The apparent suicide of Jeffrey Epstein in a Manhattan jail cell this weekend has launched a thousand conspiracy theories. Some on the right believe that somehow the Clintons, eager to silence testimony about former President Bill Clinton, did him in. Some on the left are eyeing Trump’s Justice Department, convinced that the president had secrets to keep that Epstein might speak. The band Foster the People thinks a body double was involved.
This was, of course, inevitable. As one colleague put it to me, the problem with not believing it was a conspiracy is that whole sordid history of Epstein and his powerful friends was a giant conspiracy. That seems about right. For years and years, an open secret floated about underage girls, and private planes, sexual dungeons, and some of the most important men on the planet.
And up until earlier this year, Epstein survived all of that with a slap on the wrist from federal prosecutors in Florida. He must have felt confident after doing his all-too-brief stint in jail that he had gotten away with it again. And perhaps a person whose rolodex boasted enough of the global elite to make Davos look like an Elks Lodge in Normal, Illinois, had good reason to feel secure. But he wasn’t.
The Lying Was Over
When the Southern District of New York indicted Epstein on a bevy of charges, and when a federal judge denied him bail, he must have known it was over. He had no more calls to make, no more chips to cash in, no way off the hook. While it is true that Epstein should have faced trial and a fuller measure of justice, that terror must itself have been a punishment more brutal than any justice system can give out. Finally and for the first time, he could no longer lie to himself.
For psychopaths like Epstein, being able to lie to oneself is the essential tool. Clearly, he could commit heinous acts but convince himself they weren’t. Perhaps he thought to himself that the young girls enjoyed it or that he deserved it. In terms of being caught, he must have suffered flashes and pangs of worry, but he no doubt knew how to ease those pangs.
Another tool Epstein had was keen observation. He had an ability to sum up people and situations that made him millions of dollars and hundreds of influential friends. But when the eye that can see all but itself is forced to look inward, what it sees is often pure horror. That horror, and having for the first time to look at his decades of crimes with no way to expunge them from his life and mind, and no way to protect himself must have been justly terrifying.
The Power of Incompetence
The logistics are actually a lot easier to explain than conspiracy theorists make it seem. My colleague Caroline Court explains that here in The Federalist, writing, “Because of the short staff issues, corrections officers at the MCC often work double shifts. Was the corrections officer covering the SHU that morning in the middle of a double and perhaps fell asleep? There are cameras throughout the MCC, and I assure you they are being reviewed. An anonymous source told the Associated Press on Sunday ‘the Metropolitan Correctional Center’s Special Housing Unit was staffed with one guard working a fifth straight day of overtime and another who was working mandatory overtime.’” Never underestimate the explanatory power of incompetence.
There is a poetic justice to Epstein’s demise, notwithstanding the frustration of losing whatever secrets were stored in his demented mind. This was a man who imprisoned young girls and made them feel powerless, who convinced them that they could not fight back. But, suddenly, he was the prisoner; suddenly, he was the one with no means to fight back.
We can take some measure of comfort that in those final moments of his life, he was made to see the monster he was, that he looked, perhaps for the first time, into a mirror in his mind that could no longer hide his evil blemishes. And we can know that the pain of that image and the punishment to come was more than he could handle.
There is no prison of flinty ribs and bars that has ever been built as impenetrable and oppressive as the human mind. The human mind does not offer parole or visitation. And if our deeds fill it with horror, if our actions force our minds, without distraction, on the evil we commit, there is only one escape. The simplest explanation for Jeffrey Epstein’s death is that he could not bear the sentence of his own mind and soul. And he got what he deserved.