Ray Epps, the man at the center of a widely publicized conspiracy theory about the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing Fox News and its former host Tucker Carlson of libel for promoting a “great story” that Mr. Epps was an undercover government agent who sparked the violence in the Capitol as a way to discredit President Donald J. Trump and his supporters.
The complaint was filed in Superior Court in Delaware, where Fox recently agreed to a $787.5 million settlement in a separate defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems to challenge allegations that the company helped rig the election of 2020 against Mr Trump.
“Just as Fox had targeted voting machine companies when they falsely claimed rigged elections, Fox knew it needed a scapegoat before January 6,” the indictment said. “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 respond when asked for comment. But the network moved quickly to have the location changed to Federal District Court in Wilmington, Del.
The lawsuit is the latest legal complication for Fox News, which has been battling lawsuits on a number of fronts related to its coverage of the 2020 election and Mr Trump’s false insistence that he was stripped of victory. They include a $2.7 billion lawsuit from a second voice technology company, Smartmatic, and two separate claims from Fox Corporation shareholders. Another lawsuit from a former producer for Mr. Carlson, which Fox settled for $12 million on June 30, alleged that he endorsed and encouraged a toxic workplace.
Mr Epps is seeking an undetermined amount of damages.
After the baseless allegations about Mr. Epps aired on Mr. Carlson’s show, they quickly spread to online communities of Trump supporters and to the political world as Republicans in Congress tried to link Mr. Epps to a fictional conspiracy theory where he was involved in planning the January 6 attack. They included Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky, both of whom made Mr. Epps — a two-time Trump voter — a concern during public hearings.
The publicity had a damaging effect on Mr. Epps and his wife, Robyn, who received numerous death threats and were forced to sell their two-acre ranch and wedding business in Arizona and move into a 350-square-foot mobile home parked in a secluded spot. . caravan park in the mountains of Utah. Online retailers began selling T-shirts that read “Arrest Ray Epps.” Some people even recorded songs about him and posted them to YouTube, the complaint said, adding that he had been 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 otherwise would never have worked for law enforcement or spoken to anyone at various government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency . Through his attorney, Michael Teter, Mr. Epps in March that Fox and Mr. Carlson would retract their stories about him and his alleged role in the uprising at the Capitol and issue an apology. Neither the network nor Mr. Carlson, whose primetime show has since been canceled, responded.
“Ray is taking the next steps to defend his rights by answering for Fox’s lies that have caused him and Robyn so much harm,” Teter said in a statement Wednesday.
The suit paints a picture of Mr. Epps as a loyal Fox viewer who was duped by Fox’s reporting into being convinced to attend the pro-Trump demonstrations on and around Jan. 6.
“When Fox, through his on-air personalities and guests, told his audience that the 2020 election had been stolen, Epps listened,” the complaint says. He believed Fox. And when Epps kept hearing that Trump supporters had to voice their opinions on January 6 in Washington DC, Epps took that to heart.”
The conspiracy theories about Mr Epps have lived on largely because the Justice Department never charged him for his actions on January 6 and the night before. Mr. Epps can be seen on video encouraging protesters to march with him and enter the Capitol at one point. At another time, however, he pleads for restraint as soon as it becomes clear that the situation is turning violent. He also pushes past a police barricade into a restricted area of the Capitol grounds.
But in May, the lawsuit says, the Justice Department informed Mr. Epps that it intended to file criminal charges against him in connection with his role in the attack on the Capitol. Details of the charges remain unknown, but the fact that they are being filed undermines the idea that Mr. Epps was protected because of his role as an alleged covert agent, the lawsuit says.
The attacks on Mr. Epps began in mid-2021, largely after a video surfaced online showing him on the night before the Capitol bombing, encouraging a crowd on a Washington street to join “peacefully” into the Capitol to go. Some in the crowd start shouting ‘Fed! Fed! Fed!” at him, suggesting he was a government agent trying to persuade Trump supporters to commit a crime.
He is also seen on the day of the attack whispering in a man’s ear, just before the man and other rioters overcome police officers and breach the security perimeter. It’s hard to hear what Mr. Epps is saying in the video. But promoters of the conspiracy theories about him have used that moment to accuse him of uttering some kind of order.
Law enforcement officials immediately took note of Mr Epps’ suspicious behavior and posted a photo of him on an online wanted list. Mr. Epps has said he called the FBI’s National Threat Operations Center shortly after the alarm went off, 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 agency had removed him from its wanted suspects list.
“That should have been the end of the matter for Epps,” the indictment said.
Instead, the complaint alleged, Mr. Carlson and Fox for Mr. Epps as a “bad guy” who could serve as a distraction from the network’s own “guilt” for fueling the fire that led to the events of January 6. Mr. Carlson, it said, became “fixated on Epps” and began promoting the idea that Mr. Epps and the federal government were responsible for the riots at the Capitol.
The complaint describes how Mr. Carlson repeatedly referred to Mr. Epps on-air over the following months, saying he was “the central figure” in the assault on the Capitol and claiming that he had “helped stage the uprising.” to make”.
On several occasions, Mr. Carlson brought to his show Darren Beattie, the owner of a right-wing website called Revolver News, who is described in the complaint as “the main person driving the false narrative that Epps was a federal agent planted as a provocateur. to unleash the violence of the Capitol on January 6.”
And Mr. Carlson continued to spread unfounded allegations about Mr. Epps outside of Fox, the indictment says. Also in 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 citizen.”