Epstein didn't kill himself

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Graffiti featuring the phrase on an overpass on Interstate 71 in Cincinnati

"Epstein didn't kill himself" is a phrase referring to multiple theories surrounding the death of Jeffrey Epstein that dispute the official but contentious[1] ruling of suicide by hanging. Epstein was an American financier and convicted sex offender with connections to powerful and wealthy people such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, and his reported “suicide” led to numerous hypotheses about the nature and cause of his death. The phrase became a now very famous and widely accepted colloquialism as well as an internet meme, gaining traction in November 2019 as more of the circumstances around his death became public. The most common theory asserts that the true cause of his death was homicide, via strangulation, arranged by one or more co-conspirators to silence him. As a result, some people have used the verb "epstein" to refer to the scenario of powerful criminals arranging for people with compromising information to be murdered while having officials rule their deaths as suicides.

The meme "Epstein didn't kill himself" is often inserted into unexpected contexts like a photo caption of the painter Bob Ross[2] or at the end of a social media post as a non sequitur.[3][4] The meme has appeared at multiple televised sports games in the form of signs and painted bodies.[5][6][7] Several people have also randomly interjected the phrase at the end of interviews.[2][8] It is used by individuals of all sides of the political spectrum without agreement on the specific details of Epstein's death.[7][9][10]

Background[edit]

The Metropolitan Correctional Center where Epstein died

On August 10, 2019, American financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was found unresponsive in his Metropolitan Correctional Center jail cell, where he was awaiting trial on new sex trafficking charges. According to the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons official statement, "He was transported to a local hospital for treatment of life-threatening injuries and subsequently pronounced dead by hospital staff."[11] The New York City medical examiner ruled Epstein's death a suicide by hanging.[12] Epstein's lawyers challenged that conclusion and opened their own investigation.[13] Epstein's brother Mark hired board-certified forensic pathologist Michael Baden to oversee the autopsy. In late October, Baden announced that autopsy evidence indicated homicidal strangulation more than suicidal hanging.[14] Both the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice's inspector general conducted investigations into the circumstances of his death, and the guards on duty were later charged with conspiracy and record falsification.[15]

Due to violations of normal jail procedures on the night of Epstein's death,[note 1] the malfunction of two cameras in front of his cell, and his claims to have compromising information about powerful figures, his death generated doubt about his apparent suicide and speculation that he was murdered.[5][18][19]

At an August 27 hearing, Epstein defense attorney Reid Weingarten expressed "significant doubts" that Epstein's death was due to suicide. According to Weingarten, when attorneys met with their client shortly before his death, "we did not see a despairing, despondent, suicidal person".[20] Epstein's brother, Mark, has rejected the possibility of Jeffrey's suicide, claiming, "I could see if he got a life sentence, I could then see him taking himself out, but he had a bail hearing coming up."[21] He also claimed his "life may also be in danger", if Epstein was indeed murdered.[22] In a press conference about two months after Epstein's death, Bill de Blasio, the then mayor of New York City, declined to endorse chief medical examiner Sampson's conclusions, saying, "Something doesn't fit here. It just doesn't make sense that the highest-profile prisoner in America—you know, someone forgot to guard him."[23] Former US Attorney and Senate Judiciary Committee counsel Brett Tolman said the death was "more than coincidental" considering Epstein's "many connections to powerful people".[24]

Mainstreaming[edit]

"Epstein didn't kill himself"

Seemingly overnight, those last four words, or something close to them, were everywhere: Belted out in videos posted by teenagers to TikTok, the social media platform beloved by Generation Z. Hacked into a roadside traffic sign in Modesto, Calif. Uttered by a University of Alabama student during a live report on MSNBC, hours before the president was set to appear at the school's football game.

Teo Armus, The Washington Post[25][26]

An “Epstein didn’t kill himself” sticker at a bus stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia
"Epstein didn't kill himself" graffiti

At the end of an interview with Jesse Watters on Fox News, former Navy SEAL and founder of the Warrior Dog Foundation Mike Ritland asked if he could give a "PSA". After being told that he could, he stated, "If you see the coverage [about combat dogs] and you decide I want one of these dogs, either buy a fully trained and finished dog from a professional or just don't get one at all. That, and Epstein didn't kill himself."[27][28] Ritland later stated his purpose for suddenly mentioning the phrase was to keep the Jeffrey Epstein story alive.[5][29] According to The Washington Post, the meme gained a large amount of attention in the immediate aftermath of this interview.[25][26]

Arizona Republican Congressman Paul Gosar shared the meme in a series of 23 tweets where the first letter of each tweet spelled out the phrase.[5][30] Australian rapper Matthew Lambert of Hilltop Hoods, after winning the 2019 ARIA Music Award for Best Australian Live Act, included the phrase in his acceptance speech.[31]

