Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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“Mind control,” “shadow government,” and Seth Rich: Sean Hannity’s history of pushing conspiracy theories

Fox News host Sean Hannity attracted widespread condemnation for pushing conspiracy theories about a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, but it wasn’t his first time promoting or entertaining such wild claims on air. From claiming that the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick protested the national anthem because he “may have converted to Islam” to implying that former President Barack Obama is a terrorist sympathizer, here are some examples of Hannity embracing conspiracy theories.

  • Seth Rich

    Hannity was a major driving force behind conspiracy theories surrounding DNC staffer Seth Rich’s murder, claiming “the truth” “could become one of the biggest scandals in American history.” Fox News host and talk radio personality Sean Hannity was a major promoter of conspiracy theories surrounding the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, obsessing that “the truth” behind Rich’s murder “could become one of the biggest scandals in American history.” Hannity sought to insert Rich into virtually any conversation pertaining to the story about possible collusion between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia and defiantly said he’s “not backing off” of the conspiracy theories. Yet in August 2016 he had said that “it would be reckless and irresponsible to suggest the Clintons or the DNC had anything to do with” Rich’s murder. [Media Matters, 5/24/17, 5/25/17; Fox News, Hannity, 5/19/16]

    Hannity agreed to stop pushing his lies “for now” only after the Rich family directly pleaded for him to stop. After spending a week obsessing over conspiracy theories around Rich’s death, Hannity said on the April 23 edition of Hannity that he “got a very heartfelt note” from the Rich family begging him to stop and that “out of respect for the family’s wishes -- for now -- I am not discussing this matter at this time.” However, Hannity’s apology was completely disingenuous; before the show even ended, he was on Twitter asking fans to “please retweet” his earlier tweet that claimed, “Not only am I not stopping, I am working harder.” [Media Matters, 5/24/17

    Hannity says the blowback from his Seth Rich conspiracy theories is “liberal fascism” attempting to destroy him. After his fake apology to the Rich family, Hannity went on a Twitter tirade against Media Matters for its criticism of his repetition of these conspiracy theories. According to The Washington Times, Hannity said groups like Media Matters are engaging in “liberal fascism” and “attacking my advertising base … all in an effort to silence conservatives.” In a statement, Media Matters President Angelo Carusone denied “organizing a pressure campaign” against Hannity, noting that his “wild and reckless conspiracies” are driving advertisers away without the need for an organized campaign. [Media Matters, 5/24/17, 5/24/17; The Washington Times, 5/24/17]

    Some of Hannity's Wildest Conspiracy Theories

    Hannity warned his listeners about “globalist” “mind control.” Hannity used the October 18 edition of his radio show to sound the alarm about how “we’ve been lied to” and “manipulated” by the “corporate establishment, “the Republican establishment,” “the Democratic establishment,” and “the globalist establishment” that is “reminiscent of former Soviet Union propaganda and mind control.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 10/18/16]

    Hannity still believes Saddam Hussein owned weapons of mass destruction when Bush invaded Iraq in 2003. Even though it is now proven fact that Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction at the time of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Hannity never gave up on the lie. On January 2, 2007, Hannity said, “I believe there were WMDs” in Iraq, and, “I believe they were moved” to a secret location prior to the invasion. In 2016, Hannity reaffirmed the point, saying, “I still think” that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that “he got them out in the lead-up to the war.” [Media Matters, 1/4/07; Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 2/10/16]

    Hannity asked if a Hawaii judge who issued a stay on Trump's Muslim ban did weed and blow with Obama, questioned if Obama interfered in the ruling. After Hawaiian Judge Derrick Watson issued a stay on an iteration of Trump’s Muslim ban, Hannity baselessly speculated that “maybe he should have recused himself from the case” because Watson and Obama, who were law school classmates, may have been “best friends in Hawaii,” and may have been “part of the Choom Gang, smoking pot and hanging out, … maybe even [doing] a little blow.” Hannity furthered the conspiracy theory by commenting that Obama “made a surprise visit to Hawaii 48 hours before the judge blocked the Trump travel ban,” even though Politico reported that the former president met tech industry executives on his trip. [Media Matters, 3/16/17; Politico, 3/14/17]

