With Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Accords, the revelation that Jared Kushner created a secret line of communication to talk with the Kremlin, and the disastrous repercussions of the NATO conference, the Alt-Left only wants to talk about one thing – the Seth Rich conspiracy. Yes, the debunked conspiracy that DNC staffer Seth Rich leaked emails to Julian Assange and was murdered for it, is to them, the most important story right now, never mind the twists and turns their logic has to take to make it factual (you can read a whole account of the conspiracy in this Vox article.) As Jean-Pierre Faye’s horseshoe theory states, the furthest left and right ends of the spectrum are also closer together, and fortunately for us, the few mainstream media outlets who have given them platforms realize at last that they have more in common with Sean Hannity than most liberals.
These commentators, most of whom came prominence in the 2016 election, all share a few things in common: they supported Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination, hated Hillary Clinton with every fiber of their being, and shrugged off Donald Trump as little more than a buffoon. Their views are closer to libertarianism than liberalism, and they share the alt-right’s hatred for war of any kind. But while they share some things with the alt-right – a tendency to claim they don’t actually exist, ideological purity, and a mutual love of Hawaiian congresswoman and Assad apologist Tulsi Gabbard, they don’t, by and large, voice the same kinds of overtly racist and anti-semitic jibes as their counterparts. (It’s not that they don’t hold views on those topics, but that’s for another article.)
While many of them voted for Jill Stein, if they voted at all, some switched over to Donald Trump, like Cassandra Fairbanks, who voted for him after Bernie lost the primary. Fairbanks, a journalist who was recently accused of making a white supremacist hand gesture from the White House press room claims she knows “little” of Russian politics, but wrote several articles for Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik news, supporting Bernie Sanders before switching to Trump. In a recent Cosmopolitan profile, she fawned over the Pussy Grabber in Chief, comparing him to punk rock because they’re both against the establishment. Currently, she writes for Breitbart offshoot Big League Politics, where she writes about “free speech activists” and the Seth Rich conspiracy. Given the way she changes her stances to suit whoever’s paying her, it’s clear that she has no ideology at all.
Similar to Fairbanks, though less ubiquitous, is Australian “rogue journalist” Caitlin Johnstone, who also fooled progressives into thinking she was on their side, going so far as to get Extra Newsfeed, an arm of Medium, to publish several of her articles between April and May of this year. Her priorities are reflected by her clickbait headlines, such as “Every Late Night Talk Show is a Sleazy, Plutocratic Rim Job,” and like the others, she too is obsessed with Seth Rich:
“It is frankly irrelevant what Seth Rich’s family thinks of the public interest in his case. Obviously yes, leave the family themselves alone; don’t contact them, don’t harass them, leave them be. But if Rich was the DNC leaker, the life of every single living organism on earth may depend upon the public gaining access to that knowledge…If there’s even the slightest chance that these dangerous escalations can be drawn down by the public learning that Russia was not the source of the DNC leaks, no one on earth has any business telling us to stop looking into that possibility.“
Read enough of her articles and you notice that Johnstone prefers name-calling to actual debate, as well as making hyperbolic statements that have no factual backing. Rantt editor Jossif Ezekilov summarized the case against Johnstone in a response to her May 25th article, “Actually, Bill Maher, Hillary Clinton Was the Greater Evil,” calling her writing “Utterly devoid of logic, common sense or coherence” and revealing her history of allowing her work to be re-published for Russian propaganda outlets*. “Progressives…you need to do better,” Ezekilov admonished his readers. Although Johnstone wrote her usual snarky rebuttal, it was a major strike against her reputation, as Ezekilov laid bare that she was no better than Hannity for taking on this story. Extra Newsfeed has not published any of her articles since.
Most prominent among these alt-left trolls is HA Goodman, who emerged out of nowhere in 2015 to write more than 100 Huffington Post articles that were variations on the same theme: why Bernie is great and why Hillary is evil. He still does the same thing on his YouTube channel, where he posts multiple videos a day of him yelling into his computer camera. For a while he was a regular contributor at Salon, until its former editor-in-chief, Joan Walsh, took issue with his unhinged diatribes. Now he runs his own website, Counterpropa, where, no surprise, Caitlin Johnstone is a contributor.
Goodman, who claims the Russia conspiracy is nonsense because “The NSA is only moderately confident” (I don’t need to put a hyperlink in here because if you watch any one of his videos, you’ll hear him say this) uses the same “connect-the-dots” excuse to link the murder of Seth Rich to the DNC. Whenever another journalist, such as CNN’s Oliver Darcy, dismisses the conspiracy for the bunk that it is, Goodman declares war, as in this video from May 24th:
“When history is written about this era, believe me – you will be the tools! Believe me, you won’t be the big, intrepid journalists. You think you’re going to be the [fucking] Bob Woodwards of this generation? You’re going to be the people who were known to be propagandists, to be willingly and knowingly covering up what potentially could be the biggest story on the planet, which is that the DNC was not hacked by Russia, you fricking morons!”
Goodman’s insistence of the Rich story’s accuracy may have gotten him onto RT’s Crosstalk this past week, where he and two expatriate Russian journalists got into a shouting match with a Democratic operative who challenged all their claims, but it also got his latest article, entitled, “Why is it blasphemous for Kim Dotcom to testify under oath in Congress?” removed from The Huffington Post. (Kim Dotcom, an internet hacker, has claimed to have evidence relating Rich to WikiLeaks but was caught trying to hack Rich’s email.) After more than two years publishing his writing, Huffington seems to have finally caught wise to his con job, and as of this writing, they have not published any more of his pieces. Whether or not this has to do with their editorial standards or Goodman just not submitting to them, is unknown but surprising given the sheer amount of his articles they allowed on their website from 2015-16.
The larger question here is, why do these so-called progressives, who include, apart from Fairbanks, Johnstone and Goodman, Tim Black, Zach Haller, and The Hard Bastard (who leans more alt-right but who regularly defends Goodman), insist that the Seth Rich story is the most important in the country right now? It has less to do with a desire to get at the truth, and more with a desire to make the larger story, the Russian election hacking, go away. All of them believe that, if Rich is proven to be the go-between for the DNC and Julian Assange, then to them, it permanently kills the narrative that Russia performed the hack. And if the Russia narrative is disproven, then it vindicates them, because they despise Hillary Clinton so much that none of them can accept she might have lost the presidency for reasons outside the failings of her own campaign.
Whether all of these conspiracy theorists are paid for by the Russians is as relevant as whether or not George Soros is paying me to write this piece. In our brave new world, they would rather see the Democratic Party destroyed for not doing what they wanted rather than acknowledge that the registered base of the Democratic Party rejects their version of progressivism, more dogmatic and hard-line than even Bernie Sanders might approve of.
The good news is, for all the self-importance Goodman and Johnstone give themselves, they remain unknown outside their easy-to-puncutre bubbles. Given the fact that more people are tuning into MSNBC now than ever before (and that Lawrence O’Donnell is staying on!), we can be assured that real journalists will deliver us the news we need in this critical moment. As the alt-left slides into irrelevancy, the adults in the room can finally take over – and isn’t that what journalism and politics both need?
*Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Caitlin Johnstone wrote for Russian propaganda outlets like Russia Insider. The article has been amended to reflect the fact that while Johnstone did not write specifically for the propaganda outlets, she knowingly allowed her work to be published there.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.