Republican lawmakers and former president Donald Trump are spreading conspiracy theories about a "Stop the Steal" protester to blame the FBI for the Jan. 6 insurrection.
At a rally last month in Arizona, the twice-impeached one-term president identified Ray Epps, one of his supporters from the Phoenix area, as an FBI informant and agent provocateur during the Capitol riot, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) have suggested law enforcement may have spurred the attack, reported the Washington Post.
"Self-proclaimed Internet sleuths, seeking to prove the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol was the work of federal agents, latch onto 'clues,'" wrote fact-checker Glenn Kessler. "Partisan players weave the clues into misleading narratives. Then Fox News hosts such as Tucker Carlson elevate these claims, over and over. That catches the attention of lawmakers eager to win favor with the Trump base. Idle speculation becomes embraced as established fact."
"Few of these actors feel compelled to do the basics of journalism and ask questions to try to explain what appears to be a mystery," Kessler added. "Epps’s attorney is remarkably easy to reach — he immediately picks up the phone. Experts on FBI procedure can be found as well. So let’s dive into this."
The 60-year-old Epps, who hosts weddings and other events at a farm he owns with his wife, traveled from Arizona to Washington, D.C., to protest Trump's election loss, and he was recorded on video on Jan. 5, 2021, encouraging others to go inside the Capitol to "peacefully" protest, and he at one point appeared to be listed on an FBI website seeking the identifies of those involved in the riot.
But Epps, who had been involved about a decade ago with the Oath Keepers militia whose leaders were indicted last week on seditious conspiracy charges, has not been arrested in connection with the insurrection -- which fueled conspiracy theories that he was a government agent, but no evidence has turned up to support those claims.
"There is no evidence that Epps is a federal agent or informant," Kessler wrote. "The available video evidence shows he was part of the crowd at the Capitol on Jan. 6 — a place where the day before he had said he would go — but no videos have emerged showing that he committed or urged acts of violence. He does not appear to have entered the Capitol building itself."
Epps has been interviewed by the FBI, which so far found no evidence that he had gone inside the Capitol or broken any other laws, and his attorney said he has cooperated with law enforcement, and he doesn't appear to have any recent association with the Oath Keepers.
"So there is no mystery why his photo is no longer on the FBI’s website asking for his identification," Kessler wrote. "Epps may yet be charged. But in an event of this magnitude — hundreds of criminal cases — investigators must make choices all the time about whether a prosecution is worth the effort."
"The innuendo and speculation about Epps is worthy of Four Pinocchios," Kessler concludes.
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