Within a few hours of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's death at a West Texas resort over the weekend, conservative talk radio hosts and bloggers began to question whether the 79-year-old justice in ill health had really died of natural causes—or if something more nefarious was afoot.
According to media reports, Scalia was found dead in his room at the Cibolo Creek Ranch on the morning of Saturday, February 13. Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara pronounced Scalia dead of natural causes over the phone, after hearing from local law enforcement officers who assured her that the justice was in a state of repose and there were "no signs of foul play." Guevara also heard from Scalia's doctor in Washington, who relayed that the justice had several chronic health conditions. Pronouncing a death over the phone is permissible under Texas law.
But like all conspiracy theories, the facts leave just enough room for speculation. Scalia had declined a security detail by the US Marshals Service during his trip, so marshals were not present. No autopsy was performed—Guevara did not order one and Scalia's family made clear that it did not want one. And Scalia was found with a pillow over his head. (The owner of the resort who found Scalia, John Poindexter, later clarified to CNN, "He had a pillow over his head, not over his face as some have been saying…The pillow was against the headboard and over his head when he was discovered." Presumably, few professional killers suffocate their targets and then forget to remove the pillow afterward.)
Add it all up, and there's plenty of fodder for conspiracy theorists who claim Scalia was killed. And the culprit, according to much of the speculation, is the Obama administration.
Here is a field guide to the theories so far.
Obama did it. On Sunday, noted conspiracy theorist and conservative talk show host Alex Jones floated the murder theory on his show. "You just get used to this: 'Scalia found, it's natural, nothing going on here, he just died naturally,'" Jones said. "Then you realize, Obama is just one vote away from being able to ban guns, open the borders, and actually have the court engage in its agenda, and now Scalia dies. My gut tells me they killed him, and all the intellectual evidence lays it out."
"A pretty unusual place to find a pillow." Donald Trump has built his front-runner campaign for the presidency on saying outlandish things, so why stop now? On Monday, Trump called Scalia's death "pretty unusual" during an appearance on The Savage Nation, the conservative Michael Savage's radio show. "It's a horrible topic, but they say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow."
But Trump stopped short of agreeing with Savage that there should be a Warren Commission-style investigation into Scalia's death. He told Savage of the circumstances of Scalia's death, "I literally just heard it a little while ago."
He might have been poisoned or injected. On Sunday, William Richie, the former head of criminal investigations with the Washington, DC, police department, fanned the conspiracy theorists' flames when he took to Facebook to highlight the ways in which Scalia's death had not been responsibly accounted for. "As a former homicide commander, I am stunned that no autopsy was ordered for Justice Scalia," he wrote, as reported by the Washington Post.
How can the Marshal say, without a thorough post mortem, that he was not injected with an illegal substance that would simulate a heart attack…
Did the US Marshal check for petechial hemorrhage in his eyes or under his lips that would have suggested suffocation? Did the US Marshal smell his breath for any unusual odor that might suggest poisoning? My gut tells me there is something fishy going on in Texas.
Clinton did it. Liberty News Now published an article on Tuesday alleging that Hillary Clinton was behind Scalia's death because she wants to appoint President Barack Obama as his replacement. As evidence, the article reports that Clinton was asked at a campaign event recently whether she would consider appointing Obama to the Supreme Court, and her response was, "What a great idea."
Clinton has been running against her socialist opponent, Bernie Sanders, as a continuation of the Obama legacy.
What better way to continue to give voice and power to the Obamas than to place the two-term president on the highest court in the land?...
But like all evil plans, someone has to die to get the ball rolling.
Enter Antonin Scalia.
The vacationing justice was relaxing in an area so remote; his death certificate was signed over the phone.
"Just a little too coincidental." Conservative radio host Andrew Wilkow on Monday flirted with the idea that Obama was behind Scalia's death.
"The unwrinkled bed clothes and the pillow over the head, over the face," Wilkow said on his show, The Wilkow Majority. "This is odd. It's just odd. Given that this is a Supreme Court justice and we are seeing the waning months of a presidential term where the president's only way, his only way, his only avenue to complete his agenda is through a series of 5-4 rulings. An opening on the bench would give him that."
He continued: "Hmm, how would that happen? It's just a little too, how you say, coincidental? That the only thing standing in the way of Barack Obama's agenda being fully completed in the next 11 months is a potentially divided court that goes 5-4 against him. Just, you know, little coincidental. Andrew, what are you saying? I'm not saying anything. It would be highly irresponsible of me to sit here and accuse the president of the United States of murdering a Supreme Court justice. It's still coincidental. Just a little too coincidental."
Wilkow then immediately walked back his comments. "I wouldn't accuse Obama of this," he said. He described what he was doing as "throwing out conspiracy theory," which he said is very different from "promoting conspiracy theory."