Fact check: Meme of fake email perpetuates conspiracy theory

Chelsey Cox, USA TODAY
·5 min read

The claim: WikiLeaks uncovered a coded email that implicates Clinton, Obama in child sex-trafficking

A recent Facebook post revisits a years-old pedophilia conspiracy theory surrounding some high profile Democrats and celebrities.

The Jan. 16 post features an apparent scan of an email captured by WikiLeaks, a "giant library of the world's most persecuted documents," according to founder, Julian Assange, per the organization's website.

The "email," dated Jan. 25, 2011, was allegedly sent by Hillary Clinton to former President Barack Obama. Clinton warns Obama about operating "the pizza arrangement" at the "whitehouse" and mentions inviting "hot dogs." A headline on the post states, "This is what Seth Rich died for. This is what started pizzagate."

Clinton, or "Hillary" per the signature, copied former aide Huma Abedin; former White House chief of staff John Podesta; actor Ben Affleck and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the email.

USA TODAY reached out to the poster for comment.

The QAnon conspiracy theory

The conspiracy theory QAnon predicts the mass arrest of a "satanic cult" of pedophiles and cannibals during an event called "The Storm." Some Democratic politicians and left-leaning celebrities are believed to be elite cult members, USA TODAY has reported.

The terms "pizza" and "hot dogs" are code words for child prostitution. "Hot dogs" refers to boys and pizza, to girls, according to USA TODAY.

More: Fact check: Barack Obama did not spend $65K on prostitutes, code-named 'pizza' and 'hotdogs'

Conspiracy theorists derived the code words from far-right pundit Alex Jones. He introduced the concept of "FBI code words for sex with kids" during a Aug. 1, 2018, taping of his television show.

USA TODAY has debunked a series of QAnon conspiracy theories, including Pizzagate, which surfaced during the 2016 presidential campaign. The theory claimed WikiLeaks emails uncovered a child sex trafficking ring run by then-Democratic presidential candidate Clinton from the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant.

More: Fact check: Posts cite fake records site to claim Schiff, Pelosi were arrested

Who is Seth Rich?

Seth Rich, the former Democratic National Committee staffer named in the Instagram post, was shot to death during a robbery attempt on July 10, 2016, according to USA TODAY.

WikiLeaks released thousands of hacked DNC emails later that month. Facing accusations from high-profile members of the Democratic Party — including Hillary Clinton — that Russians helped WikiLeaks acquire the emails, Assange suggested Rich may have been the source of the leaks in August 2016, USA TODAY reported. His suggestion launched several conspiracy theories.

As a guest on Fox News, Dallas businessman Ed Butowsky falsely attributed statements to Rich regarding the alleged email exchange with WikiLeaks. A story about the allegations was removed from Fox News' website a week after publication, according to USA TODAY. The news network settled a lawsuit with Rich's parents in November 2020, CNN reported this month.

Butowsky and Matt Couch, a self-avowed investigator and political analyst, according to his Twitter bio, retracted statements they made about Rich's ties to WikiLeaks. The retractions were part of a 2018 settlement reached with Aaron Rich, Seth Rich's brother, CNN reported. Couch advocates for former President Donald Trump on his website, The DC Patriot.

Conservative news outlet The Washington Times also retracted false claims when it settled with Aaron Rich in October 2018, according to CNN.

A report compiled by Robert Mueller, the special counsel assigned to investigate allegations of foreign interference in the 2016 election, revealed that Assange falsely implicated Rich in the DNC email leaks, The New York Times reported in 2019.

Our rating: False

We rate this claim FALSE, based on our research. A Facebook post of an alleged email from Hillary Clinton is fake and based on a debunked conspiracy theory. Further, an investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election revealed that late-DNC staffer Seth Rich did not leak internal emails to WikiLeaks, as the claim stated.

Our fact-check sources:

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Post of fake email perpetuates QAnon conspiracy theory