Suicide or conspiracy: Claims surrounding Jeffrey Epstein's death debunked
In the hours following the news of financier Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide in a U.S. federal prison, social media erupted into a hotbed of speculation.
Conspiracy theorists quickly provided unsubstantiated claims that Epstein’s death, confirmed by a jail spokesperson, was suspicious or faked altogether, with a significant amount of theories pointing towards the involvement of the Clinton family.
Epstein was arrested in early July on allegations that he orchestrated a sex-trafficking ring for underage girls. He had pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial next year.
His close personal ties to U.S. President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton, and several other powerful people have fuelled speculation into what politicians knew about his alleged crimes.
Epstein’s death has been the gasoline to the fire of those rumours, allowing hashtags like #EpsteinMurder, #EpsteinSuicideCoverUp and #ClintonBodyCount to trend widely online.
Many of these claims have already been debunked. Here’s what we know so far:
The Clinton angle
Shortly after news of Epstein’s death broke, the hashtag #ClintonBodyCount began circulating on Twitter as theorists attempted to link his death to former democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton.
Several right-wing theorists questioned the circumstances of Epstein’s death using the hashtag, suggesting incriminating information related to Clinton’s knowledge of his crimes was set to be released.
Adding fuel to the fire, President Trump retweeted a conservative personality who captioned a video attempting to implicate the Clintons in Epstein’s death, using the hashtags #ClintonBodyCount and #ClintonCrime family.
Died of SUICIDE on 24/7 SUICIDE WATCH ? Yeah right! How does that happen#JefferyEpstein had information on Bill Clinton & now he’s dead— Terrence K. Williams (@w_terrence) August 10, 2019
I see #TrumpBodyCount trending but we know who did this!
RT if you’re not Surprised#EpsteinSuicide #ClintonBodyCount #ClintonCrimeFamily pic.twitter.com/Y9tGAWaAxX
According to fact checking website Snopes, disinformation surrounding the so-called “Clinton Body Count” dates back to 1993, when lawyer Linda Thompson compiled a list of 34 people connected to the Clintons who had died, some of them by suicide.
The list attempted to draw suspicion between the individuals’ deaths and their knowledge of the Clintons’ political and personal dealings.
By her own admission, Thompson had “no direct evidence” to support suggestions the family was involved in the deaths.
Snopes’ investigation revealed accounts for each death, including heart attacks, plane crashes, or suicides.
This isn’t the first Clinton-related rumour to circulate regarding Epstein.
Days after his arrest, memes circulated on several social media sites claiming the Obama administration forged a secret deal allowing Epstein to plead guilty to soliciting a minor for prostitution and avoid more serious charges in order to protect the former president.
However, the deal was actually executed under President George W. Bush, before President Obama took office.
A spokesperson for the former president said Clinton has no knowledge of the charges against Epstein.
The Trump angle
Along with the #ClintonBodyCount hashtag, “Trump Body Count” also began trending.
The hashtag, originally related to the rash of shooting deaths in the U.S., was then used by some theorists to suggest Trump played a hand in Epstein’s death—so much so that some right-wing theorists accused the media of trying to cover up the Clinton angle.
My God, they’re already covering it up. Twitter has completely replaced the hashtag #ClintonBodyCount with #TrumpBodyCount on the trending newsfeed even though the numbers were higher.— Mindy Robinson (@iheartmindy) August 10, 2019
The media bias is UNREAL at this point. pic.twitter.com/38QBO7HBIB
The murder angle
Others have questioned the circumstances of Epstein’s death, suggesting the sheer number of variables may point towards a murder, not a suicide.
“When they say you are insane for believing a conspiracy theory think of this: Cameras did not capture Epstein’s death; cellmate moved out of cell prior to his death; Epstein was taken off suicide watch; guards did not check on him,” wrote one Twitter user.
Much is still to be determined about the circumstances of Epstein’s death.
An autopsy was performed Sunday, but the details have yet to be released publicly.
Sources told the Associated Press that Epstein was placed on suicide watch two weeks ago after he was found with bruising on his neck. However, he was taken off suicide watch at the end of July—a move experts say several officials would have had to sign off on.
The guards on Epstein’s unit were also said to be working “extreme overtime shifts” to make up for staffing shortages, according to the Associated Press.
On Monday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr also called for a thorough investigation into Epstein’s death citing “serious irregularities” at the facility where Epstein was being held.
The fake angle
Perhaps the wildest of conspiracies suggest that Epstein isn’t dead at all.
An image published by the New York Post tabloid, reportedly showing paramedics working on Epstein’s body as he was brought to hospital, circulated widely on social media.
While some users questioned why paramedics are pictured administering oxygen to the patient purported to be Epstein, others questioned whether the body looked like that of Epstein.
Other claims have suggested that Epstein was somehow “switched out” of his jail cell to flee the country; however, these claims have not been substantiated.
Photo: “Jeffrey #epstein “ rolled into the hospital VS. the real Epstein.— Brandon Bonwell (@brandonbonwell) August 11, 2019
Different nose, different ears, different eyes.#Epsteinbodydouble #ClintonBodyBags #ClintonBodyCount #EpsteinMurder pic.twitter.com/K0tpNwZ9Rp
The Russia angle
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted Sunday alleging “Putin bots” were aggressively pushing hashtags on social media promoting Trump and Clinton conspiracies on Twitter.
“It’s sad (and frightening) to see so many Americans on both sides of partisan unwittingly helping them,” Rubio wrote on Twitter. “Putin has weaponized our polarization.”
Rubio included no evidence to support his claims of Russian interference.
CTVNews.ca asked media intelligence agency Storyful whether or not they had seen any evidence of bot-like or automated activity within any of the Epstein-related hashtags, but the search came up short.
“Storyful did not see any evidence supporting this claim by Sen Rubio, or outstanding evidence of coordinated bot-like or automated activity around these hashtags,” Ciaran O’Connor, journalist with Storyful, told CTVNews.ca
“In fact, according to our analysis, we saw the biggest amplification when high-profile right and left-wing supporting accounts used hashtags like #ClintonBodyCount and #TrumpBodyCount.”
#Putin bots & trolls are aggressively pushing hashtags on social media promoting Trump & Clinton conspiracies about #Epstein death.— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) August 11, 2019
It’s sad (and frightening) to see so many Americans on both sides of partisan unwittingly helping them.
Putin has weaponized our polarization.