    Hannity claimed Colin Kaepernick “might have converted to Islam” when discussing his protest. On the August 29 edition of The Sean Hannity Show, Hannity said “spoiled-brat, out-of-touch, super-rich athlete” Colin Kaepernick, who protested by kneeling during the national anthem at a pre-season football game in 2016, “can insult America, and we’re free to insult him.” Hannity then explained Kaepernick’s “version ... of the March on Selma” by saying that he “might have converted to Islam in the off-season.” Though Hannity said he’s “never been able to confirm this,” he continued to press the notion that “during the off-season, he may have converted to Islam.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 8/29/16]

    Hannity encouraged Trump’s lie that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy. After Trump repeatedly made the outrageous claim that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was a conspirator in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Hannity hosted Trump on The Sean Hannity Show and allowed Trump to air the conspiracy theory. All Hannity said about the plainly false lie was, “I saw that there was something on the internet” and “I don’t know the truth or veracity of it.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 5/3/16]

    Hannity accused Clinton’s campaign chair of participating in a “bizarre occult ritual” involving “blood sacrifice.” After a WikiLeaks release of multiple emails stolen from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, The Daily Beast reported that Hannity “tweeted a story from his own website, along with its headline: ‘LEAKED EMAIL appears to link Clinton Campaign Chairman to bizarre occult ritual.’” The November 4 story alleged that Podesta was participating in a ritual involving “blood sacrifice.” [The Daily Beast, 11/4/16; Hannity.com, 11/4/16]

    Birtherism and Islam

    Hannity repeatedly peddled birther lies about Obama. Although Hannity has claimed birtherism “has not been my main issue,” he reliably hosted, defended, and promoted birther lies about then-President Barack Obama. Hannity complained that birthers are unfairly “crucified and beaten up and smeared and besmirched” for asking about the birth certificate. Hannity demanded that a TV guest “not bring up race” when refuting birtherism because, to Hannity, it’s not racist to imply that a black presidential candidate is secretly Kenyan. Hannity even directly promoted Trump’s birtherism in 2011, devoting an entire segment of an interview with Trump solely to birtherism, and -- on a separate occasion -- defending his racist actions by claiming that “all Donald Trump said was ‘show the birth certificate and move on.’” Hannity also issued a false ultimatum to Obama, demanding he “produce the birth certificate, [so that] it’s over [and] done with”; after Obama released his long-form birth certificate, Hannity attacked the move as a “distraction” from the economy. Hannity also continued to host birthers such as WorldNetDaily’s Wayne Allyn Root after Obama released his long-form birth certificate. [Media Matters, 9/16/16, 3/24/11, 4/15/11, 4/25/11, 4/29/11, 8/7/12]

    Hannity alleged that Obama edited “Islamic radicalism” out of the French president’s speech. On April 4, 2016, Hannity claimed that Obama “actually cut out Francois Hollande mentioning ‘Islamic radicalism’” in a bilateral appearance the two made, because Obama is too “timid and weak” to say the phrase himself. Though the conspiracy theory was widespread in right-wing media, the omission was caused by a glitch in the microphone that was quickly fixed. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 4/4/16; Media Matters, 4/1/16

    Hannity said that “Barack Hussein Obama” doesn’t care about terrorism and there's “something that's so off” about the former president. On the March 23, 2016, edition of his radio show, Hannity ranted that “when it comes to militant Islam and terror attacks, this president doesn’t care.” Hannity said there’s “an unwritten story about this man, his radicalism, his point of view, his rigid, [Saul] Alinsky, Frank Marshall Davis, ACORN-loving, Jeremiah Wright Church of G-D America-attending, Bill Ayers-Bernadine Dohrn connection” that shows there’s “something that’s so off” about Obama. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 3/23/16]

    Hannity smeared Michelle Obama’s undergraduate thesis as an argument in favor of radical black liberation. In 2008, Hannity repeatedly mischaracterized Michelle Obama’s 1985 senior thesis at Princeton about “Princeton-educated blacks and the black community” to claim that she believed that “blacks must join together in solidarity to combat a White oppressor.” On at least four occasions Hannity presented those beliefs as Michelle Obama’s, when the full context from her thesis shows that she was quoting the beliefs of others. [Media Matters, 2/29/08, 3/5/08]

