Omaha native’s murder was a lightning rod for conspiracy theorists, book author says

Molly Ashford Omaha World Herald

OMAHA — When Omaha native Seth Rich was gunned down in 2016 on the streets of Washington, DC, the homicide became something of a lightning rod for conspiracy theorists.

Aided by the tumultuous political climate ahead of the 2016 election, an unfounded theory that Rich leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee, his employer, to WikiLeaks drew attention and embroiled his family in a years-long battle for fight misinformation.

In September, ProPublica investigative reporter Andy Kroll published a book about the murder and its aftermath: “A Death on W Street: The Murder of Seth Rich and the Age of Conspiracy.”

For Kroll, Rich’s death didn’t initially strike him as a story — instead, it felt like a personal loss. Both ambitious in their 20s in the city, the two ran in similar social circles and even played on a weekend football team together. As Kroll dug into Rich’s life — first for a series of stories for Rolling Stone, and later for the book — a fuller picture emerged.

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“It wasn’t until after he died, unfortunately, that I really understood what made him tick,” Kroll said. “Why he moved to Washington. Why he was so dedicated to the importance of the vote. A truly special and truly one-of-a-kind person came out of my research.”

Born and raised in Omaha, Rich was a real political junkie. He watched C-SPAN in his spare time and memorized the names of members of Congress for fun. Every 4th of July, he dressed head to toe in an American flag costume. He was described as a patriot convinced of democracy and the importance of voting, no matter who supported.

After graduating from Omaha Central High School and Creighton University, Rich left Omaha to make his mark on the national political scene. He took a job with the DNC, helping to register new voters and guard against voter suppression.

Seth rich

In the early morning hours of July 10, 2016, Rich was walking home from a bar when he was shot twice in the back a few blocks from his apartment.

Days after his death, Rich’s case went viral.

“I remember sitting at my computer in 2016 and seeing Seth’s name on Twitter,” Kroll said. “I was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ It was kind of an absolute “This can’t be calculated” moment.

Rich’s employment with the DNC immediately led to speculation that the murder was somehow related to his job. Rumors that he was killed for leaking DNC emails to WikiLeaks have been circulating on Reddit and 4Chan. The theories became mainstream soon after thanks to a now retracted Fox News article and a vague and suggestive statement from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The book takes a multifaceted approach to the Rich case. There’s the aspect of the true crime: a seemingly senseless murder classified by police as a robbery gone wrong. There’s the exploration of a fragmented political and media landscape that allowed a conspiracy to spiral out of control. But most important to Kroll is the story of a grieving family trying to navigate a media frenzy while processing their loss.

Kroll said he spent many hours with Rich’s family and friends, often traveling to Omaha to talk to them.

“The Rich family is the heart and soul of this book,” he said. “There are very few people in the world who have gone through what they have gone through. Not just the death of a son and a brother, but this horrific event has become this entirely different phenomenon. It has taken on a own life in a way we hadn’t really seen before.”

Rich’s parents, Joel and Mary Rich, sued Fox News in 2018 over its “extreme and outrageous” coverage of their son’s murder. They settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money in 2020.

Rich’s murder remains unsolved.

Parents of Omaha native Seth Rich settle Fox News lawsuit

Appeals court reinstates Omaha couple’s lawsuit against Fox News over story of slain DNC staffer

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