Is the Epstein death a cover-up?

How the conspiracy theories surrounding Jeffrey Epstein's suicide came about

As is so often the case in breaking news situations, various conspiracy theories spread shortly after the news of Jeffrey Epstein's death. How do they come about? And above all: why? Trying to explain.

Jeffrey Epstein, the powerful and wealthy financier, was found dead on August 10th in his cell in the Metropolitan Correctional Center - the "Guantánamo of New York". There are many inconsistencies about his death. How could an inmate who was considered suicidal, that is, who was particularly closely monitored, commit suicide? Why was he in solitary confinement? Why had the suicide prevention measures been discontinued? All legitimate questions that can be asked - and even have to be asked.

As is often the case after events for which many variables are initially unknown, not only such questions were circulating on the Internet, but also numerous conspiracy theories. Their staunch representatives knew the cause of death and the perpetrator even before the American judiciary. It was murder, so trumpeted the network, and behind it were powerful people from the "Clinton clan". With the categorization of “suicide”, a conglomerate of media, politics and business also wanted to hide “the truth”. But that is no longer justified skepticism, but targeted disinformation.

The pattern repeats itself

At the NZZ, for example, we repeatedly come across crude claims on Facebook about events and circumstances about which the commentators can have little or no trustworthy information. When Notre-Dame was on fire, one was immediately certain of an Islamist attack, after any murder case, either Nazis or foreigners are condemned as perpetrators, and now in Epstein's case, too, shortly after his death became known, various unsubstantiated, and therefore fact-free theories were circulating.

If you are confronted with such statements day in, day out, even savvy Internet users will find it difficult to separate facts from allegations. This is precisely where the danger of social networks lies: They are the ideal breeding ground for the spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation. Because the unverified utterances are diligently shared and constantly repeated, the theories spread like wildfire. This gives the impression that the information is secure.

But they are not.

Money, power, sex - the ideal ingredients

As a result, conspiracy theories are reaching an ever larger circle of people. Some are even willingly convinced of them and then actively contribute to their further dissemination. The tweet flood by the well-known American indie pop band Foster The People is downright grotesque, if quite successful. The Californian band claims that the body found was not Epstein at all. Instead, he flew to the Middle East in a private plane to undergo cosmetic surgery. Behind all this is: "the government".

i find it strange that i’ve been chastised by reporters from NBC and other news outlets for my opinion. everything you guys have been reporting has been conjecture. if you want to be considered a respected authority of truth, do a better job. # / 3TWkAYYuRn

- Foster The People (@fosterthepeople) August 12, 2019

The Epstein case, it turns out, is particularly fruitful for conspiracy theorists. It's about power, money, crime and influence. According to his own statements, the 66-year-old was sitting on a fortune of 550 million dollars, had powerful friends like Bill Clinton and Donald Trump and thus had excellent relationships with America's elite. The fact that he allegedly operated a ring of illegal sex trafficking with girls, some of whom were underage, is particularly explosive. Now the assumption is circulating that powerful men - such as Bill Clinton, for example - were good customers of Epstein and therefore had a motive for murder: Epstein should remain silent forever. For the conspiracy theorists, the mere pictures showing Clinton and Epstein together are proof enough that their theory is correct. In fact, there is no evidence to incriminate Bill Clinton.

For many, the time of death is also extremely convenient. Epstein had failed his first suicide attempt three weeks earlier, and only a day before his death, sealed files were released, revealing new incriminating facts. The unhappy, cautious communication of the authorities also promotes such theories: If the autopsy report mentions, for example, that the broken hyoid bone could also indicate death by strangulation, this does not mean that suicide is excluded as a cause of death. It is completely unclear which circles are interested in such an interpretation and actively disseminate it.

Trump cooks himself in the rumor mill

Twitter in particular contributes a large part to the spread of such theories. For example, the hashtags #ClintonBodyCount and #TrumpBodyCount appeared early and prominently on Twitter in the “Trending” category - that is, among the hashtags that are most frequently used. These word creations allude to the fact that the Clintons and Donald Trump are already responsible for numerous political murders and that the number of their deaths ("body count") is constantly increasing. The conspiracy theories are washed into the timelines of many Twitter users - including those of President Trump himself.

He shared the tweet from Terrence Williams - who describes himself on Twitter as an actor and comedian - who blames Bill Clinton for Epstein's death. With a “retweet” from the American President, the conspiracy theories have now already reached the White House. After a wave of criticism, Trump justified himself by saying that Williams was a big Trump fan and that he had over half a million followers on Twitter. That says a lot about how Twitter works - and Trump.

Died of SUICIDE on 24/7 SUICIDE WATCH? Yeah right! How does that happen # JefferyEpstein had information on Bill Clinton & now he's dead

I see #TrumpBodyCount trending but we know who did this!

RT if you're not Surprised # EpsteinSuicide # ClintonBodyCount # / Y9tGAWaAxX

- Terrence K. Williams (@w_terrence) August 10, 2019

Conspiracy theories have long since ceased to be a niche phenomenon, but are now also reaching highly official politics, the entertainment industry and the general public. Jan-Willem van Prooijen is Professor of Psychology at VU Amsterdam and specializes in conspiracy theories. He sees it as a kind of self-protection mechanism: "It is sometimes easier to believe in a carefully worked out lie than to deal with the truth," he explains to the online magazine "Vox".

How do conspiracy theorists go about it?

Even if the NZZ points out in Facebook comments that the Epstein case, according to all previous knowledge, was not a murder, the counter-question typically comes: “Why do you know that? Do you have video recordings? " No we have not. Media report what is known. But even video recording doesn't stop people from believing what they want to believe. Because such theories give a feeling of control and help to divide a complicated world into good and bad and to better understand it. There is always a group of people in the background pulling the strings.

Conspiracy theorists tend to follow the same pattern. They identify someone - a person, a group, an institution - who would benefit from an "alternate reality". The theoretical beneficiary then becomes the “true” author. With many subjunctive tones it can be formulated as follows: If Clinton had been involved in the illegal sex trade ring, he would have a great interest in covering up the matter. Had Clinton been involved and commissioned the murder of Epstein, the government would again have a keen interest in covering up the matter. Whoever profits must have started the matter. That Epstein was the victim of the failing American judicial system, rather than a powerful plot with the Clintons at its helm, calls into question the suspicion many people feel about the government and the press. So it must have happened differently.

In the Internet age, a new model of conspiracy theory has joined, which the American political scientists Nancy Rosenblum and Russell Muirhead call the "new conspiracy theorism". In contrast to sophisticated conspiracy theories such as those about 9/11 or the moon landing, today we are satisfied with individual finds - for example a picture by Bill Clinton and Jeffrey Epstein - and suggestive statements such as: "It can't be a coincidence!" So you can get by without any arguments, evidence or explanations.

The media and politics do not yet seem to be aware of the seriousness of the situation. With long silences and unclear statements, the American judiciary fires the theorists themselves. And the media must provide full information about what is known about a case, but also about what is still open and unresolved.