Ray Epps, the man at the center of a widespread conspiracy theory about the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday accusing Fox News and its former host Tucker Carlson of defamation for promoting an “amazing story” that. Mr. Epps was an undercover government agent who incited the violence at the Capitol as a way to disparage then-President Trump and his supporters.
The complaint was filed in Superior Court in Delaware, where Fox recently received a $787.5 million judgment in a separate defamation suit filed against the network by Dominion Voting Systems to counter claims that the company helped rig the 2020 election against Mr. Trump.
“Just as Fox focused on voting machine companies when it falsely claimed a rigged election, Fox knew it needed a scapegoat for January 6,” the complaint says. “It settled on Ray Epps and began promoting the lie that Epps was a federal agent who instigated the attack on the Capitol.”
Fox News did not immediately respond when asked for comment.
The suit is the latest legal complication for Fox News, which has fought lawsuits on a number of fronts related to its coverage of the 2020 election and Mr. Trump’s false insistence that he was tricked into winning. They include a $2.7 billion suit by a second voting technology company, Smartmatic, and two separate claims by Fox Corporation shareholders. Another lawsuit by a former producer for Mr. Carlson, which Fox settled on June 30 for $12 million, alleged that he tolerated and encouraged a toxic workplace.
Mr. Epps is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.
After the baseless allegations about Mr. Epps were aired on Mr. Carlson’s show, they quickly spread to online communities of Trump supporters and to the political world as Republican members of Congress tried to link Mr. Epps to a fictitious conspiracy theory that he was involved. in planning the January 6 attack. They included Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky, both of whom made Mr. Epps — a two-time Trump voter — a focus of concern at public hearings.
The publicity had damaging consequences for Mr. Epps and his wife, Robyn, who received numerous death threats and were forced to sell their five-acre ranch and wedding business in Arizona and move into a 350-square-foot mobile home parked on a remote lot. a caravan in the mountains of Utah. Online retailers began selling T-shirts that said “Arrest Ray Epps.” Some people even recorded songs about him and posted them on YouTube, the complaint states, adding how he was reduced “to a character in a cartoonish conspiracy theory.”
Mr. Epps was in the Marine Corps but said under oath in his Jan. 6 deposition before the committee that he had never otherwise worked for law enforcement or spoken to anyone at various government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and NSA Via his lawyer, Michael Teter, Mr. Epps demanded in March that Fox and Mr. Carlson retract its stories about him and his purported role in the Capitol riot and issue an on-air apology. Neither the network nor Mr. Carlson, whose prime-time show was later canceled, responded.
“Ray is taking the next steps to vindicate his rights by seeking accountability for Fox’s lies that have caused him and Robyn so much harm.” Mr Teter said in a statement on Wednesday.
The suit paints a picture of Mr. Epps as a loyal Fox viewer who was misled by Fox’s coverage and convinced that he needed to attend the pro-Trump demonstrations on and around January 6th.
“When Fox, through its on-air personalities and guests, told its audience that the 2020 election was stolen, Epps listened,” the complaint says. “He believed Fox. And when Epps kept hearing that Trump supporters should make their views known on Jan. 6 in Washington, Epps was concerned.”
The conspiracy theories about Mr. Epps lived on in large part because the Justice Department never charged him for his actions on January 6 and the night before. Mr. Epps can be seen on video urging protesters to march with him and enter the Capitol at one point. At another point, however, he pleads for restraint once it becomes clear that the situation is turning violent. He also pushes past a police barricade into a restricted portion of the Capitol grounds.
But in May, the lawsuit says, the Justice Department notified Mr. Epps that it planned to file criminal charges against him in connection with his role in the Capitol attack. Details of the charges remain unknown, but the fact that they have been filed undermines the notion that Mr. Epps was protected because of his role as an alleged secret agent, the suit says.
The attacks on Mr. Epps began in mid-2021, largely after a video surfaced online showing him on the night before the Capitol attack, urging a crowd on a street in Washington to join in “peacefully” entering the Capitol. Some in the crowd start chanting “Fed! Fed! Fed!” at him, implying that he was a government agent trying to incite Trump supporters to commit a crime.
He is also seen on the day of the attack whispering into a man’s ear just moments before the man and other rioters overpower police officers and breach the security perimeter. It is hard to hear what Mr. Epps is saying in the video. But proponents of the conspiracy theories about him used that moment to accuse him of uttering some sort of order.
Law enforcement immediately noticed Mr. Epps’ suspicious behavior and placed a picture of him on an online wanted list. Mr. Epps said he called the FBI’s National Threat Operations Center shortly after the alert went out, and his phone records show he spoke with agents there for nearly an hour.
In March 2021, Mr. Epps was formally interviewed by the FBI. By that summer, the bureau had removed him from the list of wanted suspects.
“That should be the end of the matter for Epps,” the complaint said.
Instead, the complaint alleged, Mr. Carlson and Fox settled on Mr. Epps as a “villain” who could serve as a distraction from the network’s own “guilt in quashing the fire that caused the events of the 6 of January.” Mr. Carlson, it said, became “fixated on Epps” and began promoting the idea that Mr. Epps and the federal government were responsible for the Capitol riots.
The complaint describes how over the following months, Mr. Carlson repeatedly referred to Mr. Epps on the air, saying that he was “the central figure” in the attack on the Capitol and claiming that he “helped stage manage the rebellion “.
Several times, Mr. Carlson brought on his show Darren Beattie, the owner of a right-wing website called Revolver News, whom the complaint describes as “the main person driving the false story that Epps was a federal agent planted as a provocateur. to trigger the Capitol violence the January 6.”
And Mr. Carlson continued to spread baseless allegations about Mr. Epps outside of Fox, the complaint says. As recently as March, the host appeared on a podcast and told former Fox News personality Clayton Morris, “Ray Epps was clearly working for someone. He was not a pure civilian.”