Jeffrey Epstein: How conspiracy theories spread after financier’s death

 


US financier Jeffrey EpsteinImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionJeffrey Epstein, pictured here in 2004, was found dead in his jail cell on Saturday aged 66

Just hours after the high-profile financier Jeffrey Epstein was found dead on Saturday, unsubstantiated theories about his death began to gain traction online.

Epstein, who was set to stand trial on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges, killed himself in his jail cell in New York. He was accused of running a “vast network” of underage girls for sex, and pleaded not guilty to the charges last month.

The 66-year-old was known to court famous friends and acquaintances. President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton, and the UK’s Prince Andrew all had ties to him. Some of his powerful associates have been embroiled in the allegations against him, which has only served to fuel the conspiracy theories and misinformation.

Many rumours have centred on what politicians may have known about Epstein’s alleged crimes and whether some may have wanted him dead. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest this was the case. And yet, the hashtag #EpsteinMurder trended worldwide on Saturday.

Joke images and memes – suggesting everything from a faked suicide to an orchestrated hit-job – were shared thousands of times throughout the day. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were rife with unfounded theories about what may have happened to the financier.

This wild speculation was not confined to a fringe minority – far from it. Politicians and high-profile journalists also stoked rampant speculation at a time when little information was publicly available. MSNBC host Joe Scarborough tweeted:

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was “way too convenient” that Epstein could no longer incriminate others.

“What a lot of us want to know is, what did he know?” he told reporters. “How many other millionaires and billionaires were part of the illegal activities that he was engaged in?”

Questions like these alluded, without evidence, to a malevolent conspiracy and fed the feverish speculation on social media.

Further rumours centred on how a man who was found semi-conscious and with injuries to his neck just weeks earlier was able to take his own life. Initial reports said Epstein was placed on suicide watch after that incident in July, which led many people to ask how he could have died while being so closely monitored.

“What does the word watch mean in the phrase suicide watch?” tweeted President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giulani. “Who was watching?” He then said it was “inconceivable” Epstein could have taken his own life under those circumstances.

But prison officials later said Epstein had actually been taken off suicide watch prior to his death. Conspiracy theories then began to focus on why this decision was made, rather than how he was able to take his own life.

The speculation, as was the case throughout Saturday, appeared to shift and change with the few concrete details that were released.

Jeffrey Epstein (left) pictured with US President Donald Trump in 1997Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionJeffrey Epstein pictured with US President Donald Trump in 1997

Perhaps the most far-fetched conspiracy theories were pegged to the hashtags #ClintonBodyCount and #TrumpBodyCount, which both trended on Twitter over the weekend.

The first was primarily used by conservatives to suggest that former “first couple” Bill and Hillary Clinton were linked to Epstein’s death. The latter, perhaps predictably, was used by liberals who speculated that Mr Trump was somehow involved. Neither side had any evidence to work with.

The baseless theory of the Clinton’s involvement harks back to a long-running conspiracy that originated in the 1990s and claims the couple secretly kill their enemies. This was roundly and methodically debunked at the time by the fact-checking website Snopes.

“There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest an outside person ordered Epstein’s death, and certainly no evidence whatsoever that Bill Clinton was that person,” Dylan Matthews wrote in Vox this week.

“[Mr Clinton] knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago, or those with which he has been recently charged in New York,” his spokesman, Angel Ureña, said.

But Mr Trump was quick to pour fuel on the flames. He shared a tweet from Terrence Williams, a comedian and Trump supporter, that alleged Epstein “had information on Bill Clinton & now he’s dead”. There is no evidence to support this, but the tweet has since been shared more than 55,000 times.

Prince Andrew, left, and Jeffrey Epstein in New York's Central ParkImage copyrightNEWS SYNDICATION
Image captionPrince Andrew, left, seen with Jeffrey Epstein in New York

Other theories and tidbits of misinformation have been easier to disprove.

For example, a photo that appeared to show Mr Trump kissing the head of his daughter, Ivanka, while standing next to Epstein has been exposed as a fake. “The 1993 photograph… has been manipulated to include Epstein,” the Associated Press reported last month.

Similarly, after Epstein’s arrest on 6 July, some social media users shared a false claim that prosecutors had struck a secret plea deal with the financier under the administration of President Barack Obama in order to protect his fellow Democrat Mr Clinton. That theory resurfaced on Saturday.

