When the radical government transparency organization Wikileaks on Tuesday offered a $20,000 bounty for information about the murder of a Democratic National Committee staffer, it marked the group’s latest salvo against Hillary Clinton in its newly assumed role as her chief antagonist.
In recent months, Wikileaks’ Twitter feed has been awash in posts maligning the former secretary of state and promoting polls that purportedly show Donald Trump sliding to an easy victory over Clinton. But with the organization’s $20,000 reward, Wikileaks waded further into the internet’s vast, anti-Clinton fever swamps, which have pushed the bonkers conspiracy theory that DNC staffer Seth Rich was killed for crossing the Clintons.
Police have said Rich, 27, was shot twice in the back as part of an attempted robbery while walking to his home in northwest Washington, D.C. in the early hours of July 10. But nothing was found missing from his person, which fired up the internet conspiracy machine.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange fanned the flames by suggesting Rich was the group’s source for embarrassing DNC emails the group published online, emails which lead to former chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s (D-FL) ouster.
“Whistleblowers go to significant efforts to get us material and often very significant risks. A 27-year-old, who 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 told an interviewer. He went on to say “there’s no finding” that Rich was killed in a robbery.
After the Wikileaks reward money was announced, the Rich family called on conspiracy theorists to stop “causing more harm than good.”
“The family welcomes any and all information that could lead to the identification of the individuals responsible, and certainly welcomes contributions that could lead to new avenues of investigation,” family spokesman Brad Bauman said in a statement to Business Insider. But Bauman also said the family is “asking for the public to refrain from pushing unproven and harmful theories about Seth’s murder.”
A Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman told TPM the office is doing no on-the-record interviews about the ongoing investigation into Rich’s death, but said in a statement that police have found no evidence connecting the slaying to Rich’s work with the DNC.
“At this time, there is no indication that Seth Rich’s death is connected to his employment at the DNC,” MPD spokeswoman Rachel Schaerr said in the statement. “However, we welcome information that could potentially lead to the identification of the individual(s) responsible for his death and are pleased when any outside contributors help us generate new leads.”
Police are offering a $25,000 reward, as is typical in D.C. murder cases.
Wikileaks’ publication of documents stolen from the DNC has caused headaches for Clinton’s presidential campaign, leading many to accuse the one-time beacon of government accountability of helping Donald Trump’s campaign. While it remains unclear how Wikileaks came to possess the DNC emails, U.S. officials have blamed a cyberattack of the committee’s servers on Russian government hackers, leading some to speculate that the Russians passed the emails on to Wikileaks in an effort to influence the U.S. election.
Wikileaks’ DNC document dump, which revealed internal discussions about potentially undermining Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during the primary, was timed for maximum impact ahead of the national convention in an effort to further strain relations between the factions backing Clinton and Sanders, according to reporting from the New York Times.
Assange also has done little to hide his personal distaste for Clinton. In a June interview on British TV, Assange promised more Clinton leaks to come, calling the remaining cache of documents “great.”
Asked point-blank whether he wants Trump to take the White House, Assange said the billionaire would be “completely unpredictable.” He went on to criticize Clinton for supporting military intervention in Libya, saying her history as a “liberal war hawk” would continue as president.
“We do see her as a bit of a problem for freedom for freedom of the press more generally,” he said.
In a February post on Wikileaks’ blog, Assange wrote that a vote for Clinton is “a vote for endless, stupid war” and surfaced the infamous interview outtake of Clinton joking, “We came, we saw, he died” when informed that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi had been killed.
When longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone on Tuesday claimed he had been in touch with Assange, it only fed speculation from critics who suggested Wikileaks has morphed into an anti-Clinton propaganda machine. Stone said he had no ideas about what Assange might leak as part of an “October surprise.”
The organization, which first made its name leaking war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq as well as files detailing the conditions at Guantanamo Bay, also has come under fire from some of its most longstanding allies for its more recent practice of recklessly leaking files without redacting personal details. Previous leaks had been heavily redacted to protect innocent parties, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out in an interview with Slate.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said on Twitter that Wikileaks’ “hostility to even modest curation is a mistake.” The Turkish journalist Zeynep Tufekci also pointed out that in the group’s recent massive dump of Turkish documents, Wikileaks published the home addresses of every female voter in 79 of the country’s 81 provinces, opening those women up to serious safety concerns.