High-profile TV commentators and elected Republicans said Ray Epps was a federal agent who manipulated Donald Trump supporters into storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
There was no evidence for the claim to begin with, and federal prosecutors said this week in a sentencing filing that Epps, a 62-year-old former Marine from Arizona, is just a rioter who should go to prison. A more thorough debunking of the Epps theory would probably not be possible.
Three years since the riot, the Epps case serves as both a reminder of the lies surrounding the attack on the Capitol as well as the truth of what happened.
Epps is one of more than 1,200 Trump supporters who have been charged with crimes for their actions on Jan. 6. The attack interrupted the congressional certification of Trump’s loss in the 2020 election, injured more than 100 police officers and left five people dead in its immediate aftermath.
Epps attended Trump’s speech that day near the White House, where the president insisted the election had been stolen from him and encouraged his supporters to “fight like hell” and go to the Capitol. Epps himself then encouraged people to go to the Capitol, where he joined a group that fought police officers on the Capitol grounds as they made their way toward the building. Video from the previous evening shows Epps saying he thought people should go all the way in.
“He is on video several times encouraging crimes, riots, breaches of the Capitol on Jan. 6,” Tucker Carlson , because he didn’t actually enter the Capitol, destroy property or hit a police officer. And at several points he encouraged his fellow rioters to calm down, such as when he told a man who was threatening police to “take a step back.” But the Justice Department has steadily arrested more and more rioters, and the U.S. attorney’s office overseeing the Epps case said others have faced time for the kinds of things he did.
“While Epps’ case is unique, other judges of this court nevertheless have sentenced Capitol breach defendants who encouraged others to storm the Capitol and did so themselves,” prosecutors said this week.
The government, in its sentencing memo Tuesday, said that Epps should spend six months in prison followed by a year of supervised release and pay $500 in restitution for damage to the Capitol. He’s scheduled to be sentenced next week. Whatever his official punishment, he will likely remain a fixture of conspiracy theories.
Epps told the House select committee that investigated the insurrection, during a sworn deposition in January 2022, that he wasn’t working for the government. The committee made a rare public statement that Epps said “he has never been an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) told HuffPost she didn’t buy it. “There’s no transcript. There’s no video. There’s not even any proof that happened.”
(The Epps transcript came out later, with the rest of the committee’s material, after it finished its report.)
When Epps agreed to plead guilty to disorderly conduct in September, several Republicans said the charge only made them more suspicious.
“Think about all these people that walked in the Capitol videoing because Ray Epps was out there telling them to go in the Capitol, and they’re sitting in jail,” Greene said. “He has to be some sort of contractor, some kind of informant.”
Epps has sought justice for himself, suing Fox News and Tucker Carlson for defamation. (Fox has moved to dismiss the suit.) He’s said he and his wife sold their home and business to escape the threats and harassment they received as a result of the lies from Carlson and others. He said in a statement to the court this week that he’s learned not to put his trust in politicians or Fox News.
“The blame of the insurrection is not on the FBI,” he wrote. “It is on those who were at the Capitol and engaged in insurrectionist activities and those who misled Americans, like myself, into believing the election had been stolen.”