On the last day of July, Billboard tweeted an article titled: “5 Crowning Achievements in Beyoncé’s ‘Black is King’ Film.” The piece was a basic reaction roundup and the promotional tweet was equally innocuous. But for a Twitter user in the comments—a YA author named Kate Morris, who claims her apocalyptic romance novels were inspired after “Reagan came to [her] in a dream”—the post belied something more sinister. Morris replied with a fuzzy screenshot of a list, adding: “Let’s talk about why she’s on the #EpsteinFlightLogs.”
The tweet has since been deleted, but the screenshot remains all over the internet, often under posts by or about celebrities. A month earlier, when Ben Affleck urged residents of New York, Kentucky, and Virginia to vote in their primaries, a user left it in the comments. Here it is again beneath a Forbes piece on the #OscarsSoWhite scandal. And again, under an Entertainment Tonight Canada article from March titled “Eminem Gushes Over Daughter Hailie.” An image search for the graphic turned up similar lists under a HuffPost video of Beyonce’s commencement address, an interview with then-presidential candidate Andrew Yang, and archival footage of a Tom Brokaw speech from 1973.
The screenshot features a list of 124 names—many of them famous: Beyoncé, Eminem, Chrissy Teigen, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, to name a few—typed in three columns. The text appears on a light purple background, resembling the layout of the neo-Nazi-friendly imageboard site 8kun, formerly known as 8chan. As Morris implied, it is supposed to be a flight log detailing the high-profile figures who flew on the late sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s private jet, dubbed “The Lolita Express.”
But at first glance alone, the list raises several red flags. For one, it’s riddled with typos. Barack Obama is spelled “Barak Obama.” Stephen Colbert is “Steven Colbert.” Ron Burkle is “Ron Burke.” Joe Pagano is “Joe pagino.” The list-writer also had a loose sense for formatting. Lady Gaga, for example, appears under her legal name, “Stefani Germanotta,” while John Legend shows up under his stage name. Evidently faced with an impossible choice, the list-writer added Akon and Katy Perry with both their stage and real names: “Akon (Aliaume Damala Badara Akon Thiam)” and “Katy Perry (Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson).”
The main problem, though, is that the list is largely fake. Many of the people named do appear in the real flight logs: Alan Dershowitz and Bill Clinton show up; Jeffrey Epstein appears twice. But the list also features dozens of celebrities, most of whom have no known ties to Epstein at all. A cross-reference of the screenshot list with the flight logs released in the court record found that it named 36 celebrities who never set foot on the plane (though two of those 36—Alec Baldwin and Courtney Love—do appear in Epstein’s “Black Book” of phone numbers). Those celebrities include:
Akon, Alec Baldwin, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, Ben Affleck, Beyonce Knowles, Bill Murray, Charlie Sheen, Chelsea Handler, Chrissy Teigen, Courtney Love, Demi Moore, Gwen Stefani, James Franco, Jim Carrey, Jimmy Kimmel, John Cusack, John Legend, Kathy Griffin, Katy Perry, Eminem, Michelle Wolf, Oprah Winfrey, Pharrell Williams, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Downey Jr., Seth Green, Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, Steven Spielberg, Steven Tyler, Stephen Colbert, Tom Hanks, Wanda Sykes, Will Ferrell, Will Smith, and Woody Allen.
In the past month, references to the fake log have skyrocketed, particularly among adherents of QAnon—the baseless conspiracy theory that a secret agent known as “Q” has been leaking intelligence by way of cryptic messages on anonymous message boards. Proponents believe these missives, called “Qdrops,” reveal a secret plot led by President Trump to unravel a global pedophile network run by D.C. and Hollywood elites. In the time since Epstein’s arrest and subsequent death, QAnon adherents have upheld the billionaire pedophile’s vast network of abuse as proof their suspicions were right all along. That intensified on July 2, when the fake list appeared in one of those Qdrops: No. 4577.