    Guilt by association

    Hannity suggested Obama got an illegal deal on his house with the help of a slum lord. Hannity asked on the June 5, 2008, edition of his radio show, “Did Obama know at the time that [former Obama contributor Tony] Rezko was saving him 300 grand on the purchase of his home?” In August that year, Hannity repeated the conspiracy theory on Fox News, alleging that Obama got “a property next to this convicted slumlord” that was “$300,000 below [market] value.” Hannity advanced these conspiracy theories even after the sellers of the home told Bloomberg that Obama did not pay a reduced price for it. [Media Matters, 6/6/08, 8/25/08]

    Hannity claimed that Bill Ayers helped write Obama’s Dreams From My Father. On the September 22, 2009, edition of Fox News’ Hannity, Hannity alleged that Weather Underground co-founder “Bill Ayers helped [Obama] with the book” Dreams From My Father as shown by “literary devices and themes bear[ing] a jarring similarity to Ayers’ own writings.” Ayers is not credited as a co-author for the book, and an Oxford professor who designed a computer program to detect plagiarism found Hannity’s claim “very implausible.” [Media Matters, 9/23/09]

    Hannity claimed Obama was “sending in his SEIU thugs” to attack the Tea Party. In his 2010 book Conservative Victory, Hannity claimed that “the only thing artificial anywhere near the Tea Party protests were the counterprotests Obama staged, sending in his [Service Employees International Union] thugs to shout down, bully, intimidate, and physically attack the Tea Party patriots.” Hannity offered zero evidence for his claim which echoed previous thinly sourced right-wing allegations against Obama and organized labor. [Media Matters, 3/31/10]

    2016 election and beyond

    Hannity claimed Obama was leading a “shadow government” against Trump. On March 6, Hannity fearmongered about “the database that Obama’s put together” for his 2008 election and 2012 re-election, which “sounds like a shadow government.” According to Hannity, “The database that Obama's put together will have information about everything on every individual on ways that it's never been done before and whoever runs for president on the Democratic ticket has to deal with that. That sounds like a shadow government. Sounds like Sean Hannity's not the great conspiracy theorist that some people may think I am.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 3/6/17]

    Hannity said NBC News is “deep-state Obama propaganda television” on a “media corporate jihad.” Hannity fumed against “the corporate jihad being waged by NBC News against President Trump” on the March 14 edition of his Fox News show. Hannity accused the “alt-left-propaganda-destroy-Trump-at-all-costs media” of being willing to “spin any conspiracy to destroy the commander-in-chief.” Hannity sought to “set the record straight: NBC is not news; it is deep-state Obama propaganda television.” [Fox News, Hannity, 3/14/17]

    Hannity accused Obama of illegally surveilling Trump Tower. On the March 20 edition of his radio show, Hannity acknowledged news reports saying there was “no evidence that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.” However, Hannity was quick to add: “That doesn’t mean they didn’t surveil Trump Tower,” and “that doesn’t debunk the story we’ve had for 10 days” that Obama illegally spied on Trump. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 3/20/17]

    Hannity used a claim from a hoax website to falsely argue that Obama wanted to admit “250,000 refugees” in 2016. Hannity repeatedly asserted that Obama “said he’s going to bring in 250,000 refugees into this country.” When Hannity was confronted with the fact that his claim came from a hoax website, Hannity told PolitiFact that “your pants are on fire” and told the site to “throw aside … your government calculators,” insisting he was actually correct. PolitiFact also rated Hannity’s response “Pants on Fire!” Despite being proven wrong twice, Hannity still fed the lie to Trump, who campaigned on it. [Media Matters, 10/27/15]

    The 2012 Benghazi attacks

    Hannity accused the State Department of orchestrating a “cover-up” over the 2012 Benghazi attacks. On September 20, 2012, Hannity declared that “we are witnessing a widespread cover-up” of the 2012 attack on two U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, “based on flat-out lies.” He cited changing information about the cause of the attacks as evidence. Hannity also accused Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of “protecting the perpetrators of terror, the murderers of Americans,” because “they don’t want to admit” that torture worked “and the apology tour didn’t work.” In reality, the FBI and State Department both conducted thorough investigations into the attack, and there were eight mostly Republican-led congressional investigations, none of which indicated any sort of cover-up. [Media Matters, 9/26/12, 12/12/16; PolitiFact, 10/12/15]

