Feds fight back as theories swirl
NEW YORK >> At another time in history, the indictment of two jail guards responsible for monitoring Jeffrey Epstein the night he killed himself might have served as an emphatic rebuttal to suspicions that the wealthy sex offender was actually murdered. Not in 2019.
Conspiracy theories continued to flourish, even after prosecutors took pains to point out the ample evidence backing a medical examiner’s determination that Epstein hanged himself.
Video surveillance confirmed, they said in a news release and an indictment, that nobody had entered the area where Epstein was locked in his cell.
The locked door to the unit, they said, could only be opened remotely by an officer in the jail’s control center, plus there was a second locked door to which only correctional officers assigned to the high-security housing unit had the key. Epstein had no roommate, they said, and had died alone.
No matter. Social media buzzed with “Epstein didn’t kill himself” memes, fueled by the financier’s past associations with Britain’s Prince Andrew and U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.
“People aren’t buying the suicide story,” said one tweet.
“Epstein is alive on a beach somewhere in the middle east,” said another.
Democrats and Republicans — and even Epstein’s family and his alleged victims — were united in skepticism that Epstein could have taken his own life a month after his arrest on sex trafficking charges.
At a news conference Thursday, lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents several women who say they were sexually abused by Epstein, said there remains quite a few “suspicious circumstances surrounding his death.” Dr. Michael Baden, the forensic pathologist hired by Epstein’s family to observe his autopsy, also remains incredulous, saying he wanted to hear from the guards before deciding whether it was suicide or homicide.
Eric Oliver, a University of Chicago professor who studies conspiracy theories, said no amount of evidence presented by government authorities is likely to change some people’s minds.
“When there’s already this kind of profound mistrust of the political system, of political institutions, of the media, any kind of official channel that seeks to overturn this belief is likely to be viewed with suspicion,” he said.
Oliver said a survey he conducted two weeks ago found that 30% of respondents believed Epstein’s death was a homicide. Most conspiracy theories gain traction with less than 20% of respondents, he said. The Trump-perpetuated theory that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. peaked at about 24%.
The Epstein conspiracy theories also cut across the ideological spectrum, Oliver said, in part because they speak to concerns some Americans have about concentrations of wealth and power: feeling that the wealthy have amassed too much political power.
“The idea that somehow or another they were able to sneak into his jail cell and murder him speaks to both that power — that they’re somehow or another above the law — and the nefariousness of their intentions, that they’d be willing to murder some guy who could potentially expose the wealthy,” Oliver said.
“When there’s already this kind of profound mistrust of the political system, of political institutions, of the media, any kind of official channel that seeks to overturn this belief is likely to be viewed with suspicion.”
— Eric Oliver, University of Chicago professor
The Manhattan Correctional Center in New York, where Financier Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide and was found in his cell.