After my last piece on conspiracy theories, I decided to tackle one in particular that is one of the oldest political conspiracy theories that simply refuses to go away, no matter how many times it’s debunked. It’s been on my mind because I used it as an example in the piece, and after thinking about it for a couple of days I decided that it deserved the full treatment just because of the sheer number of people in my Facebook feed who appear to believe it. It’s the myth of the infamous Clinton body count – the conspiracy theory that claims Bill and Hillary Clinton have directly or indirectly killed as many as 50 people as part of their rise to political power, and in the subsequent years, to either maintain their power or cover their tracks. If you haven’t read my primer on conspiracy theories yet, you might want to do that first, because we will be applying the two principles I discussed there – the Sagan standard, and Occam’s razor.
As near as anyone can tell, the Clinton body count is the singular brainchild of former Indiana attorney Linda Thompson. Thompson, who was vehemently opposed to the Clinton presidency, was so distraught over Clinton’s election that she quit her job as an attorney in 1993 and founded the now-defunct American Justice Federation, a pro-gun militia group that promoted its agenda mostly through fringe radio programs like Coast to Coast AM, fax blasts, and the primitive computer BBS systems of the time like CompuServe and AOL, as well as through various pamphlets and flyers they distributed.
In 1994, Thompson was arrested in Indianapolis for using her car to block the motorcade route of Bill Clinton as part of his tour to promote his healthcare plan. When police took her into custody, they confiscated a .45 caliber pistol, a .22 caliber derringer, and an unspecified assault rifle with 295 rounds of ammunition. That same year, Thompson sent certified letters to every member of Congress giving them until a specified date to repeal all legislation that she believed was unconstitutional – which was a lot of it – and then publicly called for an armed march on Washington, D.C. in which members of Congress would be taken into custody, tried for unspecified crimes, and – if necessary – executed. Even other conspiracy groups like the John Birch Society denounced her plans as “insane” and instructed their members not to listen to her.
One of Thompson’s earliest projects involved supporting cult leader David Koresh. After the ATF launched a botched raid on the Branch Davidian compound at Mount Carmel on February 28, 1993, resulting in the deaths of four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians and leading to a 51-day standoff, Thompson contacted the group via outside representative Gary Hunt on March 13 and offered them legal representation. However, after just a week, she was fired by the group for trying to set up Hunt to be arrested and for generally being a self-serving kook. Let that sink in for a moment. She was fired by the Branch Davidians for being a kook. After the disastrous end of the siege on April 19 in which Koresh and 78 other Branch Davidians died, she published a video entitled Waco: The Big Lie, in which she claimed that the ATF raid had not been a botched job as claimed, but was instead a murderous conspiracy orchestrated by the New World Order to silence Koresh because he knew too much. She made a number of factually incorrect claims, including that the Branch Davidians did not return fire and that the FBI sent in “flame throwing tanks.” Despite the lack of factual basis, this video became hugely popular and was sold in the back pages of Soldier of Fortune, the Liberty Lobby Spotlight, and other mercenary and conspiracy-themed magazines of the time. Bob Brown, publisher of SOF, estimates that she made over $300,000 between 1993 and 1995 from video sales.
One of the more outlandish claims made in the video was that a portion of the conspiracy had really been designed to kill four ATF agents who had previously served as Bill Clinton’s bodyguards, presumably because they knew too much. She alleged that they had been uniformly shot in the head “execution-style” by unknown persons and were not actually killed by gunfire in the shootout. Thompson’s evidence for all of this is, well…. nothing at all. Even the attorneys representing the Branch Davidians dispute Thompson’s claims as ridiculous and baseless. The four agents killed on February 28 – Steve Willis, Robert Williams, Todd McKeehan, and Conway LeBleu – were indeed former Clinton bodyguards at various times over the years, either as governor of Arkansas or as a candidate for President. However, so were other agents that day, who inexplicably survived this vast conspiracy. Perhaps they didn’t know as much? Thompson claimed that the four bodies had been examined by “a private doctor,” but this doctor was never named, nor were any documents related to this private “examination” ever produced. There is no evidence at all that it actually happened.
