On July 6, 2019, financier Jeffrey Epstein, a rapist and convicted pedophile, was arrested yet again, this time on new charges of sex trafficking minors in Florida and New York. The immediate speculation after Epstein's latest arrest was whether or not others long-rumored to be associated with him would finally be exposed for committing potentially heinous crimes. But a month later, on August 10, Epstein was found dead in his cell. As soon as news of his death hit, conspiracy theories about the circumstances abounded, with many surmising that powerful people wanted to keep him silent. Everything seemed a tad fishy: that the broken bones in his neck often indicated strangulation, that two guards slept through checks and falsified records. But New York City Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson ruled that death was a suicide, and reporters on the criminal justice system relayed that prison suicides are frequent and guards overworked.
As the news cycle churned, the story faded a bit. That was until this week, almost three months after his death, when the hashtags #EpsteinSuicideCoverUp and #EpsteinDidNotKillHimself suddenly starting trending. Where did the newfound public interest come from?
On Saturday, November 2, former Navy Seal Mike Ritland appeared on Fox News program Watters World. Jesse Watters interviewed Ritland, who now runs a service called the Warrior Dog Foundation, about retired military dogs, who are having a moment after one such active-duty dog may or may not have helped kill Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. At the end of the segment, Ritland asked to give a pooch-related PSA, which he concluded by surprise announcing:"Epstein didn't kill himself." The clip instantly went viral.
In an email to GQ, Ritland wrote that he wanted to say something because he was "trying to keep [the Epstein story] in the news so it doesn’t get forgotten about." It followed a trickle of lower-profile stories on Epstein. Just a few weeks ago, on October 12, The New York Times reported that Bill Gates started hanging out with Epstein after the latter was convicted of sex crimes, a disturbing revelation that Gates's team didn't bat down very convincingly.
Beginning in 2011, Mr. Gates met with Mr. Epstein on numerous occasions — including at least three times at Mr. Epstein’s palatial Manhattan townhouse, and at least once staying late into the night, according to interviews with more than a dozen people familiar with the relationship, as well as documents reviewed by The New York Times. Employees of Mr. Gates’s foundation also paid multiple visits to Mr. Epstein’s mansion. And Mr. Epstein spoke with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and JPMorgan Chase about a proposed multibillion-dollar charitable fund — an arrangement that had the potential to generate enormous fees for Mr. Epstein. “His lifestyle is very different and kind of intriguing although it would not work for me,” Mr. Gates emailed colleagues in 2011, after his first get-together with Mr. Epstein.
Gates, who also flew on Epstein's private plane in 2013 (his spokesperson told the Times that Gates was unaware of who owned the plane), is hardly the only ultra-rich, ultra-powerful man to associate with Epstein. Others include a host of billionaires, plus Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Prince Andrew, and Kevin Spacey, all four of whom have been either charged with or alleged to have committed sex crimes. Their relationships with Epstein are a central focus of the theories about his mysterious death.
A few weeks after the New York Times article on Gates, Dr. Michael Baden, an 85-year-old forensic pathologist and Fox News contributor who previously participated in autopsy investigations of other well-known figures, told Fox News in an exclusive that he observed the Epstein autopsy at the behest of Epstein's brother and concluded it was likely a homicide.
He noted that the 66-year-old Epstein had two fractures on the left and right sides of his larynx, specifically the thyroid cartilage or Adam’s apple, as well as one fracture on the left hyoid bone above the Adam’s apple... “Those three fractures are extremely unusual in suicidal hangings and could occur much more commonly in homicidal strangulation,” Baden said.
That news set off another flurry of conspiracy theories about Epstein's death. Popular podcaster Joe Rogan, who has 7.8 million Instagram followers and 5.4 million Twitter followers, posted a screenshot of the New York Times piece on Instagram with the caption "Shocker. #lookintoit." He's since continued to post "Epstein didn't kill himself" memes. And Ritman, who follows Rogan on Instagram, affirmed his interest had been piqued by Rogan's Epstein-centric Instagram posts, which have picked up in regularity since Baden's homicide assessment.
However, Dr. Sampson reaffirmed to Rolling Stone that her initial autopsy was "thorough and complete," adding, "There is no reason for a second medical investigation by our office.” Baden hasn't quieted down since, and his Fox News appearances—coupled with Ritland's pronouncement—have been enough to get people talking, not just in right-wing circles. (Baden, it should be noted, doesn't have a flawless resume in his line of work. As journalist Sarah Weinman wrote for New York magazine, his "opinion on the matter is unreliable at best and dangerous at worst—a second opinion in dire need of a third one.")
On Tuesday, Project Veritas, a right-wing "activist" group known for misleadingly edited video clips, further stirred the pot by scoring perhaps its first-ever actual scoop: A hot mic moment of ABC News anchor Amy Robach complaining that her own Epstein story, an interview with Epstein victim Virginia Roberts (Giuffre), had been buried by the network for the better part of three years.
"First of all I was told, 'Who's Jeffrey Epstein? No one knows who that is. This is a stupid story,'" Robach recounts. "Then the [Royal Palace] found out we had [Giuffre's] allegations about Prince Andrew, and threatened us a million different ways." Robach implies that Giuffre had even provided significant evidence regarding Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton, and others in Epstein's orbit. "Do I think [Epstein] was killed? Hundred percent, yes, I do," Robach rhetorically asks later in the footage. "He made his whole living blackmailing people. There were a lot of men on those planes. A lot of men who visited that island. A lot of powerful men who came into that apartment." In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, ABC News denied the story was delayed for out-of-the-ordinary reasons, and that a "two-hour documentary and six-part podcast" about Epstein is set to air soon.
Add it all up—a series of suspicious news stories, a few viral clips, the involvement of Fox News—and the result is the morbid memeification of a not-all-that-unbelievable theory. But not everyone has caught onto the rapidly evolving reality that the facts around Epstein's death aren't just politically-motivated conspiracies: Last week, Hillary Clinton appeared on The Daily Show, and Trevor Noah opened things up by asking how she killed Epstein. The obvious joke elicited real laughter, but also some noticeably uncomfortable chuckles from the audience, given her husband's murky relationship with Epstein himself. Had the interview taken place only a few days later, with Epstein's death trending on social media, it's fair to wonder whether Noah would've cracked the joke at all.
On TikTok and Twitter, at campaign rallies, and on Etsy, the old class warfare quip feels newly urgent.
Originally Appeared on GQ