The morbid slogan “Epstein didn’t kill himself,” driven by the death of the financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, has become a viral meme, and not just the online kind. Pictures and videos of the phrase showing up as non sequiturs in unexpected contexts, like in potpourri recipes and the fine print on beer cans, have flooded Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and dating apps. This week, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar sent a string of 23 tweets that were ostensibly about impeachment, but which spelled out “Epstein didn’t kill himself” if you combined the first letter of each message. (Gosar has not commented on those tweets but did send out another referencing Area 51.)
Anything that viral—even something so macabre—is also bankable. And so the “Epstein didn’t kill himself” meme is now metastasizing into kitschy merchandise available for sale through online retailers. A search for the term “Epstein” produces more than 750 Jeffrey Epstein–related results on Etsy, more than 100 results from Amazon’s clothing department, and more than 800 results on eBay. A vast majority of those results are for Epstein-death paraphernalia.
While the meme taps into skepticism around Epstein’s death that emerged almost immediately after it was announced, the specific phrasing apparently arose from the Fox News show Watters’ World. During a segment in early November that was supposed to be about military dogs, former Navy SEAL Mike Ritland abruptly blurted out “Epstein didn’t kill himself.” The absurdity of the exchange was ripe for shitposting, and so Epstein’s death has now become a ubiquitous “haha, but actually though” wisecrack. (Though many aspects of Epstein’s death are still unaccounted for, there is currently no substantial evidence that his death was not a suicide.)
Online vendors have long recognized that there’s money to be made on memes and viral mysteries. As the QAnon conspiracy theory was gaining steam in 2018, hundreds of Q-themed clothing articles and knickknacks became available on Etsy, and more than 1,000 appeared on Amazon. Earlier this year, merchandise tied to the Storm Area 51 viral Facebook event also trended on both sites.
The wave of Epstein-death merchandise is particularly bizarre, however, because a majority of it appears to be holiday- and Christmas-themed. It’s mostly Epstein ornaments and ugly Christmas sweaters that are saturating the market, though some vendors have also tried selling holiday embroidery hoops and mugs. Seasonal spins on the meme include “An elf may sit on a shelf but Epstein didn’t kill himself” and “Dasher & Dancer & Prancer & Epstein & Didn’t & Kill Himself & Donner & Blitzen.”
The vendors I spoke to claim that their Epstein holiday merchandise has been popular. The owner of Panda Ranch Apparel said the Epstein Christmas sweater has been a bestseller on Etsy, beating out sales of the company’s line of Rick and Morty and Game of Thrones sweaters. Kim, owner of TheTwistedCrafts, said that her wooden, hand-engraved Epstein ornament sold out in two days on Etsy, and the owner of MajorMomCo said her cross-stitched “Epstein didn’t kill himself” hoop adorned with mistletoe has been “semi-popular” and is nearly sold out on Etsy as well. Amanda Pottle of This n That Handcrafted Boutique said her products have been doing well on Facebook, while Sarah Cooper of DeliciousAccessories said her Epstein designs have generated buzz on Instagram. Most vendors say that they’ve been selling about three to five Epstein products a day, which they say are pretty good numbers for small-time independent retailers.
Injecting something unspeakably dark into the holiday season may seem perverse, but vendors insist that this dissonance is the very crux of the Epstein meme. “The premise behind the memes is that you catch the person off-guard by a line of unrelated subject matter then spring the Epstein theory on them,” writes Cooper. Some did admit that it’s usually distasteful to joke about a death but said they were willing to make an exception for Epstein. The owner of MajorMomCo observed, “We have to find humor in it because the reality is so fucked up, and there’s nothing we can do about it, so we choose to laugh at it.”
There’s no clear reason, though, why so many sellers think that Christmas designs are a good fit. Some suggested that his death in August was well-timed for the holiday season. The owner of Phoenix Appeal said the meme has enough staying power to remain relevant throughout the holiday months and predicted that we’ll soon see an explosion of Epstein holiday cards. The owner of Panda Ranch Apparel also noted that there’s usually a demand for “a funny and trendy ugly Christmas sweater to wear at parties,” so the Epstein conspiracy is a natural fit. A cursory survey of Amazon and Esty reveals that other topical Christmas sweater themes this year include “OK Boomer” and “SKSKSK.”
All of the vendors I spoke to said they do really believe there’s something extremely fishy about the Epstein suicide; Sandra of Cooper Creek Designs wrote, “I believe the popular vote is that he really didn’t kill himself.” The owner of Panda Ranch Apparel went so far as to claim that “the Clintons have a reputation for ‘suiciding’ their enemies,” though everyone else declined to speculate on the record about what might actually have happened. They do credit the memes with keeping their curiosity alive, though, and with inspiring their lines of merchandise. Kim said her 21-year-old daughter suggested that selling the ornaments would be a good idea after seeing the meme spread throughout TikTok, and the owner of MajorMomCo said her husband’s earlier prediction that Epstein would die and later obsession with the memes inspired her products.
In some vendors’ eyes, the very act of buying and wearing “Epstein didn’t kill himself” merch sends a statement that alleged cover-ups by the government and the media will not go unnoticed. As Cooper put it, “This will be a reminder that 2019 is partly to be remembered for rampant corruption.” Kim of TheTwistedCrafts wrote, “The people that buy the T-shirts, mugs, ornaments, are basically saying they feel like they were lied to, and they won’t tolerate it.”