When notorious pedophile Jeffrey Epstein died in prison in 2019, reportedly by suicide, it had the curious effect of uniting the right and left in a coalition of paranoia. Because his connections spanned from Donald Trump to the Clintons, either side could easily imagine his death ordered by the power brokers they most reviled. Despite the implication of a conspiracy, “Epstein didn’t kill himself” was as close to an apolitical slogan as you could get in the Trump era, reflecting a sense that all the elites — whatever their party labels — shared a world of cloaks and daggers.
With the news this week that Ivana Trump, the former president’s first wife and mother to three of his children, had died in her New York home at the age of 73, liberal #Resistance accounts began to feverishly speculate that he’d had her killed for one reason or another. Maybe because she’d once said that he raped her while they were married; perhaps so Trump, his daughter Ivanka and son Donald Jr. could delay their scheduled depositions for the New York Attorney General’s civil investigation into the Trump Organization. Noting that Ivana had reportedly been found at the bottom of a staircase and may have fallen, the armchair sleuths asked if she had been “Epsteined” — eliminated, in other words, as part of a broader criminal cover-up.
Oh, and Trump has maybe been “Epsteining” whomever he has to since the 1980s.
As far as premeditated killings go, Trump hiring someone to push Ivana down a staircase is a bit of a stretch: She didn’t really criticize him in the press, and those family depositions will happen soon enough anyway. Also, contrary to some claims that he was going forward with a rally despite the court postponement, that event has been rescheduled as well.
But while aggressively online Blue Wave Democrats’ extreme suspicions of Trump are nothing new, the rise of “Epstein” as a verb is relatively recent, and this usage echoes a meme of the far-right conspiracist scene: There, the targets of alleged assassinations are said to be “Clintoned,” taken out by Bill, Hillary and their league of nefarious operatives. (In the case of Ivana, while some are happy to implicate the Clintons as usual, others say she died from the coronavirus vaccine.)
In the variety of these crackpot theories, there is still the disturbing agreement that surrounded Epstein’s death: The official story can’t be true. A man facing life in prison for sex crimes couldn’t possibly hang himself to avoid this fate. A 73-year-old woman alone in her townhouse would never just suffer a cardiac arrest and/or slip on the stairs. It must be something else, something worse, that would illuminate the horrors of this moment as you already understand them. Each high-profile death has to confirm a prior belief, or you can’t gain anything by posting about it. When news can’t be made into propaganda, there’s no reason to dwell on the story.
Besides, you can always speculate on who’s next in line for the Epstein treatment.
It’s no less bleak to see people trapped in this analysis than it is to hear them spout the latest from the QAnon boards. Our mutual distrust has swallowed reality. If things are not always what they seem, well, often they are. Without that simple fact, you’ll never stand on solid ground.