    Hannity pushed the lie that a “stand down order” stopped a rescue operation. On August 17, Hannity told then-candidate Trump that U.S. rescue forces “were given the stand down order” when they attempted to rescue the four Americans who ultimately died in the Benghazi attacks. Hannity was repeating a debunked lie Fox News has pushed hundreds of times, and in reality, multiple congressional investigations, including those led by Republicans, consistently found “no support for the allegations that there was any stand-down order.” [Fox News, Hannity, 8/17/16; Media Matters, 6/28/16]

    Hannity falsely claimed the State Department watched the attacks unfold in real time. On October 25, 2012, Hannity told his audience that the State Department was watching the attacks unfold “in real time,” even though an Obama administration official noted that the closed-circuit surveillance at the compound could not be monitored remotely. Furthermore, although some employees followed the attacks in “almost real time” through a series of telephone calls, Clinton, in her testimony before Congress, confirmed that no one at the State Department was watching real-time video of the attacks as they unfolded. [Media Matters, 6/28/16]

    Hillary Clinton’s emails and WikiLeaks

    Hannity suggested that the CIA framed Russia and WikiLeaks for election interference. Hannity used the March 8 edition of his radio show to allege that “the CIA, according to these WikiLeaks leaks, uses stolen malware to attribute cyberattacks to nations like Russia” by “put[ting] their fingerprints all over the attack” when in reality it may have come “from within.” The following day on Twitter, Hannity asked WikiLeaks to confirm his conspiracy theory. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 3/8/17, 3/9/17]

    Hannity questioned whether there was a “possibility” that FBI Director Comey was blackmailed into not charging Clinton. On the October 14 edition of his television show, Hannity demanded that an “outside investigator” and “a grand jury” re-investigate Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. After his guest accused then-FBI Director James Comey of having “allowed for the destruction of some of the evidence,” Hannity questioned whether “there's a possibility they may have something on him.” [Fox News, Hannity, 10/14/16]

    Hannity accused NY Times of covering up emails found on Anthony Weiner’s computer to protect Clinton and the FBI from WikiLeaks. On the October 28 edition of his radio show, Hannity claimed a report from The New York Times about the FBI examining new Clinton emails found on a laptop owned by Anthony Weiner was “total bull” and that the newly discovered emails were “not what resulted in the reopening of this case.” Hannity claimed it was a cover-up by the Times because administration officials “know … there's too much in WikiLeaks that is coming, that they're dead. That they're about to be exposed.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 10/28/16]

    Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign

    Hannity hosted a man who published stories about Bigfoot and a “3-breasted intern” on his show to claim he was the Clintons’ “fixer.” On October 24, Hannity hosted Jeff Rovin, former editor of the defunct supermarket tabloid Weekly World News, to talk about his alleged time as a “fixer” for the Clinton family who helped Hillary Clinton hide “illicit romps with both men AND women.” Rovin is also a science fiction writer whose former tabloid printed stories about Bigfoot, Bill Clinton hiring a “3-breasted intern,” aliens endorsing Bill Clinton, and aliens getting in a fistfight with the former president “over Hillary.” [Media Matters, 10/24/16]

    Hannity consistently pushed the conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton hid “a serious, undisclosed medical condition.” During the 2016 election, Hannity hosted numerous radio and TV segments baselessly speculating that Clinton had a severe health problem. Hannity theorized that she was hiding “a serious, undisclosed medical condition,” though the actual condition varied day to day. Hannity has accused Clinton of secretly having Parkinson’s disease, a stroke, and seizures, of making “weird pauses,” and of being drunk at a campaign rally. He also accused her of faking a health report for political reasons. [Media Matters, 8/8/16, 9/12/16, 8/9/16, 8/10/16, 8/12/16, 9/7/16; Business Insider, 10/31/16]

