That didn’t take long. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead on Saturday morning, after expiring in his sleep on Friday night. The conspiracy theories started late Sunday, and the GOP presidential frontrunner was spouting them.
At the time of his death, Scalia was visiting the Cibolo Creek Ranch in Marfa, Texas. Marfa is a virtual ghost town. Barely a dozen people live there. Stuck out in the middle of the desert, about “200 miles from anywhere,” the city gained notoriety in 1971, when minimalist artist Donald Judd moved there to escape the New York City art scene. Now it has a new claim to fame as the place where America’s most famous constitutional originalist went to die.
Scalia was visiting the Cibolo Creek Ranch, owned by Texas millionaire John B. Poindexter. The 30,000-acre resort tucked away in the Chinati Mountains has long been a getaway for the wealthy, and a luxurious oasis of anonymity for famous people — from Scalia to Mick Jagger, Tommy Lee Jones and the Dixie Chicks.
Why was Scalia enjoying a free weekend at the luxury resort? It’s anybody’s guess, really. However, Scalia had an unfortunate habit of taking off on such excursions with people who have or recently had business before the Supreme Court. (Like that hunting trip he took with Dick Cheney, after the Court agreed to take up a lawsuit against his energy task force.)
Poindexter invited Scalia for a weekend of hunting and sightseeing, with about 35 other guests, at the suggestion of a lawyer and mutual friend, who came with Scalia when the Scalia’s son could’t come as planned. Poindexter declined to name the mutual friend, but he met Scalia only once before, when he was in Washington with a sports group and the justice agreed to meet them.
Scalia arrived at Cibolo Creek around noon on Friday, and went along on a quail hunt. He did not pick up a gun, but enjoyed touring the property. That evening, Scalia reportedly told friends he wasn’t feeling well. He bade Poindexter good night, and retired at about 9 p.m.
When Scalia didn’t get up for breakfast on Saturday morning, the group left to go hunting without him. Poindexter went to Scalia’s room to check on him, and found Scalia still in his pajamas, and quite dead. “He was in perfect repose in his bed, as if he was taking a nap,” Poindexter described finding Scalia. “His face wasn’t contorted or anything.” Poindexter told the San Antonio Express-News, “We discovered the judge in bed, a pillow over his head.” He told the Los Angeles Times that the pillow was between Scalia’s head and the headboard.
CNN’s Jake Tapper offered further clarification from Poindexter, via Twitter.
owner of the Cibolo Creek Ranch explains Scalia “had a pillow over his head, not over his face…. against the headboard and over his head”
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 16, 2016
The U.S. Marshall’s Service and the County sheriff arrived at the ranch after the discovery, and found no signs of foul play. Marshals were not present prior to Scalia’s death because Scalia declined protection that weekend. It wasn’t until midnight that a van arrived to take Scalia’s remains away. About 20 law enforcement officers arrived to escort Scalia’s body to Sunset Funeral Home in El Paso, three hours away. Scalia’s family saw no need for an autopsy, and requested his body be flown home to Virginia as soon as possible.
Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara decided against an autopsy after speaking with Scalia’s doctor, and learning that Scalia had heart problems, high blood pressure, and was deemed too weak to undergo surgery for a rotator cuff injury to his shoulder. Upon hearing from law enforcement that there were no signs of foul play, she found that he died of natural causes, without having seen his body. By definition, death by “natural causes” rules out death caused by any type of injury or foreign substance in the body.
The very remoteness and inaccessibility that attracted people like Scalia to Cibolo Creek likely contributed to the delays in getting information out concerning his death, leading to the confusion and conspiracy theorizing that followed. Many vast and sparsely populated Texas counties, like the one where Scalia died, don’t have their own medical examiner’s offices. So, Texas law allows a justice of the peace or county judge to establish the cause and manner of death. Since no local justice of the peace was available, the job fell to Guevara — who apparently phoned it in.
As Scalia’s body was flown back east, conspiracy theories flew, too.
The Drudge Report elevated the idea of a murder conspiracy with a splash headline on Monday.
Oh this needs to be not a thing pic.twitter.com/ThNzSM2aeg
— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) February 15, 2016
Wing-nut Twitter went off the deep end.
WHERE IS THE TOXICOLOGICAL REPORT ON SCALIA?
— Michael Savage (@ASavageNation) February 14, 2016
SCALIA FOUND WITH A PILLOW OVER HIS HEAD! SOME DARE NOT SEE THE… https://t.co/13MvPLnZS1
— Michael Savage (@ASavageNation) February 15, 2016
— Jon Rappoport (@jonrappoport) February 17, 2016
Since Justice Scalia was murdered, Obama is planning on finishing off America by appointing justice votes idealogy! pic.twitter.com/g0MTM3iTT9
— Barbara Ann (@daynutrition) February 15, 2016
It went on and on.
● A photograph of Poindexter shaking hands with President Obama (from a 2009 ceremony, in which Poindexter was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for heroism for his service in Vietnam) started making the rounds on Facebook, accompanied by a conspiracy theory that Poindexter helped get Scalia declared dead, and orchestrated federal authorities’ response.
● The DC Whispers website claimed, based on information from a “trusted source,” that President Obama knew about Scalia’s death hours before it was announced in the media, and was “thrilled.”
● Several sites, such as TruNews suggested that the CIA’s “Secret Heart Attack Gun” may have been the weapon used to assassinate Scalia.
● Glenn Beck said that God took Scalia in order to put Ted Cruz in the White House and save the Constitution.
● End Times radio host Rick Wiles discussed “the possible occult connections” to Scalia’s death, and suggested that President Obama orchestrated Scalia’s death as a pagan “human sacrifice.”
● Wiles turned to numerology to prove his point. “The 13th was the 44th day of 2016,” he said. “Obama is the 44th president of the United States, so you have this numerology thing taking place.”
● Right-Wing pundit Steve Quayle joined Wiles’s radio show, and warned of “the plan to starve Americans into the FEMA camps.” Because with Scalia out of the way, the Constitution itself is next on the hit list.
● Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claimed that President Obama himself ordered the hit on Scalia. “… 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,” Jones said. “My gut tells me they killed him, and all the intellectual evidence lays it out.”
● Jones also warned that Clarence Thomas, Ron Paul, and even Donald Trump could be next.
● Just for old times’ sake, the conservative rag Liberty News Now published an article alleging that Hillary Clinton was behind it. The evidence? Clinton was recently asked whether she’d consider appointing Obama to the Supreme Court, and she responded, “What a great idea.”
● GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared on Michael Savage’s “Savage Nation” radio show and, when Savage suggested that Scalia was murdered, repeated the claim that “they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow.” But a Savage article asking, “Was Scalia Murdered?,” had disappeared from his website on Friday.
What does Scalia’s family, who have accepted that he died of natural causes, think of all this? One of his sons, Eugene Scalia, said on Laura Ingraham’s show, “Our family just has no doubt that he died of natural causes.” He added: “Honestly, I think it’s a distraction from a great man and his legacy at a time when there’s so much to be said about that and to help people even more fully appreciate that. And, on a personal level, I think it’s a bit of a hurtful distraction for a family that’s mourning.”