On Thursday afternoon, former President Donald Trump reported on his app TruthSocial that his ex-wife, the New York City socialite Ivana Trump and mother to his three eldest children, had died at the age of 73 after being found at the bottom of the stairs of her townhouse. The fall, which caused her blunt force injuries to her torso, was ruled accidental by the NYC Medical Examiner’s Office.
At the height of her fame, Ivana Trump was a pop culture mainstay, with tabloids breathlessly reporting on every element of her contentious split with Trump in the early 1990s. At the height of the era of luxury consumption in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she became a symbol of excessive wealth and glamour, and it was inevitable there would be intense media interest in her death. What was perhaps less inevitable, however, was that conspiracy theorists on the internet from all sides of the political spectrum would immediately conclude that Ivana Trump had been assassinated to prevent her from being deposed in an ongoing civil investigation into his business dealings. The fact that Ivana was found at the bottom of the stairs only served to add fuel to suspicions around her death.
On Friday morning, the hashtag #Epsteined — a reference to the mysterious death of Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced billionaire who was found hanged in his cell in 2019 and became the center of myriad conspiracy theories — started trending on Twitter, racking up more than 8,000 tweets as of this afternoon, according to screengrabs captured by Rolling Stone. Yet many of the tweets with most engagement were being pushed not by right-wingers — who have previously promoted much of the Epstein-centric misinformation on the platform, such as #ClintonBodyCount, which blamed the Clintons for his injuries in an apparent suicide attempt priot to Epstein’s death — but by apparent liberals.
“Well I guess Ivana Trump wont be corroborating or refuting any of the depositions tomorrow of Donald, Ivanka, Eric and Don Jr… How convenient #Epsteined,” wrote one account with #Resist in the bio. Another, with “former Republican liberal atheist” in the bio, wrote, “Well well what a surprise. Was Ivana #Epsteined?,” linking to a story about the New York attorney general delaying the Trump family’s depositions the civil investigation.
Twitter told Rolling Stone that the topic did not violate its policies surrounding misinformation, which typically relate to subjects like Covid-19 misinformation, synthetic and manipulated media, or civic integrity. When asked why this didn’t apply to a conspiracy theory with obvious political overtones, the spokespeson from Twitter said that while the team looks at the context of various trends, in this case they determined it “does not violate our rules.”
It’s not all that surprising that those on the left would spread the baseless theory that Epstein was murdered, connecting it to the deaths of other powerful people. According to an Insider poll, nearly 45 percent of Americans believe that Epstein did not take his own life, with 56 percent percent of Republicans and 44 percent of Democrats buying the theory. “The really bizarre Epstein-related conspiracy theories tend to circulate around fringe communities like QAnon, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an mainstream understanding of the idea that Epstein was possibly murdered, at least as a sort of cultural touching point,” says Darren Linvill, an associate professor at Clemson University Media Forensics Hub, who studies social media disinformation.
Though some polling indicates that conservatives are more likely to believe at least some conspiracy theories, susceptibility to misinformation — particularly when it affirms preexisting views — is also somewhat of a bipartisan phenomenon. For some on the left, Trump makes for the perfect target, says Mike Rothschild, author of The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, a Cult, and a Conspiracy Theory of Everything. “Conspiracy theories are not the domain of any one party or political philosophy, so there’s a long tradition of the left embracing crank notions the same way the right has. When you have an event that’s ‘not supposed to happen’ like a person dying unexpectedly, it’s natural to look for the “real reason” why it happened. And Trump makes just as inviting a target for the left as Hillary Clinton does for the right,” he says.
Of course, in itself it’s not particularly ominous that a 73-year-old woman like Ivana Trump — who largely maintained a positive public relationship with Trump, even retracting a claim that she’d made in their divorce deposition that he’d sexually assaulted her — would possibly die as a result of a fall down a flight of stairs, as they account for thousands of deaths each year. (This particular detail prompted many to make joking comparisons to the HBO series The Staircase, which also centers around the real-life mysterious death of a woman found on the bottom of a flight of stairs.) Yet on Twitter, which has prompted plenty of criticism for turning a blind eye to misinformation, the conspiracy theories churn anew, regardless of which side of the aisle is promoting them.
This article was updated at 8 p.m. on July 15 to include Ivana’s official cause of death.