Over the weekend, Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan of an apparent suicide. The moment it happened I could almost hear the sound of a million conspiracies blooming on the internet, each more insane than the next. It hadn’t been unthinkable, though—it was after all his second attempt.
But within minutes, there was talk of a swap, a body double, a plan hatched to get Epstein to Guantanamo Bay. Rapid-fire connections were drawn to the convoluted (and not real) QAnon conspiracy theory, which alleges a vast (and not real) “deep-state” effort to undermine Donald Trump. I saw supposed pictures of the corpse, and comments that it obviously didn’t match Epstein. I saw threats leveled against the Clintons and deceptive hashtags spring up like daisies. But what I didn’t see—at least not at first—was a great effort to think about what Epstein’s death would mean for his alleged victims. The focus had been switched, veering from the real plight of his victims to the fantasy of his death. We can leave investigations into Epstein’s death to the professionals, but the Twitterverse could stand to turn its attention to a conspiracy that we already know is legitimate: how badly run America’s jails are, how badly treated America’s victims of sexual assault and rape are, how the criminal justice system makes allowances for the powerful and the well-connected, while millions of people convicted of lesser crimes are made to suffer more. There is an actual miscarriage of justice here, and you don’t need to turn to Reddit to find it. Epstein’s alleged victims deserved better.
In the time since his suicide, a number of his accusers have spoken out to express their frustration.
“I am extremely mad and hurt thinking he once again thought he was above us and took the easy way out,” Jena-Lisa Jones, 30, who claims that Epstein abused her when she was 14, told ABC News.
In a statement, Jennifer Araoz, 32, who has accused Epstein of rape, expressed her own disappointment: “We have to live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives, while he will never face the consequences of the crimes he committed, the pain and trauma he caused so many people.”
These women haven’t accused the government of a wild master plot or drummed up support for internet theories. They’ve just asked to be heard, listened to, and respected. But of course, in Trump’s America, the prospect of a vast web of lies appeals more than the simple fact of a group of women’s truth. campaign. Trump got into politics on the back of birtherism, a conspiracy theory that suggested Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. (Spoiler: He was.) Since he was elected president, he’s continued to make references to various supposed schemes, egging on his base. So it should come as no surprise that, as Mother Jones put it, within minutes of the news that Epstein had died, “Trump appointees, Fox Business hosts and Twitter pundits revived a decades old conspiracy theory, linking the Clinton family to supposedly suspicious deaths. #ClintonBodyCount and #ClintonCrimeFamily trended on Twitter.”
It’s crucial to call out Trump’s insane and dangerous social media activities, but not at the expense of Epstein’s accusers who are begging us to remember who the real victims in this case are. It was exquisitely Trumpian: Another potential moment of restorative justice stolen from women who just wanted a powerful man to be held accountable.