Feds fight back as the­o­ries swirl

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael R. Sisak

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

RICHARD DREW — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

The Man­hat­tan Cor­rec­tional Cen­ter in New York, where Fi­nancier Jef­frey Ep­stein died by sui­cide and was found in his cell.

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