The Washington Post - 13.08.2019

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treasures. “P.S. Hello U.S.
government, this is a joke, and I
do not actually intend to go ahead
with this plan,” Jackson Barnes
wrote in an addendum. “I’m not
responsible if people decide to
actually storm area 51.”
Twitter has certainly made it
easier, and faster, to disseminate
baseless conspiracy theories. Lots
of people with blue check marks
— meaning people whose
identities have been verified by
Twitter — were crawling out on
unsupported limbs after news
broke of Epstein’s death.
But the conspiracy theories
swirling around Dillinger, Area
51, Apollo 11 and Lyme disease all
predate social media. There’s a
long history of skepticism toward
shadowy groups, from the
Illuminati and the Freemasons to
the Trilateral Commission, the
Bilderberg Group, and Yale’s Skull
and Bones.
In his classic 1964 essay, “The
Paranoid Style in American
Politics,” historian Richard
Hofstadter described the
paranoid style as “made up of
certain preoccupations and
fantasies,” such as “the
megalomaniac view of oneself as

... wholly good, abominably
persecuted, yet assured of
ultimate triumph” and “the
attribution of gigantic and
demonic powers to the
adversary.” His main insight was
that it’s not just kooks who fall
under the sway of kooky ideas. “In
fact, the idea of the paranoid style
as a force in politics would have
little contemporary relevance or
historical value if it were applied
only to men with profoundly
disturbed minds,” Hofstadter
wrote. “It is the use of paranoid
modes of expression by more or
less normal people that makes the
phenomenon significant.”
Trump has flirted with many a
conspiracy theory over recent
years. As a candidate in 2016, he
claimed Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael,
was with Lee Harvey Oswald
before the Kennedy assassination
and hinted that he might have
been involved. There’s no
evidence of this at all.
He entertained the baseless
conspiracy theory that the late
Supreme Court Justice Antonin
Scalia, who died in his sleep, may
have been killed.
That spring, Trump called the
circumstances surrounding
former Clinton White House aide
Vince Foster’s suicide “very fishy”
and called theories of possible
foul play “very serious.” There
were five official investigations
into Foster’s death. None found
evidence of foul play.
Trump has also repeatedly
claimed, with no evidence, that he
lost the popular vote in 2016 only
because millions of
undocumented immigrants voted
illegally for Hillary Clinton. He
has claimed falsely that Muslims
celebrated the 9/11 attacks in the
streets of New Jersey. And he has
insisted that the Obama
administration spied on him. All
these claims have been debunked
thoroughly by fact-checkers.
Trump made at least 12,
false or misleading claims during
his first 928 days as president.
“Trump’s proclivity for spouting
exaggerated numbers,
unwarranted boasts and outright
falsehoods has continued at a
remarkable pace,” Glenn Kessler,
Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly
“President Trump could use his
megaphone for anything. But the
president often uses it to amplify
that which is the worst of us:
personal attacks, bigotry and
insane conspiracy theories,”
CNN’s Jake Tapper said on his
Sunday show. “This is no longer
just irresponsibility and indecent.
It’s dangerous.”

House even voted two weeks ago
to include an amendment in the
defense reauthorization bill
requiring the Pentagon to reveal
whether the military ever
weaponized ticks. “As someone
who has worked for more than
three decades to understand the
epidemiology and ecology of
Lyme disease to reduce the risk of
Americans getting infected, I am
appalled that this conspiracy
theory is taken so seriously that
Congress is now involved,” wrote
Sam Telford, a professor of
infection diseases and global
health at Tufts University. “The
idea... is easily disproved.”
More than 2 million people on
Facebook have signed up and an
additional 1.5 million have said
they are interested in joining a
raid on Area 51 in Nevada during
the wee hours of Sept. 20. “Lets
see them aliens,” the event page
says. The page is clearly a satire,
but the guy who set it up has
grown increasingly worried that
some people may not understand
that it’s a parody and actually try
to enter the clandestine facility in
search of extraterrestrial

was an “inside job” or that the
Holocaust never actually
happened. Chemtrails, black
helicopters and Pizzagate have all
entered the lexicon.
The Indiana State Department
of Health recently approved a
permit for John Dillinger’s body
to be exhumed Sept. 16 so that
DNA testing can be performed on
his corpse. The event, which will
be recorded for a History Channel
special, comes 85 years after the
notorious bank robber was
gunned down by FBI agents
outside a movie theater in
Chicago. The madam of a brothel
tipped off the bureau to avoid
being deported. Ever since that
night in July 1934, a conspiracy
theory has lingered that the
government killed a body double.
Historians who have studied the
case, and the FBI, say this is
nonsense. Nevertheless, the
rumor has persisted.
Another old conspiracy theory
has been enjoying a recent
resurgence: that Lyme disease is
the result of an accidental release
from a secret government U.S.
bioweapons experiment. The