But the supposedly well-sourced secret agent Q was a little late to chase. The Daily Beast found versions of the fake log dating back to nearly a year before the anonymous poster included it in their drop. The earliest known version appeared on Aug. 25, 2019, on a conspiracy website called Common Sense Evaluation. Run by an editor who goes only by “Gags,” the site describes itself as “the voice of one of many Conservatives shadow banned by Facebook and Twitter crying into the wilderness.” Gags, however, did not know where the list came from. “Not sure,” Gags wrote on Facebook. “It was a while ago. I’ll see if I can track the source.” Gags could not find the source. Instead, the blogger sent a link to an article from this past July on another conspiracy website, “American Digital News.” It reprinted the same list, again without a source.
There is no metadata on the screenshot in circulation, so it remains unclear where, precisely, the list originated. But a Twitter thread from July 25, 2019, shared by the user @Pouissant1, features screenshots of a similar post. The layout is virtually identical to the fake log—columns of names, light purple background—only this one includes the dateline, identifying it as a post from 8kun. Many of the names are similar, as is some of the formatting. But the typos, the alphabetization, and most of the celebrities are missing. Of all the Hollywood figures listed on the fake log, only Woody Allen and Bill Murray appear on this earlier example.
Another list, shared for the first known time on Sept. 5, 2019, by Twitter user @RobbersonJon, bears a closer resemblance in content. The layout is slightly different. This version has a white background and the Impact-font header “Epstein Island Visitors”—that’s another error: this list conflates passengers on Epstein’s plane with visitors to his private island, Little Saint James aka “Pedophile Island.” The creator also highlighted certain names, with no obvious pattern (Ghislaine Maxwell is marked; so is Will Smith), and typed alleged crimes next to some of their names (Demi Moore’s annotation reads: “Made out with kid on video.”) But the base text itself is identical, down to “Barak Obama.”
That the QAnon crowd would seize upon the fake log is not surprising. It excludes the name Donald Trump, who reportedly flew on Epstein’s plane in 1997, while foregrounding figures they have already deemed enemies for their opposition to Trump, such as Barack Obama, Beyonce, Katy Perry, John Legend, and Chrissy Teigen. “John Legend and Chrissy Teigen are huge Q targets, so that’s really obvious,” said Mike Rains, a QAnon researcher who produces the podcast, Poker Politics. “Katy Perry and Lady Gaga are more Illuminati and New World Order targets than Q, but they’ve gotten lumped in because QAnon has absorbed so many conspiracies.”
QAnon has hated Teigen for years, in part because she has frequently clashed with Trump online. But hostility against the former model reached a fever pitch last October, Rains said, when she shared a photo of her child dressed up as a hot dog. In the warped Q-verse, hotdogs, like so many foods, are code for sex trafficking, due to an email that emerged on WikiLeaks in 2012. In a thread between staffers at the intelligence firm Stratfor, with the subject line “Chicago Hot Dog Party,” former Rick Perry staffer Fred Burton joked that then-President Obama once spent $65,000 flying in Chicago hotdogs.
Tin-foil hat guys like Alex Jones seized on this benign exchange to push Pizzagate, the proto-QAnon and widely debunked conspiracy theory that Democrats were running a child sex ring out of a D.C. pizza parlor. “So once they saw the photo of [Teigen’s] child dressed up as a hotdog,” Rains said, “they thought, ‘Oh she’s a sex trafficker. The criminality here is unconscionable!’ She became public enemy number one for them.”
Teigen has addressed conspiracy theorists on Twitter over the years—in 2017, when they accused her of involvement in ‘Pizzagate,’ and last year, when the fake flight log first started to circulate. On July 14, nearly two weeks after the fake log reappeared in one of Q’s drops, Teigen explained on Twitter that she had deleted some 60,000 tweets and blocked more than one million accounts to mitigate harassment from QAnon adherents. “Every time I post food, some q anon loser asks if it contains baby [sic],” Teigen wrote. “I’m honestly just gonna start posting things to drive them even more bats**t insane. Also like, was I on the island, do I eat babies, or just put them on my skin, or am a pedo?? like I’m everything? pick a lane.”
Nearly every celebrity contacted for this article declined to comment through their representatives. “Gwen was not aware of the fake flight logs until your email,” Gwen Stefani’s lawyer, Seth Lichtenstein, wrote in an email. A publicist for Charlie Sheen, who mistook me for a man, forwarded his response:
i refuse to give any energy
to something so blatantly
false and repulsive.
William Bredderman contributed reporting to this article.