Ray Epps, Trump supporter targeted by Jan. 6 conspiracy theory, pleads guilty to Capitol riot charge
WASHINGTON (AP) — Ray Epps, a onetime Donald Trump supporter who was the target of a right-wing conspiracy theory about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack that forced him into hiding, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge for his role in the U.S. Capitol riot.
Epps, appearing remotely for a hearing in Washington’s federal courthouse, entered his plea on a charge of disorderly conduct on restricted grounds a day after the case was filed in the Justice Department’s massive Jan. 6 prosecution.
The judge scheduled his sentencing for Dec. 20.
After the riot, he became the focus of a conspiracy theory — echoed by right-wing news outlets — that he was a secret government agent who incited the Capitol attack.
Driven from his Arizona home, the former Marine and ex-member of the Oath Keepers extremist group filed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News Channel this year, saying the network was to blame for spreading the baseless claims that led to death threats and bullet casings in his yard.
Epps has said he went to Washington to protest the 2020 election, which he falsely believed — based on stories he heard on Fox News — was stolen from the Republican president, who lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
In videos shared widely on social media and right-wing websites, Epps is seen the day before the riot saying, “Tomorrow, we need to go into the Capitol … peacefully.” On Jan. 6, video shows him saying, “As soon as the president is done speaking, we go to the Capitol.” Epps has said he left Capitol grounds when he saw people scaling walls and never actually went inside the building.
Epps said he heard from a relative shortly after he returned home from Washington that his picture was on an FBI website. Soon after, Epps contacted the FBI to provide his information and his attorney told investigators he wanted to cooperate with the investigation.
In the aftermath of the riot, the “search for a scapegoat” landed on Epps, who was subsequently featured in more than two dozen segments on then-host Tucker Carlson’s prime-time show, Epps said in his lawsuit.
A barrage of death threats would force Epps and his wife to sell their home in Mesa, Arizona, and live in a recreational vehicle in the Rocky Mountains, he said in an interview this year on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
“I had to do the necessary things to keep my family safe,” said Epps, who described being “on the run.”
Fox News and a lawyer for Carlson have not responded to messages seeking comment from The Associated Press.
FBI Director Christopher Wray has said he has no knowledge of Epps being a “secret government agent.” And Epps, who worked as a roofer after serving four years as infantry in the U.S. Marine Corps, has also vehemently denied ever working for the FBI.
“The only time I’ve been involved with the government was when I was a Marine in the United States Marine Corps,” Epps said during a January 2022 interview for the U.S. House Committee that investigated the attack.
Epps was once a member of the far-right Oath Keepers extremist group, serving as an Arizona chapter leader before parting ways with the anti-government group a few years before the Jan. 6 attack because the Oath Keepers were “too radical” for him, he said.
Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and other members were convicted of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6 attack for what prosecutors said was a weekslong plot to stop the transfer of power from Trump to Biden. Rhodes was sentenced in May to 18 years in prison.
Altogether, more than 1,100 defendants have been charged with federal crimes in connection with the riot, and authorities continue to regularly bring new cases nearly three years later. Roughly 670 people have pleaded guilty, and of those 480 pleaded to misdemeanor charges, according to an Associated Press analysis of court records.
Associated Press reporters Alanna Durkin Richer and Lindsay Whitehurst contributed.