President Trump
is as much the
product of
curious political
culture as the
cause of it.
Trump retweeted to his
63 million followers on Saturday
a baseless conspiracy theory
about the death of Jeffrey
Epstein, the politically connected
financier who was facing multiple
charges of sex trafficking
involving underage girls. After
authorities said he died by
apparent suicide, Trump shared a
message from conservative actor
Terrence Williams, who
suggested that Epstein’s death
might be tied to former president
Bill Clinton. Clinton spokesman
Angel Ureña called the current
president’s tweet “ridiculous, and
of course not true — and Donald
Trump knows it.” Attorney
General William P. Barr said
Monday there was a “failure” by
federal officials to secure Epstein
in his cell.
On one hand, it’s stunning that
the president of the United States
retweeted a groundless
suggestion that a former
president was involved in a
suspicious death. On the other
hand, Trump has routinely
peddled false conspiracy theories
of the out-there variety. He spent
years pushing the lie that his
predecessor, Barack Obama, was
not born in the United States. Two
weeks ago, Trump promoted two
Twitter accounts that have shown
support for the online conspiracy
theory known as QAnon.
But zany conspiracy theories
have a long history of gaining
currency and finding followers in
the United States. In fact, there
are almost daily illustrations of
this strain of American
culture. On the 50th anniversary
of the lunar landing last month,
for example, there was a fresh
round of discussion about the
conspiracy theory that NASA
faked Neil Armstrong’s
moonwalk. (It didn’t.) There are
“truthers” who claim that 9/

gators. Union officials said while
video cameras are prevalent in
the Metropolitan Correctional
Center, they generally do not
show inmates’ cells — meaning
footage of precisely what hap-
pened to Epstein may not exist.
New York City Chief Medical
Examiner Barbara Sampson said
that Epstein’s autopsy was com-
plete but that she had not
reached a determination on the
cause of death, “pending further
information.” The medical exam-
iner allowed Michael Baden, a
private pathologist, to observe
the autopsy at the request of
Epstein’s representatives, Samp-
son said. Her office made no
further public statements Mon-
Epstein was arrested July 6
after his private plane landed at
New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport
from Paris. He was charged with
sexually abusing dozens of young
girls in the early 2000s. From that
point on, he never left federal
custody. He tried — unsuccessful-
ly — to be released to home
confinement while he awaited a
trial, but a judge rejected his
request to do so. He was appeal-
ing that decision.
On July 23, Epstein was found
in his cell with marks on his neck,
and jail officials treated the epi-
sode as a possible suicide at-
tempt, though they also explored
whether Epstein had been at-
tacked. At the time, Epstein had a
cellmate: Nicholas Tartaglione, a
former police officer in custody
on murder and narcotics charges.
Immediately after that inci-
dent, officials at the detention
center put Epstein on suicide
watch, subjecting him to con-
stant monitoring and daily psy-
chological evaluations, people fa-
miliar with the matter said. After
about a week, he was removed.
He was returned to the special
housing unit and assigned a dif-
ferent cellmate before that per-
son was moved out Friday, people
familiar with the matter said. The
people declined to identify that
By some accounts, Epstein
seemed all right. He showed no
apparent signs of distress at a
July 31 court hearing, and in the
week of his death, he was meeting
with his attorneys for many hours
and seemed in good spirits, peo-
ple familiar with the matter said.
Union officials said that under-
staffing is a persistent issue at the
Metropolitan Correctional Cen-
ter and that it was possible over-
work and exhaustion played a
role in the incident. The two
correctional officers assigned to
the special detention unit where
Epstein was held were working
overtime — one forced to do so by
management, the other for his
fourth or fifth consecutive day,
said the president of the local
union for staffers.
Serene Gregg, president of
American Federation of Govern-
ment Employees Local 3148, said
the Metropolitan Correctional
Center is functioning with fewer
than 70 percent of the needed
correctional officers, forcing
many to work mandatory over-
time and 60- or 70-hour work-
She said one of the people
assigned to watch Epstein’s unit
did not normally work as a cor-
rectional officer but, like others
in roles such as counselors and
teachers, was able to do so. She
declined to say which one or
specify the person’s regular role.
“If it wasn’t Mr. Epstein, it
would have been somebody else,
because of the conditions at that
institution,” Gregg said. “It
wasn’t a matter of how it hap-
pened or it happening, but it was
only a matter of time for it to
happen. It was inevitable. Our
staff is severely overworked.”
The facility has long held high-
profile inmates.
Weeks after Epstein’s arrest,
one of MCC’s most famous pris-
oners, convicted drug kingpin
Joaquín Guzmán, better known
as “El Chapo,” was transferred
out of the jail, after declaring his
time there was “psychological,
emotional, mental torture, 24
hours a day.”
The high-rise jail has also held
al-Qaeda members, mob boss
John Gotti and Ponzi-scheme
mastermind Bernard Madoff.
Epstein was held in a section of
the jail called Nine South, along
with other inmates who officials
decide require extra monitoring.
The strictest conditions in the
MCC are found in a different
section, 10 South, where the most
dangerous prisoners are held.

