Ray Epps, target of January 6 conspiracy theory, charged with attack on Capitol

The former Marine, who was baselessly portrayed as part of a government conspiracy to discredit Trump supporters, was charged with a single count of disorderly conduct.

(Alan Feuer | The New York Times) Ray and Robyn Epps at an undisclosed location on July 5, 2022.

Ray Epps, the man at the center of a right-wing conspiracy theory that the federal government incited the events of Jan. 6, 2021, was charged Tuesday with a single count of disorderly conduct for his role in the attack on the Capitol.

In a simple charging document filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, prosecutors accused Epps of interfering with the orderly conduct of government business by entering a restricted area on Capitol grounds on Jan. 6. Epps’ attorney, Edward Ungvarsky, explained the case was brought “in anticipation of entering a guilty plea.”

The saga of Epps, a former Marine and wedding venue owner who voted for Donald Trump twice, is one of the strangest stories to emerge from the attack on the Capitol. In the months after the riot, he became the target of baseless accusations that he was a federal intelligence agent who helped foment violence at the Capitol in an attempt to discredit Trump and his supporters.

The conspiracy theory was widely promoted by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson and later confirmed by several prominent Republican politicians. Epps, who sold his home and business in Arizona and has since holed up in a trailer park in Utah with his wife, sued Fox News in July, accusing the network of defamation.

From the beginning, the attacks on Epps rested largely on the fact that he was never charged with a crime, even though he was caught on video urging people to go to the Capitol the night before the insurrection. On Jan. 6, he was also seen pointing others toward the building and then entering a restricted area of ​​the Capitol grounds.

Those promoting the conspiracy theory made the baseless proposition that because Epps had evaded prosecution for more than two years, he must have been a federal asset under government protection. The indictments filed Tuesday by federal prosecutors in Washington support that claim.

With the indictment, Epps became one of the few people in the crowd who never entered the Capitol to face criminal charges. While videos from Jan. 6 clearly show he was in the first wave of rioters to get past a police barricade outside the building, footage from later in the day shows him trying to calm the crowd around him and calm the tensions to dismantle with the police.

It remains unclear why the Justice Department decided to charge Epps now, more than two and a half years after the attack on the Capitol. The charging document used against him, known as a criminal complaint, was filed after he filed his lawsuit against Fox News, ensuring that his story would remain in the public eye for months, if not years. This also came after he decided to push back against the conspiracy theory in the media by giving interviews to both the New York Times and “60 Minutes.”

Still, Epps isn’t the only rioter who waited years before being charged. The Justice Department continues to file lawsuits almost daily as of Jan. 6 and could ultimately file charges against several hundred more defendants.

The unfounded allegations against Epps were among the most persistent to emerge after the attack on the Capitol, prompting the House special committee investigating Jan. 6 to interview him in January 2022. During the interview, Epps told investigators that not only did he serve in the Marine Corps, he had never worked for the government and that as of January 6, he was not working for any federal agency.

But even that testimony under oath did not stop attacks on him that spread from Fox News to public hearings in Congress. All of this had damaging consequences for Epps and his wife Robyn, who received death threats and eventually sold their 5-acre ranch and wedding business in Arizona and moved to a 350-square-foot mobile home in a remote trailer park in Rocky Mountains.

Ray Epps was also interviewed by the FBI and removed from the FBI list of wanted suspects in connection with the attack on the Capitol in summer 2021. “That should have been the end of the matter for Epps,” his attorney wrote in the complaint against Fox.

But instead, the complaint says, Carlson and Fox chose Epps as a “villain” who could help escape the network’s own “guilt in stoking the fire that led to the events of Jan. 6.” , to distract. Carlson, they said, became “fixated on Epps” and began promoting the idea that Epps and the federal government instigated the attack on the Capitol.

In court filings, Fox’s lawyers have sought to dismiss the defamation case, arguing that the network enjoys broad First Amendment protections and that Carlson left enough latitude in his statements about Epps to avoid the standard of actual malice required for defamation to fulfill.

On Monday, Fox requested a hearing in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware, to hear oral arguments on his motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Editor’s note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

Justin Scaccy

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