Ray Epps was always something of an odd choice for a right-wing scapegoat in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, considering that you’d have trouble finding a more dedicated Donald Trump supporter and Oath Keepers member prior to that event. But then, the conspiracy theory concocted by far-right apologists for the riot claiming that Epps was secretly in cahoots with the FBI to make the Capitol siege happen as a way to entrap “Patriots” shows how readily these fanatics will eat their own.
And now the theory—promoted by Tucker Carlson and Glenn Greenwald and the whole “1/6 Truther” crowd, and largely discredited already because of its afactual premises—has crumbled completely. Freshly revealed information from the FBI’s investigation shows that Epps—contrary to the theory—had nothing to do with inspiring the initial breach of police barricades, and that moreover he had no connection with the FBI’s informants program.
The conspiracy theorists had pointed to Epps’ appearance at a key moment in the riot, at around 12:45 p.m. that afternoon at the northwestern corner of the Capitol lawn, where police had set up a barricade around which a crowd started to gather. Only five Capitol Police officers were stationed there, supported by a couple dozen more closer to the Capitol. The crowd chanted: “We love Trump!”
A group of Proud Boys that had already marched around the Capitol was there, including Ryan Samsel, a Proud Boys organizer from Pennsylvania wearing a red MAGA cap and a jean jacket. Epps was seen on video conferring briefly with Samsel. A little while later, Samsel was the first man to approach the barricades and begin pushing on them and fighting police. Others joined in, toppling the metal barricades and knocking a police officer backwards onto her head, causing a concussion. Meanwhile, the mob began pouring onto the lawn as the outnumbered police retreated back to where their fellow officers had formed an interim line of resistance that eventually was overwhelmed.
According to the New York Times’ Alan Feuer, Epps called an FBI tipline two days after the riot, when he saw his name on a list of suspects, and cooperated with authorities immediately. He told investigators he had actually tried to calm Samsel down, telling him the police outside the building were merely doing their jobs.
When investigators spoke to Samsel, he told them the same thing: a man he did not know had come up to him at the barricades and urged him to chill out. “He came up to me and he said, ‘Dude’—his entire words were, ‘Relax, the cops are doing their job,’” Samsel said.
The person who finally triggered him to attack the police lines, in fact, was national Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs, who had led the phalanx of men around the Capitol to that barricade. Samsel later told the FBI that Biggs encouraged him to go push on the barricades and challenge the police, and when he hesitated, Biggs flashed a gun and questioned his manhood, urging him again to attack the barricades—all of which Biggs’ attorneys adamantly deny.
Biggs remains imprisoned in the D.C. jail along with other key Jan. 6 insurrectionists, including his fellow Proud Boys. He and others still face charges of seditious conspiracy and multiple other felonies. They also face a civil lawsuit filed by the D.C. district attorney.
The conspiracy theory blaming the FBI for the insurrection by fingering Epps as a key player in the riot was concocted by the far-right propaganda organ Revolver News and its white-nationalist editor/writer Darren Beattie. This reportage, as we’ve explored in depth, was misbegotten pseudo-journalistic babble built around a simple miscomprehension of both how the federal informants’ program works and how federal prosecutors’ use of cooperating witnesses function. Beattie fumbles basic facts and then multiplies it with baseless speculation about Epps—who in fact was a well-known Trump supporter and Oath Keepers figure in Arizona in before the insurrection.
This didn’t matter to the gaslighting brigade led by Tucker Carlson and his cohorts, who paraded Beattie’s reportage to the nation as though it had legitimacy, and built a propaganda campaign for Fox News’ audience of millions to gobble up readily. At one point, Carlson even had Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas eagerly pushing the Epps conspiracy theory.
Cruz not only bought into Carlson’s conspiracist nonsense while on his Fox News program—abjectly apologizing for having called the Jan. 6 insurrection “a despicable act of terrorism,” which Carlson considered unacceptable, he promptly turned up in a Senate hearing on domestic terrorism and demanded to know about Epps from a senior FBI official, Jill Sanborn.