    Hannity speculated that Clinton would rig the 2016 election by pushing the myth that Democrats suppressed votes in Philadelphia during the 2012 election. Hannity alleged on the August 2 edition of his Fox News show that Clinton and the Democratic Party would rig the 2016 election by citing the myth that Philadelphia precincts where no one voted for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012 evidenced voter fraud. After his remarks, a Philadelphia elections inspector tweeted that Hannity’s conspiracy theory was “absurd & personally insulting,” noting that there is “absolutely no way to erase votes from the machines” and that the precincts were “almost entirely poor and almost entirely black communities” with less than “1% registered” Republicans. CNN host Brian Stelter also called out Hannity, saying that there are precincts in other states such as Utah “where Obama did not get a single vote.” [Fox News, Hannity, 8/2/16; Media Matters, 8/8/16]

    Hannity’s website suggested Clinton wore an earpiece that may have been a secret “communication device” during a NBC campaign forum. On September 8, Hannity’s website ran a piece alleging that Clinton was spotted with “a communication device” in her ear during an NBC presidential forum, speculating that it may have been “provided by NBC” or “a hearing aid.” The piece also speculated that the alleged device “would be a violation of the rules of yesterday's Commander-In-Chief forum.” [Media Matters, 9/8/16; Hannity.com, 9/8/16]

    Hannity questioned whether “the Saudi government” funded “a fifth of Hillary’s campaign.” During the August 1 edition of his radio show, Hannity cited “a report in one news source” to ask his guest, anti-Clinton author Peter Schweizer, if “the Saudi government … [is] funding a fifth of Hillary’s campaign.” Even Schweizer, who has made a name for himself by smearing the Clintons, did not believe in the conspiracy theory. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 8/1/16]

    Hannity claimed a “conspiracy” between the Democratic, Republican, media, and “globalist-UN” establishments to stop Trump from winning. During an October 12 rant on his radio show, Hannity declared that “there is a conspiracy” between the “Republican establishment,” “Democratic establishment,” “media establishment,” and “globalist-UN establishment” that are “all basically aligned together, loosely, but definitely aligned together” to stop Trump from winning. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 10/12/16]

    Bill Clinton

    Hannity suggested that the Clintons murdered Vince Foster. On the July 22, 2007, edition of his now-defunct show Hannity’s America, Hannity discussed the suicide of Clinton family friend Vince Foster, saying that Foster “supposedly walked through the woods -- and depending on which version of the story that you believe -- he took his own life.” Hannity suggested there was “a massive cover-up” at play. [Media Matters, 8/16/07]

    Hannity repeated an allegation that Chelsea Clinton was conceived when Bill raped Hillary. According to a transcript from FoxNews.com, on the June 21, 2005, edition of Hannity & Colmes, Hannity asked Ed Klein about a discussion in Klein’s book The Truth About Hillary about “whether or not Bill raped [Hillary] … and conceived Chelsea that way.” Though Hannity suggested the accusation might be “too personal,” he did not refute it, instead saying “Hillary ought to answer the question” herself, pointing to other sexual misconduct allegations against Bill Clinton. [FoxNews.com, 6/22/05]


    Hannity accused a Law & Order episode of being a plot to “utterly destroy” Trump. On the October 12 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity said that an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit “featuring a Trump-like character whose presidential campaign is damaged by several women accusing the candidate of misconduct” was an example of “the mainstream media doing everything it can to try and utterly destroy Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.” [Fox News, Hannity, 10/12/16]

    Hannity accused Democrats of using ACORN to “ensure their own reelection.” In his 2010 book Conservative Victory, Hannity wrote that Democrats are “allocating monies to corrupt groups like [Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now] to ensure their own reelection rather than for any legitimate legislative purpose.” Hannity made several other false claims about the defunct community organizing group, all without evidence, including a September 2009 allegation that Obama was going to give ACORN “eight and a half trillion dollars of stimulus money.” [Media Matters, 3/31/10]

    Hannity said the Republican “establishment” was going to steal the nomination from Trump by declaring the primaries “null and void.” Hannity told his radio audience on April 8, 2016, that “the establishment has decided, because Trump is in the lead, that they’re going to align at least temporarily with the Cruz campaign,” meaning that “the entire voting process this year is null and void. It doesn’t matter who you voted for.” Hannity said this was the Republican Party’s plan for a “contested convention” that would allow them to “create an opening” for an appointed candidate to become the nominee. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 4/8/16]