But the deal, which allowed Epstein to plead guilty to lesser charges, was actually finalised before Mr Obama took office under the administration of President George W, Bush. Labour Secretary Alex Acosta resigned over his role in the deal last month.

Meanwhile, some politicians and journalists have urged people to exercise caution given the sheer quantity of misinformation online.

“The immediate rush to spread conspiracy theories about someone on the ‘other side’ of [the] partisan divide illustrates why our society is so vulnerable to foreign disinformation,” tweeted Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

CNN presenter Jim Sciutto, reflecting on his time working in the Middle East, said: “Remember this is about… partisan politics. When I was [there]… folks didn’t trust authorities so assumed a plot behind every event.”

Wal-Mart: America’s #1 gun salesman.

After the recent tragic shootings in El Paso, it’s absolutely unthinkable that Walmart would continue to profit from gun sales. They must stop the sale of guns in their stores now!

Walmart must prioritize community safety over profits made from gun sales. They must stop the sale of guns in their stores now!Sign Matthew’s petition

Companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods have already taken actions to use their economic leverage to curb gun violence.1

Walmart is one of America’s largest gun sellers and must be part of the movement to end gun violence. The company has taken some steps in recent years—but the stores are still selling weapons of destruction and selling bullet-proof backpacks at the same time. Walmart has the power to make a real difference, not just cosmetic changes.

Please join with us and ask Doug McMillon, the Chief Executive of Walmart, to stop the sale of guns in his stores now.

Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends.

Thank you.

—Matthew Hildreth, Rural Organizing

Stop Mass Shootings (MoveOn Gun Control Team)

On Sunday, a gunman with a military assault-style weapon killed three people, including a 6-year-old boy, and injured 12 at a garlic festival in California. It was the 42nd mass shooting in July alone and the 246th in America this year.1

These shootings need to stop. At festivals. At schools. At places of worship. At night clubs. At movie theaters.

There are so many simple, clear steps that lawmakers can take to reduce the epidemic of gun violence in America—by passing into law policies that are supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans and even most gun owners.2,3

Universal background checks. Closing the gun show loophole. Banning assault weapons such as AR-15s. Banning bump stocks.

Indeed, the Democratic U.S. House passed two bills that would accomplish many of these goals earlier this year, but Mitch McConnell and the GOP—at the bidding of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun manufacturers—won’t even allow the bills to come up for a vote in the Senate.4 They won’t even allow federal funding for research into gun violence.5 It’s outrageous. And it’s heartbreaking.

That’s why we’re going to hold McConnell and other vulnerable GOP senators accountable and defeat them in 2020, starting with putting up billboards in central, high-traffic locations in their home states that highlight their role in America’s gun violence epidemic. Will you pitch in $3 to help us pay for the billboards?

Yes, I’ll chip in now to help hold GOP lawmakers accountable, fight the NRA, and end the epidemic of gun violence in America.

The horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School nearly seven years ago should have been a tipping point on gun violence in America, but since then:

  • There have been approximately 2,185 mass shootings.6
  • Congress has passed into law zero measures to make our children and communities safer.
  • The NRA and gun manufacturers continue to write big checks to Republican politicians.

According to polls, Mitch McConnell and other GOP senators who are up in for re-election in 2020 are increasingly vulnerable.7 But to defeat them in 2020—which is the only way we can finally pass legislation to address America’s gun violence crisis—we need to make sure their constituents know that they’re standing with the NRA and blocking commonsense reforms to address America’s gun violence epidemic.

We didn’t budget for the billboards, which is why we’re asking you to chip in now, so we can quickly purchase them. We can only do it if we raise the money now. Can you chip in $3—or whatever you can afford—right now?

Yes, I’ll chip in to help hold McConnell and other NRA-funded politicians accountable.

We can never forget that the GOP is culpable in these heartbreaking and avoidable gun deaths, as a result of their obedience to the NRA’s dangerous agenda. Let’s make sure that the voters in their states know it, too.

Thanks for all you do.

–Emily, Emma, Stephen, Manny, and the rest of the team

ISIS attacks the Holistic Recovery Project’s website!

Don’t know why, True Believers, but the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has hacked our website.  Scope it out at http://www.holisticrecoveryproject.org.

Corporate e-mail is down as well, of course.

Our old site, http://holisticrecoveryproject.atspace.com is still up, although it’s a bit out of date.

What will Otis Porkmeyer do in response?p.jpg