You’ve heard the conspiracy theories: The “kill count” of Bill Clinton’s crime family tops 90 murders. High-ranking Democrats are running a child-sex ring in Washington. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were really an inside job.

Where does this stuff come from?

If you live in Portland, it may come from a duly elected member of your local school committee.

When she’s not attending public hearings and budget workshops, Holly Seeliger, who represents the West End, has an active presence on social media, where lately she has been producing daily video commentaries with a YouTube show called “Zoon Politikon.” The topics range widely, but lately a favorite subject is the violent death of Seth Rich, the Democratic National Committee staffer who was fatally shot near his Washington apartment last July.

Rich’s murder, which police say was probably the result of a botched robbery, has been irresistible for right-wing media commentators, who claim (with no evidence) that Rich – not Russian hackers – was the source of the WikiLeaks document dump last year that revealed DNC staffers speaking disrespectfully about Bernie Sanders. The “scandal” pays off for them two ways at once – taking the heat off the Trump campaign’s alleged links to Russian interference in the presidential election, and further demonizing Hillary Clinton.

Last week, Fox News backed off the story after Rich’s parents pleaded in a Washington Post column for journalists to stop using their son’s death as a political weapon, but Seeliger is still at it.

In a recent episode, the Green Party member laughed off the notion that it’s just the right wing who thinks the Democrats have blood on their hands. She assured her viewers that there are plenty of people on the left who also believe that a hit squad knocked off Rich to keep him quiet.

“They keep saying that conservative media is touting the Seth Rich conspiracy. No! Bernie Sanders supporters are talking about this (too),” Seeliger said. “Seth Rich was a Bernie Sanders supporter … and he could see the writing on the wall. Unfortunately he was also naive and believed he could change the (Democratic) Party from the inside and because of that, I believe, he paid the ultimate price.”

By now, we have all become inured to the label “fake news” because it gets slapped on every story that leads to a conclusion that someone doesn’t like. But we live in an era where there’s such a thing as real fake news – false stories that are manufactured either for propaganda or profit. They can swing elections and drive public opinion just like genuine journalism because many readers choose to believe them.

It’s not a question of getting fooled as much as being willing to fool ourselves. Confirmation bias makes us open to information that tells our mind what our gut already believes, no matter how outlandish it is. Anyone looking for information to support their bias is going to be able to find it on the internet. And one of those sources could be a two-term member of the Portland Board of Education.

In addition to the Rich conspiracy, Seeliger has been an active proponent of the thoroughly debunked “Pizzagate” child-sex ring theory – alleging in a commentary that Democratic operative and Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta sent emails that used “code words including ‘pizza,’ ” which people in the “sexually deviant community” knew referred to “child abuse and child rape, pedophilia and human trafficking.”

Seeliger has at times proposed on other social media sites the notion that Hitler and the Nazis started out as liberals, and that President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. because he didn’t want King running against him as a third-party candidate in 1968. (Never mind that Johnson had already pulled out of the race by the time of King’s death.)

No one gives up their constitutional rights when they run for the school board, and Seeliger is free to read, write and say whatever she likes. But in a democracy, elected officials are a reflection of the people they represent. What does it say about Portland’s West End that Seeliger has twice been the choice of the voters, including her last race, where she ran unopposed?

She has been a prominent member of the city’s Green Party, occasionally crossing party lines, such as when she supported Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination or Democrat Ethan Strimling’s 2015 run for mayor.

Is the rest of the city’s political community comfortable with Seeliger’s views? Is this kind of thing a problem only when it’s a Republican talking?

It shouldn’t be. Fake news is fake, no matter where it comes from.

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Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @gregkesich

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