Ray Epps, the man at the center of a right-wing conspiracy theory that the federal government was behind the events of January 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 federal district court in Washington, prosecutors accused Mr. Epps of disrupting the orderly conduct of government business by entering a restricted area on the Capitol grounds on January 6. Mr. Epps’ lawyer, Edward J. Ungvarsky, said the case was brought “in anticipation of a guilty plea.”
The saga of Mr. Epps, a former Navy and wedding venue owner who twice voted for Donald J. Trump, is one of the strangest stories to emerge from the attack on the Capitol. In the months following the riot, he found himself the target of baseless allegations that he was a secret federal government agent who helped foment violence at the Capitol in order to discredit Mr. Trump and his supporters .
The conspiracy theory was widely promoted by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson and was later echoed by several prominent Republican politicians. Mr. Epps, who sold his home and business in Arizona and has since been hiding with his wife in a Utah trailer park, sued Fox News in July, accusing the network of defamation.
From the start, attacks on Mr. Epps were based largely on the fact that he had never been charged with any crime, even though he was filmed the night before the riot encouraging the riots. people to enter the Capitol. He was also seen on Jan. 6 pointing others toward the building and then entering a restricted area of the Capitol grounds.
Those who promoted the conspiracy theory made the unfounded leap that because Mr. Epps had avoided prosecution for more than two years, he must be a federal asset under the government’s protection. Charges filed Tuesday by Washington prosecutors contradict that assertion.
With these charges, Mr. Epps became one of the few members of the mob who never entered the Capitol to have been prosecuted. While videos from January 6 clearly show him as part of the first wave of rioters to break through a police barricade outside the building, footage taken later in the day shows him trying to calm the crowd around him and to ease tensions with the police. .
It remains unclear why the Justice Department decided to charge Mr. 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 information, was filed after he filed a lawsuit against Fox News, ensuring his story would remain public for months, if not years. This also happened after he decided to fight conspiracy theory in the media, giving interviews to the New York Times and 60 Minutes.
Yet Mr. Epps is not the only rioter to have waited years to be charged. The Justice Department continues to file cases almost daily on January 6 and could ultimately bring charges against several hundred additional defendants.
The unfounded accusations against Mr. Epps were among the most persistent stemming from the Capitol attack, prompting the House Select Committee investigating January 6 to question him in January 2022. During the interview, Mr. Epps told investigators that aside from serving in the Marine Corps, he had never worked for the government and was not working for any federal agency on January 6.
But even this sworn testimony did not stop the attacks against him, which spread from Fox News to public congressional hearings. It all took a toll on Mr. Epps and his wife, Robyn, who received death threats and eventually sold their five-acre ranch and wedding business in Arizona, moving into a 350-square-foot mobile home. in a remote trailer park in the Rocky Mountains.
Mr. Epps was also questioned by the FBI and was removed from the bureau’s list of suspects wanted in connection with the attack on the Capitol in the summer of 2021. “That should have been the end of the matter for Epps “, wrote his lawyer in the newspaper. complaint against Fox.
But instead, according to the complaint, Mr. Carlson and Fox cast Mr. Epps as a “villain” who could help distract from the network’s own “guilt for stoking the fire that led to the events of January 6. Mr. Carlson, it continues, became “obsessed with Epps” and began promoting the idea that Mr. Epps and the federal government incited the attack on the Capitol.
In court papers, Fox’s lawyers sought to dismiss the defamation case, saying the network enjoys broad protections under the First Amendment and that Mr. Carlson allowed enough leeway in his statements about Mr. Epps for avoiding meeting reality standards. malice necessary for defamation.
On Monday, Fox requested a hearing in federal district court in Wilmington, Del., for oral arguments on its motion to dismiss the suit.