“Ms. Sanborn, a lot of Americans are concerned that the federal government deliberately encouraged illegal violent conduct on Jan. 6,” Cruz said, demanding to know if that was true. Sanborn said it was not.
Amid the furor, the House Jan. 6 committee’s Twitter account posted a response to the theories about Epps:The Committee has interviewed Epps. Epps informed us that he was not employed by, working with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on Jan 5th or 6th or at any other time, & that he has never been an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency.
Nonetheless, Carlson went on his Fox show Wednesday night and claimed that Sanborn’s stony answers to Cruz’s questions were evidence that, in fact, “DOJ had some role in the events of Jan. 6,” and then speculated baselessly about the Jan. 6 committee’s tweet:
When exactly and under what circumstances did the committee talk to Ray Epps? Supposedly this interview was conducted in secret last November. If that is true—we don’t know that it is, but let’s say it is—then why did the committee wait months to tell us today in a tweet? When the committee got its hands on Mark Meadows’ text messages, we seem to remember they leaked those to the media within hours. And by the way, was this Ray Epps interview conducted under oath? Did Democrats subpoena his electronic communications as they did with Meadows and so many others? Will the information Epps revealed to the committee be available to the many January 6 defendants who are now awaiting trial? Can their lawyers see a transcript of the interview? Can we see a transcript of this interview? If not, why not?
Carlson went on to claim that even though “Epps is a longtime right-wing activist” who “urged protesters to riot,” Democrats on the committee have become “protective” of him. “So what’s going on here? Something is, that’s for sure,” he concluded.
As Politifact explains, Beattie never even confirmed that Epps is an FBI informant, but rather speculated broadly that he is. His actions on Jan. 6, videos show, are wholly consistent with those of the outspoken Trump supporter he has been for years (notably as a spokesman for the Arizona Oath Keepers). And as with all of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who had informant relationships with the FBI, if Epps was also himself an informant, the information he was providing was intelligence on their “leftist” opponents, not on their own organization.
This, of course, completely misapprehends and mischaracterizes the nature of the relationship of the FBI to the right-wing groups involved in the insurrection—because we have known for awhile that figures like Biggs and his Proud Boys cohort, national chairman Enrique Tarrio (arrested on Jan. 3 in D.C.), as well as a number of Oath Keepers, acted as informants for the FBI—all directed not at those right-wing groups, but at “antifa,” Black Lives Matter, and various leftist groups.
The cozy relationship that far-right groups enjoyed with law enforcement generally, in fact, has played a key role in their continual emboldenment over the past five years, constantly ratcheting up their violence and threatening rhetoric, culminating in the events of Jan. 6. On that day, many of them directed their fury at police officers, believing they were being betrayed by forces they had assumed were on their side.
As the Brennan Center for Justice’s Michael German explored in a study, law enforcement has increasingly been polluted by the rising numbers of far-right extremists within their ranks—some of them recruited from within police forces, while others have surreptitiously infiltrated them. “While it is widely acknowledged that racist officers subsist within police departments around the country, federal, state, and local governments are doing far too little to proactively identify them, report their behavior to prosecutors who might unwittingly rely on their testimony in criminal cases, or protect the diverse communities they are sworn to serve,” he writes.
German, himself a former FBI agent, has a more realistic view of the agency than Greenwald’s caricatured vision of a relentlessly oppressive monster who journalists should routinely repudiate and attack. Like any such operation endowed with phenomenal powers that are easily abused, the FBI indeed has a long history both of horrifying atrocities and impressive work safeguarding the American public.
And a major portion of the former involves the way that federal law enforcement has historically targeted left-wing activists while routinely ignoring far-right extremist violence and giving its perpetrators the kid-glove treatment—the latter of which, apparently, is just fine with Carlson, Greenwald and company.
Published with permission from Daily Kos.