How Conservative Conspiracy Theories Destroy Families

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The conservative platform has pretended to be about “families” for decades now — protecting families from things like taxes that go to art programs or gay people trying to get married or Muslims trying to live. But in the past few years, far-right conservatives have more and more turned into mainstream conservatives, and their conspiracy theories are literally destroying families.

Consider the Sandy Hook massacre of small children, which conservative commentators like Alex Jones don’t think actually happened. Jones of course has the ear of the president, and even recently got a press pass for the White House. And he thinks that the 20 6- and 7-year olds who were gunned down just never existed. He’s convinced his massive audience of this, including government officials, and now there are 20 families who not only have to cope with the loss of a child to senseless gun violence, who not only have to cope with the knowledge that Republican lawmakers won’t do anything to stop America’s epidemic of gun violence, but who also have to now deal with rabid conspiracy theorists stalking them, claiming that they’re all government plants who never actually had children at all.

It’s unimaginably cruel.

And now the rightwing conspiracy machine has moved even further to the center to destroy another family: that of Seth Rich, a young man who was tragically killed in what police think was a botched robbery last summer.

In true conspiracy theorist fashion, conservatives decided that Rich wasn’t just the victim of random violence, but that he was murdered by Democrats. Why? Well, Rich had been working for the Democratic National Commission (DNC) and had just been offered a job with the Clinton campaign. Conspiracy theorists decided that this means the DNC itself murdered him, and they decided the reason was because he leaked DNC emails to Wikileaks.

There’s absolutely no evidence to suggest this — none from Wikileaks, none from the police investigation into his death, and none from his parents, who have gone on record to say that his computer and email were searched and absolutely nothing of the sort turned up. But for conspiracy theorists, a lack of evidence IS evidence — evidence of a cover-up. And so they’ve turned Rich into a martyr for the alt-right, and the conspiracy theory was peddled constantly on Fox News until a backlash forced Fox to publish a retraction.

Despite that retraction, one of Fox’s most famous commentators (since the departure of noted sexual predator Bill O’Reilly) has continued to peddle it. Sean Hannity has devoted his show to the cause, ignoring pleas from Rich’s family to stop. Even after he addressed their pleas and said he would stop, he Tweeted that he was NOT in fact stopping and that he was going to continue to get to “the truth” despite the “liberal fascists” attempting to silence him.

It’s disgusting, and it shows the true cost of baseless conspiracy theories like this. The Rich family has been inundated with nutjobs, both amateur and professional like Hannity, calling them and pestering them for information that doesn’t exist. They wrote in the Washington Post, “With every conspiratorial flare-up, we are forced to relive Seth’s murder and a small piece of us dies as more of Seth’s memory is torn away from us.”

Media Matters has published a list of Hannity’s advertisers, and while I’m sure groups like, oh, “Donald J. Trump for President” won’t care, I hope that Allstate, Casper, Hulu, and others think long and hard about their companies being promoted by a man who is literally destroying the family of a murdered man.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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