WASHINGTON ― The woman on the verge of becoming the next president is part of a crime family that has left a trail of dozens of dead bodies in its bloodthirsty pursuit of power.
Or anyway, that is the conclusion you might reach if you spend any time in some of the darker, more conspiracy-laden corners of the internet.
For over two decades now, the Clintons’ opponents have been accusing them of literally getting away with murder. In Bill Clinton’s first term, certain elements on the right accused the president and first lady of murdering their old friend Vince Foster as a way to cover up corruption. Later, as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton had to prove over and over again that she did not deliberately let Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans die in Benghazi, Libya.
And now, there are accusations that she was behind the tragic death of Seth Rich, a 27-year-old staffer at the Democratic National Committee who was shot and killed last month in Washington, D.C. Police say the shooting may have been part of an attempted robbery. But if you listen to people like Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Rich was really gunned down because he was cooperating with hackers leaking DNC emails. For the record: There’s absolutely nothing to suggest this is true.
These conspiracy theories don’t just affect the Clintons. They’ve also increased and prolonged the pain of the families who have lost loved ones.
“Now we have two problems we’re trying to deal with,” Joel Rich, Seth’s father, told The Huffington Post on Monday. “One is getting over the death of Seth and the hole that will be there forever... The other problem is this distraction of people trying to... mess up his reputation and his legacy with absolutely no facts.”
Seth Rich had a job with the DNC making it easier for people to find their polling places on Election Day. He was shot and killed in the early hours of July 10 in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington. Police were investigating it as a botched robbery, but almost immediately, conspiracy theorists declared Rich’s death an assassination by a Clinton “hit team.”
Assange, whose site published the leaked emails, gave new life to this allegation last week when he implied that Rich had been one of his sources.
“Whistleblowers often take very significant efforts to bring us material and often at very significant risks,” Assange told the Dutch news agency Nieuwsuur. “There’s a 27-year-old who works for the DNC and who was shot in the back, murdered, just a few weeks ago, for unknown reasons as he was walking down the streets in Washington.”
“We are investigating what happened with Seth Rich,” Assange went on. “We think it is a concerning situation.” Wikileaks has also offered a $20,000 reward for information about Rich’s death.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a longtime foe of the Clintons, also fanned the flames in a separate interview.
“If someone is gunned down in our national capital, we ought to have a pretty passionate interest in knowing why,” Gingrich said on “The Mike Gallagher Show” last week. “And if it clearly wasn’t a mugging and it wasn’t for money, what was it for?”
U.S. officials have said they believe the Russian government is behind the theft of the DNC documents.
Joel Rich refused to comment directly on the conspiracy theories, but he said he believed his son would find the whole uproar funny.
“He’d be laughing that people thought he had that much impact,” Rich said. “The area he was working in, from what I can gather, and the area that whatever was leaked were so far apart ― there was no way that he was there... I think he’d be as amazed, as we are, that people are trying to connect dots that they don’t have any way to connect.”
Clinton met with the Rich family before a recent event in Omaha, Nebraska. Joel Rich described the encounter to the Omaha World-Herald as “extremely warm and comforting.”
Foster’s death has dogged the Clintons the longest. Foster was a childhood friend of Bill Clinton who later served in the White House as deputy counsel. On July 20, 1993, he was found dead with a gunshot wound in his head. The death was ruled a suicide. Friends and family say he was struggling with depression, deeply unhappy with life in Washington.
For decades, the Clintons’ political opponents have tried to argue that Foster was actually murdered. People have claimed that he and Hillary were having an affair, and that Foster was a victim of the Clintons’ attempts to hide their corruption in office. They say that Foster was actually shot in the White House, and that the Clinton team transported his body to a park near the Potomac River and staged a suicide scene.
There were five official investigations into Foster’s death, and all of them concluded that he took his own life. But that hasn’t stopped conspiracy theorists from continuing to speculate.
“I don’t bring [Foster’s death] up because I don’t know enough to really discuss it,” Trump said. “I will say there are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder. I don’t do that because I don’t think it’s fair.”
Shortly thereafter, Foster’s sister, Sheila, wrote a Washington Post column about the continuing pain such comments have caused her and her family:
A few months after Vince’s death, I began to see alarming reports in the news articles distributed throughout the Justice Department each day. These clips, which began appearing in newspapers across the country, were similar, as though written by a single source.
This was the beginning of the countless conspiracy theories spun by those who claimed that the Clintons had Vince murdered because he knew something about Whitewater, the real estate transaction that became the subject of the Fiske and Starr investigations. Repeat something enough times and in enough venues, I guess, and people begin to question their own good sense.
These outrageous suggestions have caused our family untold pain because this issue went on for so long and these reports were so painful to read. For years, our family had to wage a court fight to prevent release of photographs of Vince’s dead body. My heartbroken mother was plagued by harassing phone calls from a reporter.
Then-Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) put forward similar allegations in a floor speech on Aug. 2, 1994. Burton said he recreated the crime scene in his own backyard, using a cantaloupe as Foster’s head. He said the experiment left him convinced that Foster’s death was not a suicide.
During the current presidential race, Republicans have continued to hound Clinton over the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The attack resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
There have been eight investigations into the attack, which took place while Clinton was secretary of state. All of them have concluded that there was no deliberate wrongdoing by Clinton. In other words: No, the Obama administration and Clinton did not watch the attacks in real time and do nothing to respond.
Dr. Anne Stevens, the ambassador’s sister, has said she doesn’t blame Clinton and other administration officials for her brother’s death.
“They were balancing security efforts at embassies and missions around the world. And their staffs were doing their best to provide what they could with the resources they had,” Stevens told The New Yorker in June. “The Benghazi Mission was understaffed. We know that now. But, again, Chris knew that. It wasn’t a secret to him. He decided to take the risk to go there. It is not something they did to him. It is something he took on himself.”
She added that she absolutely believes her brother’s death has been politicized. She wishes, she said, that Republicans would move on.
“It would be much more useful for Congress to focus on providing resources for security for all State Department facilities around the world ― for increasing personnel, language capabilities, for increasing staff to build relationships, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East,” she said. “I would love to hear they are drastically increasing the budget.”