1. The circumstances under which Antonin Scalia died this weekend were unusual: He passed away on a relatively remote ranch in West Texas and was pronounced dead by a judge who hadn’t seen his body.
2. The United States is also home to a substantial number of dummies who believe that any news event whose implications they find disagreeable (new data on climate change, a massacre of young children committed with legally purchased weapons, the election of a black person to public office) is the work of conspiratorial criminal traitors.
3. In our system those dummies have just as much of a right to vote as people who aren’t dummies.
And that’s how we end up with the leading Republican presidential candidate telling a far-right-wing radio host that he’s not sure Scalia wasn’t murdered. Specifically, that’s what Donald Trump said today to Michael Savage, citing the allegedly “unusual” placement of a pillow on Scalia’s body as evidence of his possible assassination.
Here’s a guide to the context of Trump’s statement.
When and how did Antonin Scalia die?
He was discovered, apparently dead, at about 11:00 a.m. local time in Texas on Saturday, Feb. 13 by the owner of the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a man named John Poindexter. Scalia had reportedly gone to his room at 9 p.m. the previous night. Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara declared Scalia dead over the phone. (Guevara was 65 miles away from the resort when she was contacted; declaring death via phone is acceptable under Texas law.) Guevara officially attributed Scalia’s death to natural causes; she says she spoke to Presidio County’s sheriff as well as a U.S. marshal at the scene and that both said there was no evidence of foul play. She also says that she spoke to Scalia’s Supreme Court physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, and that he told her Scalia had a history of heart trouble and high blood pressure.
Was an autopsy performed on his body?
No. The director of the El Paso funeral home where his body was taken says that Scalia’s family declined to have one performed. Autopsies are performed relatively rarely; some families decline them because the procedure, which involves making two incisions in a body, is seen as invasive. Medical examiners can order an autopsy without the family’s consent if they suspect foul play. That did not happen here.
What does a pillow have to do with this?
Poindexter, the ranch owner, told the San Antonio Express that Scalia had a “pillow over his head” when he was found. Conspiracy-minded sites such as the Drudge Report and Info Wars picked up on this line to suggest potential foul play. (The pillow would supposedly be evidence that Scalia had been suffocated by a person or group who wanted President Obama to replace him on the Supreme Court with a more liberal justice.)
But here’s the thing about that: Poindexter clarified today to CNN that the pillow was “against the headboard and over [Scalia’s] head,” not “over his face.”
Who is Michael Savage?
Michael Savage is a far-right-wing paranoiac/troglodyte radio host who has suggested, just to take one troglodytic example, that New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand (a centrist Democrat) is a “Khmer Rouge feminist” who is trying to take control of the U.S. military via coup.
Has anyone with more mainstream credibility questioned the declaration that Scalia died of natural causes?
The former head of criminal investigations for the Washington, D.C. police department wrote on Facebook that he was “stunned” that an autopsy was not performed and questioned whether the authorities at the scene of Scalia’s death had properly checked his body for signs of potential foul play. A retired Brooklyn homicide detective told the New York Post that requesting an autopsy would have been “not unreasonable.”
Are there other much, much more insane conspiracy theories being proposed online, such as that Scalia was killed on behalf of Ted Cruz because Scalia was going to rule that Cruz was ineligible for the presidency because he’s Canadian?
Yes, and you can read about them in Gawker’s colorful roundup here.
OK. Finally: Is climate change real?