theories. … We hope that everyone remains singularly focused on solving this case and bringing Seth’s murderer to justice.”

—Posted by Emma Niles

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