More than half of Americans believe it’s likely that “Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself,” and that’s an ill omen for Joe Biden — and a good sign for Bernie Sanders.
Neither the former vice president nor the Vermont senator has an Epstein connection as far as anyone knows, but Mr. Biden is clearly the establishment candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Mr. Sanders is the opposite.
And the viral meme that spawned countless T-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers and hashtags comes as a sign that voters are in no mood to trust their institutions, said University of Miami professor Joseph Uscinski, author of “American Conspiracy Theories.”
“Conspiracy theories at their core are about protesting the establishment,” said Mr. Uscinski.
A Rasmussen Reports poll last month showed that 52% believe it’s more likely Epstein was murdered in his Lower Manhattan jail cell because “he knew too much,” while just 21% think he committed suicide.
Those skeptical of the Epstein suicide ruling were also more likely to back President Trump, according to an Aug. 27 Emerson Polling survey, known for his four-year vendetta against the Washington ruling class.
“Trump supporters seem to be bigger into this than Democrats, but within Democrats, Bernie supporters seem to be the ones most likely to believe in it,” said Mr. Uscinski. “People who support Trump and Bernie tend to be more conspiracy-minded, anti-establishment folks. And that’s why they tend to be more taken with conspiracy theories.”
Mr. Biden’s poor performances in Iowa and New Hampshire — and Mr. Sanders’ strong showing — come as “Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself” fever continues to rage, albeit at a slightly lower temperature than in December, when ugly Christmas sweaters festooned with the phrase were flying off the shelves.
“Christmas ornaments, drywall and Epstein — Name three things that don’t hang themselves. That’s what the American people think,” Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican, said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in November on the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. “They deserve some answers.”
Cameron Lindsay, a retired federal prison warden and corrections expert, has been in heavy demand since Epstein’s body was found Aug. 10 in the Metropolitan Correction Center, where he was being held on sex-trafficking charges.
“It’s not going away,” said Mr. Lindsay as he drove to Pittsburgh for a Fox Nation interview. “It just is not stopping. And then with things like Prince Andrew, with him not cooperating, it’s just continuing to stir things up.”
Did he kill himself?
Fueling the conspiracy theory is the well-connected Epstein’s ties to major political and financial figures, including Mr. Trump and President Bill Clinton, both former friends, as well as Britain’s Prince Andrew, who stepped back in November from public duties over questions about his Epstein association.
A 2013 photo recently surfaced of Democratic presidential primary contender Michael R. Bloomberg with Epstein cohort Ghislaine Maxwell, although Snopes pointed out that the former New York City mayor would have appeared in many photos at events with local figures.
Politically, the Epstein case is unique in that dubious Republicans and Democrats both have something to gain by embracing the foul-play theory.
“There are people who support Trump saying, ‘Oh, I think Hillary Clinton had him killed,’ and then there are people saying Trump had him killed, but none of this is really based on evidence,” said Mr. Uscinski. “It’s just based on how these people view the world prior to this happening, and then they just come up with an explanation based on their own world.”
Mr. Lindsay also dismissed the conspiracy theories, but agreed there were problems. “I am unequivocal that he killed himself, even though a lot of things were done wrong,” he said.
The night of the 66-year-old Epstein’s death has been described as an epic procedural failure. A camera in the cell block reportedly malfunctioned, although federal prosecutors said video showed that nobody entered Epstein’s cell that night, indicating the presence of a second camera.
The two guards who were supposed to be checking him every 30 minutes have been charged with covering up their failure to conduct rounds that night for up to eight hours.
In July, Epstein was housed with an ex-cop, Nicholas Tartaglione, charged with four murders, an enormous breach of protocol, given Epstein’s public profile and 2008 conviction on sex-trafficking charges in Florida.
“He had pending charges of trafficking girls, for God’s sake,” said Mr. Lindsay. “He’s super rich, he was super connected. He should have been single celled the whole time. They were lucky he wasn’t murdered. He was in with a guy who allegedly killed four people. I mean, are you kidding me? I’m a hero [in prison] if I kill a guy like Epstein.”
None of that would have mattered, however, if Epstein had been kept on suicide watch after he made an attempt on his life in July, instead of removed after being evaluated by what the Justice Department described as a “doctoral-level psychologist.”
The Justice Department is investigating the circumstances of his death.
“Here’s the most important part: He had the items at his disposal in order to facilitate asphyxiation to himself,” said Mr. Lindsay. “If they had kept him on suicide watch, he didn’t have the items in there, plus he was under direct and constant supervision.
Leading the “Epstein didn’t kill himself” charge is Mark Epstein, the late multi-millionaire’s brother, telling ABC25 in West Palm Beach that the nooses found in the cell could not have held his brother’s weight and that his brother was upbeat about his pending bond hearing.
He hired celebrity forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, who observed the autopsy and has argued that Epstein’s three neck injuries were “extremely inconsistent” with hanging by suicide, and more consistent with strangulation.
Dr. Cyril Wecht, who has discussed the case with Dr. Baden, agrees, saying that “from a medical standpoint, you do not get bilateral fractures of the thyroid cartilage and a fracture of the hyoid bone in a lean-into suicide.”
Perhaps best known for his criticism of the Warren Commission report on the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Wecht called the case “absolutely unbelievable,” given the procedural breaches.
“They put him on suicide watch, fine, and then 10 days later, inexplicably, he’s fully recovered. They brought in Sigmund Freud and three other psychiatrists, they cured him, and they take him off suicide watch,” said Dr. Wecht. “The next day he’s found hanging, and guess what? The cameras are not working. And guess what further? Two guards assigned to watch him literally minute by minute are so overworked and tired that they fell asleep. You put that together, okay? That is the Jeffrey Epstein case.”
What’s unbelievable, say skeptics, is that so many people are buying into the “Epstein didn’t kill himself” meme, even though he was looking at spending the rest of his life in jail and had plenty of incentive to take his own life.
“The reason Epstein was on suicide watch is that people who are going to jail for sex crimes sometimes commit suicide,” said Mr. Uscinski. “He had already tried it. There’s nothing really shocking here about any of this.”
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