Clearly, the ATF and FBI committed huge blunders at Waco and then lied to try to conceal their mistakes, but there is absolutely no evidence to support any of Thompson’s assertions. Remember the Sagan standard – extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The fact that the four slain ATF agents worked in close proximity to the President at one time or another is not unusual in the least, and they might as well have been members of the same cigar club for all that’s worth. Most, if not all, of Thompson’s claims were simply made up. Incidentally, her video would later prove to be a major source of inspiration for Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.
In the course of producing her video on Waco, Thompson also compiled a list of 24 people with some sort of connection to the Clintons whom she personally believed had died in “other than normal circumstances,” and therefore, somehow, the Clintons must have had them killed. She cited no sources and presented no evidence for her assertions other than her own personal intuition. She began sending the list to members of Congress and demanding an investigation, but no one took her seriously. She finally found a taker in recently retired GOP Congressman William Dannemeyer, who was a full-blown conspiracy theorist, religious zealot, anti-Semite, and all-around wackaloon.
Dannemeyer was able to get Thompson enough publicity that she expanded the list to 34 and self-published a 20-page pamphlet in 1994 titled The Clinton Body Count: Coincidence or the Kiss of Death? Once again, she cited no sources or evidence for any of her claims, and as a trained attorney, she should have known better. She did, however, go off on random anti-government rants with no discernible bearing to her central claim, and the whole things reads rather like the unhinged political manifesto of someone with deep psychological issues. Linda Thompson committed suicide by a prescription medication overdose in 2009. And no, the Clintons didn’t have her killed to silence her. She was a deeply troubled person with a long history of depression and suicidal threats, and her family eventually filed a lawsuit against the Veterans Administration alleging that they had over-prescribed her medication while knowing that she was suicidal. It’s a tragic and all-too-familiar story.
Despite not only failing the Sagan standard spectacularly, but also doing a complete face-plant from any other reasonable evidentiary standard, the damage was done. The Clinton body count was in the popular culture. From there, the baton was picked up by Larry Nichols. Nichols had been hired in early 1988 by then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton to head the Arkansas Development Finance Authority. After the Associated Press reported later that year that Nichols had placed 642 long-distance calls at taxpayer expense on behalf of the Nicaraguan Contras, either to Nicaragua or to politicians in Washington who supported them, Clinton fired him.
In 1994, Nichols funded and produced a video in partnership with the Rev. Jerry Falwell called The Clinton Chronicles, in which he accused Bill and Hillary of a litany of crimes, including drug smuggling, money laundering, gun running, embezzlement, and murder. They were quite the master criminals, apparently. He claimed that the ADFA, which he briefly headed, was actually a front organization for all of these illegal activities and implied that he was fired because of what he knew, never bothering to mention the real reason he was fired. Larry Nichols’ supporting evidence for all of his extraordinary claims was… wait for it… nothing at all.
The film relied mainly on coincidence, misleading statements, and a very fast and loose interpretation of facts to make its claims. It turns out that many of the film’s participants were actually paid to appear. The payments have been documented and the production team admits the payments, but denies that anyone was paid to say anything that was untrue. Many of the film’s participants, such as Linda Ives and Bill Duncan, take a somewhat different view. They have stated that they were misled about the nature of the film and coaxed into making comments that were presented out of context, and that they would not have participated had they known how it was going to be used. Gary Parks admitted that many of the things he said in the film about his father’s murder were simply not true.
