The predictable started barely before the ink on the headline dried on the report that super-rich and super disgraced, financier Jeffery Epstein had committed suicide in his Manhattan Center jail cell. No way Epstein could kill himself, he had to be the most endangered, the most influential, and therefore the most watched prisoner in any pen in the country. If he ever got to trial, the sex trafficker and global influence peddler and enabler, supposedly could take down presidents, ex-presidents, various heads of state, and a slew of other notables if he squealed. So, he had to be bumped off to shut him up.
But by whom and how? As always in cases such as this, it mattered little that there is no provable answer to either of these questions. Or that he had tried to commit suicide earlier. Or that he refused to name names when he had a chance in a deposition a few years earlier. Or, that he was not on a suicide watch at the time. Or that his glamour globe-trotting life was over, and he would likely never see the light of day outside a courtroom and a prison cell. Suspicions of his demise through foul play were enough to unleash the standard wild tale of conspiracies.
For decades, talk of hidden and sinister conspiracies and plots have been the staple of a political spectrum of extreme rightists, Aryan Nation racists, Millennium Christian fundamentalists, leftist radicals, and fraternal lodges and societies. Their Internet sites always bristle with purported official documents that detail and expose these alleged plots. These groups and thousands of individuals believe that government, corporate or international Zionist groups busily hatch secret plots and concoct hidden plans to wreak havoc on their lives. Hollywood and the TV industry churn out countless movies and TV shows in which shadowy government groups topple foreign governments, assassinate government leaders and brainwash operatives to do dirty deeds.
Conspiracy theorists allege that explosives were planted at the WTC; that Jewish and Israeli Tower workers and occupants were warned the day before, supposedly by the Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency) to stay away; that a missile slammed into the Pentagon; that the government hid the wreckage of the United Airlines plane that terrorists crashed in Pennsylvania. Every one of these theories has been debunked.
The American woods swarm with many Americans that fervently believe that government, corporate or international Zionist groups busily hatch secret plots and concoct hidden plans to wreak havoc on their lives. The Manchurian Candidate idea, popularized in books and countless movies and TV shows, has firmly implanted the notion that shadowy government groups routinely topple foreign governments, assassinate government leaders and brainwash operatives to do dirty deeds.
There are two other undeniable reasons that conspiracy theories have so easily infected the popular imagination. Government agencies, such as the FBI, the CIA and INSCOM (Army intelligence), with the connivance of presidents, have often played fast and loose with the law and the rules of democracy. They have spied on, harassed and jailed thousands of Americans, from Communists to anti-war activists.
The conspiracy bug bit many blacks hard beginning in the 1960s. They were convinced that murky government agencies flooded the ghettoes with drugs, alcohol, gangs and guns to sow division and disunity among black organizations, eliminate militant black leaders, jail black politicians and quash black activism. Their conspiracy fantasies were fueled by well-documented spying by Army Intelligence, the Justice Department and the FBI on the Nation of Islam, the Black Panther Party, the NAACP and other black groups, the Tuskegee experiment that stretched from 1932 into the 1970s in which federal officials knowingly withheld curative medical treatment to black men in Alabama infected with syphilis, and the corruption probes that targeted black elected officials in the 1980s.
The jewel in the conspiracy theory crown has been the murder of John Ff. Kennedy. The notion that a lone gunman could kill Kennedy has been endlessly disputed by a legion of writers and investigators. With the finger pointed to a murky checklist of conspirators who wanted Kennedy bumped off.
The other murder that has drawn almost equal conspiracy chatter is the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. The claim is that King's convicted killer, James Earl Ray was a Lee Harvey Oswald-type patsy and that government spy agenciesmost notably the FBIorchestrated King's murder. In 1997, the King family jumped on the conspiracy bandwagon and demanded that Ray get a new trial presumably to ferret out the racist or government conspirators behind his murder.
In an era filled with allegations of fake news, Russian bots, alleged election rigging, and a president who routinely spins his own conspiracy theories, the Epstein suicide like the Kennedy and King murders and the continuing paranoia about 9/11 is tailor made for spinning endless conspiracy theories. In part this is due to Epstein's prominence, and in greater part because countless Americans have been conditioned to believe that murky government agencies and powerful unnamed groups and individuals will say and do anything to cover up and shield wrongdoing and misdirect Americans. It's that belief and paranoia that ensure that Epstein's suicide will never be seen as just that, a suicide.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Who Can Beat Trump?: America's Choice 2020https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07KVM86C6 He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.