2020 Golden Globe Awards[edit]

In his opening monologue at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, host and comedian Ricky Gervais joked that the suicidal character of his show After Life will come back for a second season. He added: "So in the end, he obviously didn't kill himself — just like Jeffrey Epstein. I know he's your friend, but I don't care."[32]

Platforms[edit]

The meme has been shared by individuals on a number of platforms including Facebook and Twitter.[33] Podcast host Joe Rogan and Internet personality Tank Sinatra used Instagram to spread the meme to their followers,[34] which in Rogan's case had included Mike Ritland.[29] The "Epstein didn't kill himself" meme has also appeared in TikTok videos,[2][26] which notably is frequented by a younger user base.[26]

Several users on dating apps, such as Tinder and Hinge, have written in their profiles that whether or not someone accepts the premise of the meme is a relationship deal breaker.[35] In the 2020 Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, a Le Krewe d'Etat parade float featured a large float with effigies of Epstein and Hillary Clinton.[36][37]

Products[edit]

Two beer companies, the Michigan-based Rusted Spoke Brewing Co.[38] and the Californian Tactical OPS Brewing,[39] advertised specialty-branded beers in connection to the meme.[27] Rusted Spoke's operations manager told the Detroit Free Press that people just thought the meme was funny.[40] In Switzerland, the Zürich-based company Kaex printed the meme on promotional material for an anti-hangover product.[41]

Swiss anti-hangover company sets up "Epstein didn't kill himself" billboard in city center of Zurich

Computer programmer, businessman, and presidential candidate John McAfee announced the release of an Ethereum-based token named after the meme. He had previously expressed doubts about Epstein's death.[42] 700 million tokens of the cryptocurrency were released to 8,000 users following its airdrop.[3] Following McAfee's death, many, particularly followers of QAnon, started using "McAfee didn't kill himself" in reference to the meme, the similarities of the reporting, and the fact that McAfee was an outspoken supporter of the phrase.[43]

Holiday-themed merchandise, such as Christmas sweaters, which prominently feature the phrase also became available for sale through several online retailers.[34][44] In an interview with Slate, independent merchandisers indicated that the Christmas/Epstein product lines were selling comparatively well and cited the mashup's dark humor for its internet popularity.[44] According to Variety, the Christmas-themed paraphernalia was reportedly outselling Game of Thrones merchandise.[3]

Vandalism[edit]

The phrase has been connected to several incidents of vandalism including its appearance "on road signs and overpasses around the country".[3] One specific incident saw the meme painted on 7-foot-high boulder and visible to travellers on Washington State Route 9 in Snohomish,[3] causing a bit of controversy in the local community.[45]

The site of a popular art piece at the Art Basel in Miami, Comedian,[note 2] a banana that had been duct-taped to a wall, was vandalized when Roderick Webber of Massachusetts wrote "Epstien [sic] didn't kill himself" in red lipstick on the wall which Comedian had previously occupied.[3][46] Webber was arrested for criminal mischief,[47] and he reportedly spent a night in jail.[48]

Reactions[edit]

NPR's Scott Simon compared the bait-and-switch aspect of the meme to rickrolling.[9] He also worried that doing a news story about the meme could spread misinformation.[9] Federal prosecutors have tried to discourage the spread of the theory, but the Associated Press reported, "[t]he phrase 'Jeffrey Epstein didn't kill himself' has taken on a life of its own—sometimes more as a pop culture catchphrase than an actual belief."[49]

Writer James Poulos cited the advancement of social media and growing populist sentiments for the meme.[4] Commentators have also suggested that growing distrust of government and the elite played a large factor in its popularity as well.[6][10][34] Jeet Heer with The Nation has expressed his worries that this could lead to the meme becoming a useful tool for recruitment for the far-right;[25] but Adam Bulger, in a featured article for BTRtoday, dismissed Heer's concerns and encouraged the Democratic Party to embrace the meme.[50]

