Among the most distasteful features of this election cycle is the adoption of right-wing propaganda themes — including moldy material from decades ago — by ostensibly progressive activists and publications.
In their zeal to bring down Hillary Clinton, elements of the left have mimicked the right to promote “scandals” that were decisively disproved when Bill Clinton was president.
Despite the strenuous efforts of Nixon dirty trickster Roger J. Stone and his ilk, however, the attempted recycling of old garbage on behalf of Donald Trump has resulted only in a big dumpster fire (and a surge in book sales to the same rubes who bought all those similar volumes of bilge during the ‘90s).
Undiscouraged, these fanatical fabulists have come up with a new and wild accusation, blatantly echoing the discredited “Clinton death list” and the old Vince Foster mania. And to promote their latest canard they have acquired an unexpected ally.
From conspiracy websites to Fox News, wing-nut outlets have been spreading the insinuation that Seth Rich — a young Democratic National Committee employee shot during an apparent early morning street crime incident on July 10 in Washington, D.C. — may have been murdered for political reasons, with indignant fingers pointing at Hillary Clinton.
Conspiracy websites suggested that he was an FBI informant or a potential witness against her in a (nonexistent) criminal proceeding.
Those baseless speculations at first were quarantined within the right-wing fever swamps — along with birtherism and the notion that President Obama is an agent of ISIS — on sites like WorldNetDaily and the Drudge Report.
But in recent days, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has intervened to promote a more elaborate conspiracy.
Offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension of Rich’s killer, Assange clearly suggested that the young DNC staffer might have been the source of the hacked emails that embarrassed Democrats during their convention. (This suggestion also exculpated Russian intelligence in the DNC hack.) The pleas of Rich’s anguished family — who asked those “politicizing” his murder to desist — didn’t dissuade Assange.
He wanted publicity for this sham and knew how to get it.
There is no evidence whatsoever, of course, that Rich’s tragic murder was anything other than the result of an attempted street robbery, still under investigation — as various news outlets and fact-checking sites have explained. But smearing the Clintons is business as usual for right-wing media outlets, which exploited Foster’s tragic 1993 suicide in precisely the same way.
Yet Assange was long presumed to be different. He has been lionized by many on the left, and praised as well by news organizations and government reformers, as a force for public accuracy and penetrating journalism. Now he is encouraging conspiracy-mongers without regard to truth or decency. The pertinent question is: Why?
An Australian citizen, Assange has made no effort to conceal his animus against Clinton, which is hardly surprising. She has deplored WikiLeaks’ releases of U.S. diplomatic cables for harming American diplomacy and endangering Afghan citizens who opposed the Taliban, among other offenses.
On the WikiLeaks Twitter feed and in television interviews, he has branded her a warmonger and worse.
More curious is Assange’s apparent alliance with Donald Trump — whose xenophobic, authoritarian and racist tendencies might be expected to repel him. To be sure, Assange has disparaged Trump and Clinton both as “horrific,” in a deceptive gesture toward neutrality.
But as The Intercept recently noted, the daily WikiLeaks Twitter feed controlled by Assange reads “more like the stream of an opposition research firm working mainly to undermine Hillary Clinton than the updates of a non-partisan platform for whistleblowers.”
Like his longtime allies in the Kremlin, his attitude toward Trump seems far friendlier. And Roger Stone says that he and Assange have been in contact to discuss an “October Surprise” damaging to the Clinton campaign.
The troubling truth is that Assange has trafficked before with nasty figures on the far right, especially in Europe and Australia. His attraction to those elements casts a different light on the current Trump tropism of WikiLeaks.
With his brazen attempt to manipulate an American presidential election, in tandem with the Russian oligarchy and the American right, he has drifted a long way from the progressive and transparent spirit in which WikiLeaks first introduced itself to the world.
If Julian Assange possesses relevant information about Hillary Clinton — or Donald Trump — then he should release it immediately for proper reporting and verification.
But if the Seth Rich hoax is how he now means to improve democratic discourse, then any forthcoming “revelations” should be received with the utmost skepticism.
Joe Conason is a nationally syndicated columnist.