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There’s still no evidence the FBI incited the Jan. 6 riot, despite claims otherwise

PolitiFact | A story by conservative blog Revolver News draws speculative conclusions about Ray Epps, a Trump supporter who attended the Jan. 6 riot.
Protesters storm the Capitol and halt a joint session of the 117th Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C..
Protesters storm the Capitol and halt a joint session of the 117th Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.. [ KENT NISHIMURA | Los Angeles Times ]
Published Nov. 18, 2021

We’ve seen several attempts at rewriting the events of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

In one version, the breach resembled “an ordinary tourist visit.” We rated that Pants on Fire. In another, left-wing anti-fascists were to blame. That was baseless, too.

Now comes the latest deflection, one that focuses on the federal government, and includes speculative claims that assert that the FBI is responsible for the day’s events.

“Meet Ray Epps: The Fed-Protected Provocateur Who Appears To Have Led The Very First 1/6 Attack On The U.S. Capitol,” reads the Oct. 25 headline of a story on Revolver News, a right-leaning website run by a former Trump White House speechwriter. Other conservative sites cited the report with their own headlines like this one that gained traction on Facebook: “BOMBSHELL: Did Jan. 6 Riot and Ray Epps EXPOSE a Corrupt FBI?”

Short answer: No.

Epps, whose participation in the events at the Capitol became known shortly after Jan. 6, was seen in videos from Jan. 5 and 6 urging others to enter the Capitol “peacefully.” Revolver’s article attempts to build a case that Epps’ comments, his association with unindicted Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, and the fact he wasn’t arrested prove that Epps is an FBI informant and that the federal government incited the riot.

The conclusion relies largely on speculation. It does not confirm Epps to be an FBI informant.

Revolver, run by Darren Beattie, a Trump speechwriter who was fired after he appeared on a panel with a white nationalist, has floated this unproven narrative before. Fox News host Tucker Carlson amplified the claim in his conspiratorial documentary series that attempted to recast the events of Jan. 6 and featured Beattie as a source.

The FBI declined to comment and referred us to the Justice Department’s Capitol Breach webpage. We reached out to Epps and Revolver for comment but did not hear back.

What Ray Epps did on Jan. 6

Epps, 60, lives in Queen Creek, Ariz., where he owns Rocking R Farms and the Knotty Barn, a wedding and event venue, records show.

In 2011, Epps served as president of Arizona Oath Keepers, the largest chapter of the anti-government militia group. The chapter has since distanced itself from the national organization. We could not confirm whether Epps was still affiliated with the militia on Jan. 6.

But Revolver claims that Epps’ connection to the Oath Keepers, whose members face some of the most serious charges in the Capitol breach, is suspicious — namely, his association with the organization’s leader Stewart Rhodes, who has also not been arrested for his actions related to Jan. 6.

In national message boards, Rhodes told his members to descend on D.C. to “defend” Trump. Rhodes was on Capitol grounds during the insurrection, prosecutors said, and communicated frequently with several Oath Keepers who stormed the building. But there’s no indication that he entered the Capitol himself.

Federal agents confronted Rhodes outside a Texas hotel in May, seizing his cellphone with a warrant. Against the advice of his attorney, Rhodes agreed to be questioned about his and his militia’s role in the riot and spent hours doing so.

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It was then that Rhodes said he expressed frustration with some of his members and told investigators that Oath Keepers who breached the building “went off mission” and didn’t get any instructions from him.

After Jan. 6, videos emerged showing some of Epps’ actions in Washington. During an Oct. 21  House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Department of Justice, U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., showed clips of Epps repeatedly encouraging protesters on the streets of Washington to “go into the Capitol.” Among the scenes he showed at the 5:03:00 minute mark of the hearing:

  • Epps, in a Jan. 5 gathering on a street, says, “In fact, tomorrow, I don’t even want to say it because I will probably be arrested. Tomorrow, we need to go into the Capitol.” “Let’s go!” one person replies.
  • In another street gathering, also on Jan. 5, Epps says, “I’m going to put it out there. I’m probably going to go to jail for it, Okay? Tomorrow, we need to go into the Capitol! Into the Capitol!” “What?! No!” someone yells. “Peacefully!” Epps adds. Then, some in the crowd start to chant “Fed! Fed! Fed!”
  • In footage from Jan. 6, Epps is seen yelling into a crowd, “Okay, folks, spread the word! As soon as the president is done speaking, we go to the Capitol. The Capitol is this direction.”
  • Also on Jan. 6, Epps is seen approaching police barricades. The video doesn’t show Epps participating in any of the violence. But he puts his hands on the shoulders of a man in a red “Make America Great Again” ballcap and then cups his hands to speak into the man’s ear moments before the protesters topple the barricades and tussle with police. The man, Ryan Samsel, now faces charges in connection with his actions that day, including impeding a law enforcement officer and obstructing an official proceeding.

Massie suggested that Epps may work for the FBI and he asked Attorney General Merrick Garland whether the government sent agents to “agitate” protesters into entering the Capitol. Garland responded that the Justice Department doesn’t comment on pending investigations.

In an interview with The Arizona Republic shortly after the riot, Epps acknowledged that he had traveled to Washington for former President Donald Trump’s rally.

When the newspaper asked what he meant in videos by “go into the Capitol,” he said, “The only thing that meant is we would go in the doors like everyone else. It was totally, totally wrong the way they went in.”

Photo removal from FBI website

Epps’ image was at one point included on the FBI Capitol Violence most wanted list, a website that seeks the public’s help in identifying people involved in the riot. Because the FBI removed the image from the website sometime in July, Revolver claims this indicates that the government is attempting to erase Epps’ name from the riot.

But it could also merely confirm that the FBI is no longer seeking help in locating him. Other explanations for its removal include the possibility that Epps may have already been interviewed by investigators.

“Ray Epps is a free man. He has never been arrested or charged,” the Revolver story also states. “Nearly 10 months after January 6, the FBI and Justice Department still refuse to comment on whether Epps has ever been served a search warrant.”

Epps never appears to have entered the Capitol or engaged in violence as many of the more than 600 others facing charges did. The investigation is ongoing.

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