In an article for Mel Magazine published shortly before the Fox News interview, Miles Klee wrote that there were numerous factors for the meme's rise online; among these included a "simmering resentment" and a lack of justice for Epstein's victims.[51][52] He further explained that a large attraction of sharing the "Epstein didn't kill himself" meme was it served as a method to keep the Epstein story within the news cycle.[33][52] Author Anna Merlan has instead argued that the meme over time tends to trivialize the concerns of Epstein's victims.[2] However, she mentioned that Jane Doe 15,[note 3] who on November 19, 2019, publicly alleged that Jeffrey Epstein had raped her,[note 4] wore a bracelet featuring the phrase "Epstein didn't kill himself" at a public press conference to possibly indicate her belief in the theory.[2]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ e.g. the removal of his cellmate without a replacement, possession of banned objects, and the falling asleep of two guards who were meant to check on him.[16][17]
  2. ^ The exhibit previously featured a banana duct-taped to a white wall and had been sold for $120,000, but the banana was consumed by a performance artist the day before.[46][47]
  3. ^ Jane Doe 15 did not publicly reveal her name, and only said that she was 15 years old at the time of the recounted events from 16 years ago.[53]
  4. ^ Doe also called on Prince Andrew and any others with relevant information about Epstein to testify what they knew about his criminal conduct while under oath.[54][55]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b c d e Poisson, Jayme; Merlan, Anna (November 20, 2019). "Understanding the 'Jeffrey Epstein didn't kill himself' meme" (Audio). CBC News. Front Burner. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Khawaja, Jemayel (December 10, 2019). "'Jeffrey Epstein Didn't Kill Himself' Is Peak Meme After Art Basel Prank". Variety. Penske Business Media. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
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  9. ^ a b c Simon, Scott (November 16, 2019). "Epstein's Death Becomes A Meme". NPR. Weekend Edition Saturday. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved November 21, 2019.
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  27. ^ a b Castrodale, Jelisa (November 13, 2019). "This Beer Says 'Epstein Didn't Kill Himself' on the Bottom of Its Can". Vice. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2019.
  28. ^ Hein, Michael (November 3, 2019). "Fox News Guest Sneaks in 'Epstein Didn't Kill Himself' Comment During Live Segment". PopCulture.com. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2019.
  29. ^ a b Shultz, Alex (November 5, 2019). "Why "Jeffrey Epstein Didn't Kill Himself" Started Trending Almost Three Months After His Death". GQ. Condé Nast. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved December 6, 2019.
  30. ^ Colasimone, Dan (November 15, 2019). "A US Congressman sent out a series of coded tweets pointing to a rapidly spreading conspiracy theory". ABC News. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2019.
  31. ^ Rahman, Khaleda (November 27, 2019). ""Jeffrey Epstein did not kill himself," rapper declares during award acceptance speech". Newsweek. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  32. ^ Amatulli, Jenna (January 5, 2020). "Ricky Gervais Says Epstein Didn't Kill Himself, Drags Felicity Huffman At Golden Globes". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on January 6, 2020. Retrieved January 5, 2020.
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  36. ^ Wright, Robert J. "'Epstein Didn't Kill Himself' Float Shocks Mardi Gras Goers". News Radio 710 KEEL. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  37. ^ "'Epstein Didn't Kill Himself' Mardi Gras Float Featuring Hillary Clinton Effigy Rolls Through New Orleans". uk.news.yahoo.com. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved July 3, 2020.
  38. ^ DeVito, Lee (November 11, 2019). "Michigan brewery reminds us that Jeffrey Epstein probably didn't kill himself". Detroit Metro Times. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  39. ^ "Clovis brewery prints 'Epstein didn't kill himself' on the bottom of cans". KUTV. Clovis, CA. FOX26 News. November 7, 2019. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved December 6, 2019.
  40. ^ Morris, Taylor Nichole (November 11, 2019). "Mackinaw City brewery names beer after Jeffrey Epstein conspiracy theory". Detroit Free Press. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved December 6, 2019.
  41. ^ Blum, Pascal (December 10, 2019). "Wahnsinnig lustig". Der Bund (in German). Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
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  43. ^ "QAnon followers are already spreading Epstein-like conspiracy theories about John McAfee's reported suicide". Business Insider.
  44. ^ a b Mak, Aaron (November 15, 2019). "The Latest Conspiracy Theory Merch Craze Is Jeffrey Epstein Christmas Swag". Slate Magazine. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  45. ^ Brown, Andrea (November 18, 2019). "A cryptic meme splashes the usually benign rock of Snohomish". The Herald. Snohomish: Sound Publishing. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
  46. ^ a b Ocasio, Bianca Padró (December 8, 2019). "Wall of banana exhibit vandalized with lipstick at Art Basel: 'Epstien didn't kill himself'". Miami Herald. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved December 9, 2019.
  47. ^ a b Dickson, EJ (December 8, 2019). "Art Basel Miami: 'Epstein Didn't Kill Himself' and the $120,000 Banana". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved December 14, 2019.
  48. ^ "'Epstein no se mató': la polémica frase que pintaron donde estaba el plátano de 120 mil dólares". La República (in Spanish). Mundo. December 10, 2019. Archived from the original on November 30, 2020. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
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Further reading[edit]