The film’s director, Patrick Matrisciana, appeared in the film in silhouette form, falsely claiming to be a journalist who feared for his life, reportedly at the suggestion of Rev. Jerry Falwell, who believed it would add drama. Two police officers accused of murder in the film sued for defamation and won, and although the verdict was overturned on appeal on First Amendment grounds, the appellate judges left no uncertainty about their opinion of the film, criticizing it for lack of evidence, shoddy sourcing, and loose interpretation of facts. Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr looked into all of Nichols’ claims as part of the sprawling 4-year Whitewater investigation, and all he was able to find was that Bill Clinton had lied about an affair. Not exactly earth-shattering stuff. Considering all of that, it’s difficult to take such a piece of “journalism” seriously, especially when it presents no actual evidence.
Now that we know where the basic conspiracy theory came from, let’s look at some of the specific claims. Far and away, the most famous name among the Clinton body bags is former White House Deputy Counsel Vince Foster. Foster had been a partner at Hillary Clinton’s Arkansas firm, the Rose Law Firm, and like rather a lot of people in Little Rock, he accompanied the Clintons to Washington in 1993. But Foster wasn’t ready for the national spotlight, and soon after arriving in DC, the weight of media attention and the burgeoning scandals of Whitewater, Madison Guaranty, and the travel office got to him. Foster confided to friends that he couldn’t take the press attacks, but feared being labeled a failure if he returned to Arkansas. He sought treatment for depression on July 19, 1993 . The following day, Foster went to Fort Marcy Park, just off the George Washington Parkway in Virginia, sat on a bench, and shot himself in the mouth with a .38 caliber pistol. In his briefcase was a torn up handwritten letter of resignation in which he asserted his and the Clintons’ innocence, and stated that he couldn’t take the stress. Over the next several years, no less than five separate investigations all concluded that Vince Foster had taken his own life, including Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr in a comprehensive 137-page public report.
And yet that wasn’t sufficient for Thompson, Nichols, and the other conspiracy theorists. They asserted – without evidence – that the Clintons had ordered Foster killed for unspecified reasons and directed that only U.S. Park Rangers, who had jurisdiction in Marcy Park, could investigate. This was demonstrably not true, as the death was initially investigated by the FBI in addition to the Park Service. They further asserted that Foster’s briefcase was “gone through” by “the White House” (whoever that might be) instead of by law enforcement, although there is no evidence at all to support this claim. That’s because Foster’s briefcase was never at the scene of his death. It never left his office, according to multiple witnesses who saw him leave the White House that day and law enforcement personnel who investigated the scene. The conspiracy theory further states that Foster’s resignation letter only appeared in his briefcase three days later, which is only marginally accurate. It was always there, but the briefcase was not found until July 26, and the letter was torn into 27 separate pieces, at which time White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum handed the pieces over to Park Police. Three separate expert analyses by the FBI and the Park Police reconstructed it and confirmed that the handwriting on the note was, indeed, Foster’s.
The conspiracy theorists also assert that a palm print found on the letter was never investigated, although this is also not true. It was investigated thoroughly, and it belonged to Bernard Nussbaum, who had handled the note several times between the time of its discovery and the time it was handed over to Park Police. The conspiracists also claimed the gun did not belong to Foster, although the Kenneth Starr investigation confirmed conclusively that the gun was registered to Foster and that the FBI ballistics report showed that it was, indeed, in his hand when the fatal shot was fired. There was also no evidence that the body had been moved. An Arkansas state trooper claimed that a White House staff assistant had called him about the death an hour before the White House was supposed to have known about it, but the staffer testified under oath to the Senate Whitewater Committee that she did place the call but it was not at the time the trooper claimed. White House phone records confirmed this because the call was placed through the White House operator.
The list of false or unsubstantiated claims related to Vince Foster’s death is almost endless, and it’s impossible to whack them down as fast as they pop up. They are too easy to simply make up, and too time consuming to research and refute one by one. But once again, the conspiracy theorists have the burden of proof completely backward – it’s not beholden upon skeptics to disprove their claims. It is their burden to produce extraordinary evidence to support them, and so far, they have failed miserably. Just like Vince Foster, the list of supposed Clinton victims is ever-expanding thanks to tireless Internet denizens with active imaginations and too much time on their hands, and the evidence is invariably just as non-existent. If you really want to read the whole list of names and the actual evidence associated with each, you can do so here. I’m not going to take the time to debunk all 50 of them.
