The House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack revealed on Tuesday that they had interviewed Ray Epps, knocking down a right-wing conspiracy theory that the Trump supporter who was present during the Capitol riots is an undercover FBI agent.
“Mr. Epps informed us that he was not employed by, working with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on January 5th or 6th or at any other time, and that he has never been an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency,” the committee noted in a statement.
Epps is a Marine veteran with ties to a far-right militia group who became a central figure in an intricate conspiracy theory peddled by right-wing media, specifically Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Beginning with an October article on a fringe right outlet, Epps has been accused of provoking MAGA rioters to breach the Capitol on Jan. 6 on behalf of the federal government. Carlson has perpetuated the claim on his primetime show and his revisionist Jan. 6 docuseries titled Patriot Purge.
The crux of the claim was that Epps had not been arrested by federal agents despite his involvement in the riots, even though the FBI initially circulated a photograph of him as a potential person of interest.
However, based on available footage and comments from Epps himself shortly after the insurrection, it doesn’t appear that he ever entered the Capitol or engaged in any violence. In fact, there is even a video showing Epps attempting to de-escalate violence between law enforcement and rioters.
Nevertheless, the conspiracy theory finally made its way to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, thanks to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), one of the eight senators who voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s election. Just days earlier, Cruz appeared on Carlson’s show to grovel for forgiveness for calling Jan. 6 a “violent terrorist attack,” only for the Fox News star to pressure him into pushing the outlandish Epps theory.
During a Senate hearing on Tuesday, the Texas lawmaker—along with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)— pressed senior Justice Department officials on Epps and whether any DOJ agents or informants incited violence on Jan. 6 or committed crimes.
“Who is Ray Epps? There are a lot of people who are understandably very concerned about Mr. Epps,” Cruz asked executive assistant director of the National Security Branch Jill Sanborn. “On the night of Jan. 5, 2021, Epps wandered around the crowd that had gathered and there is video out there of him chanting ‘tomorrow, we need to get into the Capitol.’ This behavior was so strange the crowd began chanting, ‘Fed, Fed, Fed, Fed, Fed, Fed, Fed.’ Ms. Sanborn, was Ray Epps a fed?”
Sanborn, as she did with most of Cruz’s queries, replied that she couldn’t answer the question. A few moments later, however, she did say “not to my knowledge” when the senator asked if “federal agents or those in service of federal agents actively encourage[d] violent conduct on Jan. 6.”
Shortly after Cruz and Cotton grilled the Justice Department on the Epps conspiracy, the Jan. 6 committee released its statement that poured cold water on the entire thing.