WASHINGTON (AP) — Ray Epps, a former Marine who became the target of a Jan. 6, 2021, conspiracy theory, has been charged with a misdemeanor offense in connection with the U.S. Capitol riot and is expected to plead guilty, according to court papers filed Tuesday.
Epps, who claimed in a lawsuit filed this year that Fox News Channel made him a scapegoat for the Capitol riot, is charged with disorderly or disruptive conduct on restricted grounds, court records show.
Epps' attorney, Edward J. Ungvarsky, said in an email that the case was filed with an anticipation that Epps would plead guilty to the charge. The judge has scheduled a plea agreement hearing for Wednesday.
Epps, a one-time supporter of President Donald Trump who has said he went to Washington to protest the 2020 election Trump lost to Joe Biden, was falsely accused by Fox of being a government agent who was whipping up trouble that would be blamed on Trump supporters, his lawsuit claims.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, in an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee in July, denied having any knowledge of Epps being a "secret government agent."
“I will say this notion that somehow the violence at the Capitol on January 6 was part of some operation orchestrated by FBI sources and agents is ludicrous,” Wray told lawmakers.
In an interview that aired earlier this year with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Epps, of Mesa, Arizona, described being “on the run," after death threats forced him and his wife to sell their home. At the time of the interview, they were living in a recreational vehicle in the Rocky Mountains, according to “60 Minutes.”
“I had to do the necessary things to keep my family safe,” Epps said.
Although Epps' lawsuit mentions Fox’s Laura Ingraham and Will Cain, former Fox host Tucker Carlson is cited as the leader in promoting the theory. Epps was featured in more than two dozen segments on Carlson’s prime-time show, the lawsuit said. Messages seeking comment were sent Tuesday to Fox News and a lawyer for Carlson.
Epps' lawsuit against Fox says the Justice Department told him in May that he faces criminal charges for his actions on Jan. 6 and blames that on “the relentless attacks by Fox and Mr. Carlson and the resulting political pressure.”
The lawsuit includes threatening messages Epps says he received, including one that reads, “Epps, sleep with one eye open.”
During his January 2022 interview with the Jan. 6 House Committee, Epps, who worked as a roofer after serving four years as infantry in the U.S. Marine Corps, told investigators that he never worked 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.
Epps was a previously 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, he said. He said the Oath Keepers were "too radical" for him. Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and other members were convicted of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6 attack.
Asked if he had any insight as to why he hadn’t been charged with a crime for his role in the riot, Epps told House investigators that he was “trying to stop the violence, trying to keep people from getting themselves in more trouble.”
Epps said he was getting death threats and his grandchildren were “being picked on at school because of what their grandad did.”
More than 1,100 people have been charged with federal crimes stemming from the Jan. 6 riot, and authorities continue to regularly bring new cases nearly three years later. Roughly 670 defendants have pleaded guilty to charges, and of those, more than 480 pleaded guilty to misdemeanors only, according to an Associated Press analysis of court records.
Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press reporters David Bauder contributed from New York.