Epstein can no longer be pros-
ecuted. Epstein was in jail await-
ing a trial on new federal sex
trafficking charges.
On Monday, ABC News showed
footage of FBI and Customs and
Border Protection personnel on
the dock of a private island that
Epstein owned.
“Let me assure you that this
case will continue on against
anyone who was complicit with
Epstein,” Barr said. “Any co-con-
spirators should not rest easy.
The victims deserve justice, and
they will get it.”
Speaking to law enforcement
officials in New Orleans, the
country’s top law enforcement
official said he “was appalled...
and, frankly, angry” to learn of
the Metropolitan Correctional
Center’s “failure to adequately
secure” Epstein.
“We are now learning of seri-
ous irregularities at this facility
that are deeply concerning and
demand a thorough investiga-
tion,” he said.
Barr did not specify what irreg-
ularities had been found in the
aftermath of Epstein’s death but
vowed to “get to the bottom of
what happened,” adding, “There
will be accountability.”
Lawmakers also demanded an-
swers from federal officials. The
Democratic and Republican lead-
ers of the House Judiciary Com-
mittee on Monday addressed a
letter to acting Bureau of Prisons
director Hugh Hurwitz demand-
ing answers to questions about
Epstein’s time in federal deten-
tion and asserting that Epstein’s
death “demonstrates severe mis-
carriages of or deficiencies in
inmate protocol and has allowed
the deceased to ultimately evade
facing justice.”
The Bureau of Prisons declined
to comment Monday.
Those who say Epstein victim-
ized them have long asserted that
the politically connected multi-
millionaire was able to evade
justice, and many were disap-
pointed that he will now never
answer for his crimes at a trial. It
is possible that prosecutors — or
those who claim to have been
abused by Epstein — could sue
for his considerable assets. But
they will be pursuing his estate
for financial compensation rath-
er than the man himself for
criminal wrongdoing.
Epstein was being held in a
special housing unit of the Metro-
politan Correctional Center and
should have been checked on by
the staff every 30 minutes. But
corrections officers had not
checked on Epstein for “several”
hours before he was found
around 6:30 a.m., when the staff
were handing out breakfast to
inmates, a person familiar with
the matter said.
This person, like others inter-
viewed for this report, spoke on
the condition of anonymity to
discuss the ongoing investiga-
Epstein, who had recently
come off suicide watch, also
should have had a cellmate, the
person said. But a man who had
been assigned to share a cell with
Epstein was transferred Friday
and — for reasons that investiga-
tors are exploring — Epstein did
not get a new cellmate, a person
familiar with the matter said
Sunday night.
That left Epstein alone and
unmonitored — at least in the
hours before his death — by even
those officers assigned to guard
Joel Sickler, a prison consul-
tant hired by Epstein, said before
Epstein’s death that his legal
team had discussed trying to get
him transferred to another jail.
Prison consultants advise clients
— often white-collar defendants
— on how to navigate the bureau-
cracy and dangers of the prison
“He needed to be in a safer
location, so we were taking mea-
sures to try to get him transferred
out of the MCC,” Sickler said. But
Sickler said that effort had
reached only the discussion stage
among the lawyers and that no
request had been made to the
Bureau of Prisons at the time of
Epstein’s death.
“When you’re a high-profile
defendant who’s identified as not
only wealthy but a sex offender,
you’re... basically a target in
prison,” said Sickler, who added
that Epstein had asked to be
taken off suicide watch last
What happened between the
transfer of Epstein’s cellmate and
the moment he was discovered
dead is now a key focus of investi-




Barr: ‘Irregularities’

at N.Y. federal prison

Epstein conspiracy theories a product of our culture

The Daily


John Dillinger’s body will be exhumed Sept. 16 in an effort to lay to rest a conspiracy theory.

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