I will, however, briefly address the most recent addition to the list, Jeffrey Epstein. It’s well-known that Epstein traveled in powerful circles and hobnobbed with presidents, senators, governors, prime ministers, and royalty, among many others. It also seems likely that Epstein was in the blackmail business, although what he might have been holding over these people is purely speculative, but not difficult to imagine. It’s not a big stretch to suspect that some of his associates might have had reasons for wishing him dead. However, that is not evidence. The fact that his death might have benefited some people does not mean that those people murdered him.
One of his associates was, indeed, Bill Clinton. Flight records show that Clinton traveled on Epstein’s private jet no less than six times beginning in 2002, although two of the flights were 1-way. There is no evidence that Bill Clinton ever visited Epstein’s private island in the Caribbean, and no one has ever made any accusations of wrongdoing against the former president. Even if one believes that Epstein was murdered, there is no reason to suspect Bill Clinton any more than Donald Trump, who would certainly have been in a much better position to actually pull off such a feat, or any of the dozens of other powerful Epstein associates who could potentially be implicated. Until someone comes forth with some actual evidence, this one is not worth the oxygen it takes to discuss it.
However, the fact is that there actually are a large number of deaths of people associated in some way with the Clintons. What could possibly be the reason? Rather than trying to restate it, I’ll let Brian Dunning from Skeptoid say it in his own words because he does it so well:
[I]t has to do with mathematics. If you’re a real estate agent, you have a few dozen co-workers and perhaps a couple hundred professional colleagues whom you know. That’s about the extent of your empire. Bill Clinton was a political campaigner for George McGovern, a law professor, a candidate for the House of Representatives, the Attorney General of Arkansas, twice the Governor of Arkansas, and was a two-term President of the United States. Hillary Clinton was an attorney, part of the impeachment staff against Richard Nixon, also taught law at the university level, and was then Bill Clinton’s First Lady in all of his elected positions before starting out on a political career of her own that’s been every bit as storied. The sheer number of professional colleagues the Clintons would have accumulated in all of their many careers, most of which were incalculably larger in scale than our local realtor example, would crash a calculator. Over the course of your career, you might know a colleague or two who suffer some untimely death in an accident. Over the course of the Clintons’ careers, that number is easily going to be in the hundreds if not more, particularly when you include people who never even met them but simply worked under them at some level at some time. That’s not a conspiracy, that’s math.
In order to believe the Clinton body count hypothesis, we would have to accept that the Clintons have masterfully pulled off dozens of elaborate killings of people who had no identifiable ill will toward them, and with whom they had only the most tangential and incidental of interactions. Yet somehow, they managed to not kill any of the people who actually stood to do them harm and were in a position to do so. That would include people like Paula Jones, Elizabeth Gracen, Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinsky, and Linda Tripp, whose information ultimately led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment. How did these people escape harm?
For that matter, how did Linda Thompson, Larry Nichols, Patrick Matrisciana, and Jerry Falwall manage to stay alive if they truly possessed such damaging information on the Clintons as they claimed in their various works? Occam’s razor states that the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one, and in this case, that says that these deaths are exactly what they appear to be – unfortunate coincidences that are not at all suspicious or unlikely due to the sheer numbers of people concerned.
The Clinton kill list conspiracy theory doesn’t stand up to even the most rudimentary of factual investigations, or even just common sense when you really think about it. The Clintons killed a bunch of random people for no discernible reason, and then failed to kill any of the people who could truly do them harm. They are at once the best and the worst assassins ever. The reality of life is that sometimes bad things happen, and possibly some people might either directly or indirectly benefit from that tragedy. That doesn’t mean they caused it. Claims require evidence, and in this case there is none.