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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Ray Epps, protester at center of Jan. 6 far-right conspiracy, charged over Capitol riot

Ray Epps, a former Marine and Trump supporter who became the center of a Jan. 6 Capitol riotconspiracy theory, has been charged in connection with the insurrection, according to court documents filed by the Department of Justice.

Epps is charged with disorderly or disruptive conduct on restricted grounds. He’s expected to appear in court Wednesday for a plea agreement.

In the years since the 2021 riot, Epps has been accused of being a government plant on Jan. 6, 2021. Far-right conspiracy theorists believe he was part of a plot to turn the peaceful protest into a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol.

There’s been no evidence to suggest the conspiracy theory is accurate. The FBI in April responded to repeated “60 Minutes” inquiries on the issue with a statement, saying: “Ray Epps has never been an FBI source or an FBI employee.”

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot previously called the claims that Epps was an FBI informant “unsupported.”

Epps first heard about plans for a protest in Washington in December 2020, he testified. That month, then-President Donald Trump tweeted about a “big protest” on Jan. 6, 2021, and called for supporters to “be there, will be wild!”

Epps, who believed the election had been stolen from Trump, headed to Washington for what he considered to be a legitimate political protest, he said. Epps arrived on Jan. 4 and attended a Jan. 5 protest, where tensions were running high. The event was livestreamed online and the video captured Epps calling out to the crowd. At 6-foot-4, Epps, wearing a bright red Trump hat, stood out.

“I’m gonna put it out there, I’m probably gonna go to jail for this,” Epps can be heard saying. “Tomorrow, we need to go into the Capitol! Into the Capitol! Peacefully! Peacefully.”

His thought process, he said, was that they’d surround the Capitol and peacefully protest. The next day, he continued that call.

“We are going to the Capitol, where our problems are,” he said at the Jan. 6 rally. “It’s that direction!”

While Trump was still speaking to supporters, Epps walked up to the Peace Circle outside the Capitol, where protesters first confronted police. He pulled an agitated rioter aside and said something. Conspiracists call this a smoking gun, because seconds later, the first Capitol police officer went down.

Epps told “60 Minutes” he’d been trying to calm the rioter down.

“‘Dude, we’re not here for that. The police aren’t the enemy,’ or somethin’ like that,” Epps recalled saying.

Epps was never seen entering the Capitol or committing an act of violence that day. He told “60 Minutes” that he left to help evacuate an injured man around the time that rioters were breaking into the Capitol building.

His nephew sent him a text, urging him to stay safe, he told “60 Minutes.” That’s when Epps sent what became a controversial text — and eventual piece of evidence for conspiracy theorists.

“I was in front with a few others,” Epps wrote in the text. “I also orchestrated it.”

Epps has admitted to directing people to the Capitol. He told “60 Minutes” he was just “boasting” to his nephew in the text.

The House committee investigating the riotasked Epps about the text. He said that at the time of his reply, he didn’t know that people were breaking into the Capitol.

“I was pretty proud that we were all there,” he testified. “I mean, I wasn’t proud of some people, but, for the majority of the people there, they were pretty peace-loving people. I mean, they were like me. The atmosphere was good except for those people that were trying to take it in a different direction.”

Epps returned home on Jan. 8 and heard the FBI was looking for him. He reached out to them and spoke with the FBI two months later at a field office in Phoenix, Arizona.

Four months later, the FBI took Epps’ picture down from wanted posters. The Arizona man thought his troubles were over, but they only intensified as the conspiracy about him spread.

The conspiracy about Epps was first posted on Revolver News, a fringe conservative website. It spread to Fox News, members of Congress and Trump himself.

“It’s not the Proud Boys who engage in the initial breach,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, previously said. “It’s Ray Epps at that precise moment.”

In the years since Jan. 6, Epps has faced harassment and death threats, he told “60 Minutes.” He and his wife, Robyn Epps, sold their ranch and business.

Epps in July filed a lawsuit against Fox News for defamation. The suit, which was filed in Delaware Superior Court, accuses Fox of “creating and disseminating destructive conspiracy theories” and of recklessly disregarding the truth.

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