- The most pervasive conspiracy theory of 2019 is that wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was murdered, despite the official determination that he died by suicide in prison awaiting trial.
- The popularity of the meme shows a growing distrust in the rich and powerful and appeals to numerous American political factions.
- It’s not surprising that the life and death of Epstein spawned such widespread distrust. Of the long list of global elites who were affiliated with Epstein, no one has faced any real consequences after years of allegations.
- The two guards who were supposed to be checking in on Epstein the night he died were arrested and charged with falsifying prison records on November 19. A popular response to the news on social media was that the guards were scapegoats, despite any public evidence supporting that theory.
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Officially, Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide.
According to the FBI, the US State Department, and the Metropolitan Correctional Center, which all point to an official coroner’s report, Epstein hanged himself with his own bedsheet. Three separate investigations into how that happened are still ongoing.
Of course, there are a few complications. The way Epstein’s hyoid, a U-shaped bone in the front and middle of the neck, broke is more indicative of strangulation than hanging in most cases. A forensic pathologist hired by Epstein’s brother suggested this in his own separate investigation. Also, the two guards who were supposed to be watching Epstein were asleep at the time of his suicide.
As the official cause of death has grown more complex, a wave of public suspicion has appeared every day in a new viral form on social media to tout the theory that Epstein was murdered.
On November 19, the two guards were arrested and federally charged, accused of failing to check on Epstein that night and falsifying prison records.
Despite any public evidence to support it, a popular response on social media was that the guards were scapegoats for people who paid them to look the other way.
There are a few counter-arguments to the murder conspiracy theory. Sex offenders who are publicly exposed for their crimes, like Epstein in the weeks leading up to his death, are more likely to commit suicide. Epstein signed a new will two days before his death, which could be interpreted as premeditation, and the guards at the Manhattan prison were overworked and understaffed.
Regardless, surveys show as many as two out of three Americans believe Epstein didn’t kill himself. As far as conspiracy theories go, that’s an astonishingly high rate of believers. Just over half of Americans believe that the US government is concealing information about 9/11, according to a 2016 poll, and surveys suggest that just between 5-10% of Americans don’t believe the moon landing was real.
But the “Epstein was murdered” conspiracy theory seems ubiquitous. Explosive footage released November 5 showed ABC news anchor Amy Robach saying she believes “100%” Epstein was murdered; President Donald Trump suggested in a tweet that Epstein may have been murdered; and a former Navy SEAL invited onto Fox News randomly blurted out “Epstein didn’t kill himself” at the end of his segment.
The pervasiveness of a conspiracy theory rooted in anti-government sentiment may come as a surprise to some, but a rising distrust in powerful figures and institutions may explain why #EpsteinMurder began to trend shortly after his death.
Epstein’s network of global elites hasn’t faced consequences, stoking suspicion of the upper class
As wealth and income inequality continue to rise to staggering new heights, distrust of the rich and powerful has also increased.
According to a 2018 Pew poll, 75% of Americans believe that trust in the federal government is declining. Younger people, people with less education, and those making less money tended to be less trustful of the government and of each other. According to a 2017 Bloomberg poll, a majority of Americans say they distrust billionaires.
The list of billionaires and power players associated with Epstein and the horrific allegations against him is almost too long to comprehend, and few have faced real consequences or serious probes. Their continued safety from legal scrutiny has only contributed to the backbone of the conspiracy theories — that Epstein was killed because of his damaging secrets on powerful figures, and it was covered up by a complicit state.
The British royal family has defended Prince Andrew through years of allegations. Epstein’s former attorney Alan Dershowitz has fought back against accuser Virginia Giuffre’s accusations repeatedly. The specific allegations against President Donald Trump are visceral, but Jane Doe herself dropped the lawsuit against him.
People close to Epstein but with no accusations directed toward them like Bill Gates, Les Wexner, and Joi Ito have apologized, and in the latter’s case resigned, over their dealings with Epstein.
The Clintons have perhaps encountered the strongest scrutiny (Bill Clinton traveled on Epstein’s plane numerous times and hosted the sex offender at his office and the White House) as the Epstein theories have dovetailed with conservative and leftist conspiracy theories surrounding the family. #ClintonBodyCount trended along with #EpsteinMurder after Epstein’s suicide.
Progressives and conservatives have their own reasons to support the Epstein conspiracy theory
The anger directed at Trump and the Clintons is as much about the 2016 election as it is about Epstein.
Today’s most highly publicized conspiracy theories tend to revolve around what happened that November, and all that came before it and after it. On the right, we have the pervasive conspiracy theories QAnon and Pizzagate, and on the left is hatred of both Trump and, for the further left, the Clintons.
Support for the Epstein murder conspiracy theory on the right stems from existing conspiracy theories involving the Democratic Clinton family.
Pizzagate and QAnon, both debunked, rest on the theory that the rich and powerful, in particular Democrats, have been running an international child sex trafficking ring.
Of course, the revelation that there may have actually been an international sex trafficking ring run by Epstein, who was associated with Bill Clinton and the some of the most powerful people in the world, only helped spread the ideas.
The theories melded with the Clinton Body Count conspiracy, the baseless allegation that the Clinton family has had over 50 former associates murdered, to fuel the Epstein Murder conspiracy theory on the American right, which has become more amenable to conspiracy theories and memes amid constant attacks on the media and the echo chambers of social media.
Epstein murder theories have popped up on both ends of the political spectrum
The possibility that Trump, a former Epstein friend, could have had a hand in Epstein’s theoretical murder or subsequent coverup was convenient fodder for Trump’s critics.
But what’s more interesting to watch has been the embrace of the Epstein murder theory among leftists, whose distrust of centrist Democrats, including the Clinton family, along with the uber-wealthy, has metastasized into a conspiratorial hatred.
A study from Emerson Polling found that among Democrats (who on the whole are less likely to believe the theory), Bernie Sanders supporters were most likely to question the official telling of Epstein’s death. Sanders, of course, was Hillary Clinton’s primary challenger in 2016 and had a fanbase that was so intensely anti-Clinton that some blame them for the election of Trump (one study found that one in 10 Sanders supporters ended up voting for Trump).
While that hatred of Clinton isn’t universal among Democrats, vilification of the uber-wealthy and top 1% of earners is common in the party, making Epstein’s rich associates easy stand-ins for ire.
In terms of meme currency, posts including Epstein murder theories are the best stock in the market. They’re cross-generational, catchy, could be true (as is the nature of conspiracy theories).
But while we may never have definitive proof to completely support a particular theory on Epstein’s death, the facts of the case are bound to continue to serve as inspiration for meme creators across America — a well-connected sex offender who was accused of running a sex trafficking ring died before a more thorough investigation into his actions could bring him to justice.
What’s even better assurance that the meme will continue to spread, though, is the near-universal interest in critiquing one’s political enemies, and eating the rich.