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Pro-Trump conspiracy theorist retracts baseless claim about slain DNC staffer

Jerome Corsi allowed the theory to fester and cause undue harm for a year.

US conservative political activist Jerome Corsi speaks outside the US Federal District Courthouse in Washington on January 3, 2019. (Photo credit should read PAUL HANDLEY/AFP/Getty Images)
US conservative political activist Jerome Corsi speaks outside the US Federal District Courthouse in Washington on January 3, 2019. (Photo credit should read PAUL HANDLEY/AFP/Getty Images)

Former Infowars correspondent Jerome Corsi finally apologized on Monday for a March 2018 column in which he claimed that Seth Rich, a murdered Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer, and his brother, Aaron, had passed DNC emails to Wikileaks.

Seth Rich’s death, in July 2016, quickly became fodder for conspiracy theorists who claimed the tragedy was evidence of widespread malice within the Democratic Party. Trump acolytes like Roger Stone used Rich’s death to promote misinformation about the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. Corsi’s retraction is the latest admission that the conspiracies were always bogus — but that didn’t stop him propagating it for more than a year at the expense of the Rich family’s emotional well-being.

“[In an Infowars article published March 5, 2018] Dr. Corsi alleged that Seth Rich and his brother, Aaron Rich, were involved in downloading and leaking emails from the DNC the WikiLeaks,” Corsi said in a post on his website.

“Dr. Corsi acknowledges that his allegations were not based upon any independent factual knowledge regarding Seth or Aaron Rich,” the statement continued. “It was not Dr. Corsi’s intent to rely upon inaccurate information, or to cause any suffering to Mr. Rich’s family.” An identical statement replaced the original Infowars article, the initial title of which was, “Anti-Trump left tries to revive dying ‘Russia’ narrative by blaming Roger Stone.”

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Attorneys for Aaron Rich welcomed the apology and retraction from the site notorious for spreading conspiracy theories and harassing victims of mass shootings with claims that they’re actually “crisis actors.”

“The apology and retraction issued today by Mr. Corsi and posted by Infowars is another important step toward obtaining justice for the Rich family,” Joshua Riley and Meryl Governski, of the firm Boies Schiller Flexner, said in a statement to ThinkProgress. “We will continue to litigate our defamation claims against conspiracy theorists who refuse to retract and apologize for similar false statements.”

Corsi’s admission is the latest retraction from right-wing media outlets that claimed, without a shred of evidence, that Seth Rich was not murdered in a robbery gone wrong, as police have maintained, but was instead assassinated for leaking the DNC emails to Wikileaks.

Last September, the Washington Times published a lengthy retraction for a March column written by Adm. James Lyons (Ret.) in which Lyons claimed it was “well known” in intelligence circles that the Rich brothers had been paid by Wikileaks for the DNC emails. The paper acknowledged that it now “does not have any basis to believe any part of that statement to be true.”

In May 2017, Fox News retracted a similar story. Host Sean Hannity, who had repeatedly parroted the idea, said that he would stop looking into the killing “out of respect for the family’s wishes.” Fox’s decision to retract its story was made after Rich’s parents filed a lawsuit claiming “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Neither Fox nor Hannity, however, have apologized for spreading the baseless theory.

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The Rich family has repeatedly stated that their son’s murder was a simple tragedy and asked for the death to stop being politicized. “We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth’s murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics,” the family said in May 2017. “Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying.”

Neither Fox News nor a spokesperson for Corsi responded to ThinkProgress’ request for comment.

At the same time Corsi was pushing the Seth Rich lie publicly, he was communicating privately with his former confidante, Roger Stone, about how Russian hackers were in fact behind the DNC leak.

“Time to let more than [John Podesta] to be exposed if they are not ready to drop HRC,” Corsi wrote in an email to Stone, obtained by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, dated August 2, 2016. “That appears to be the game hackers are now about.”

In essence, Corsi used the death of a young man to deflect questions about how and why Wikileaks decided to publish the DNC emails, obtained by Russian hackers, away from his own circle of grifter associates (like Roger Stone) toward an unrelated case — thereby forcing the Rich family into the conspiracy theory spotlight.

Corsi isn’t the only Infowars figure who is rapidly crumbling under the pressure of lawsuits. In February, a Texas judge announced that Alex Jones, the head of Infowars, must undergo a sworn deposition, as well as surrender internal documents, about the inner workings of Infowars. The decision came in response to a defamation lawsuit filed by parents of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook mass shooting, who claimed that Jones’ accusations that they are “crisis actors” has led to ceaseless abuse and harassment.