Jul 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Trump supporter at center of a Jan. 6 conspiracy theory: "It's just been hell"

Trump supporters near the US Capitol following a "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Trump supporters near the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D,C. Photo: Selcuk Acar/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Ray Epps, a Trump supporter from Arizona, traveled to Washington, D.C., in January of 2021 to support the former president — a decision that he says has haunted him since, he told the New York Times.

Why it matters: Epps emerged at the center of an unfounded conspiracy theory after the Jan. 6 riot that pinned him as a covert FBI agent who helped incite the attack. His story underscores how quickly conspiracy theories can reverberate — and their dangerous long-term impacts.

Driving the news: The baseless theory, pushed by right-wing media outlets and Republican politicians, prompted death threats and resulted in Epps leaving his home and selling his business, he told the Times.

  • “And for what — lies?" Epps, 61, told the Times in a daylong interview from an undisclosed location in the Rocky Mountains.
  • "All of this, it’s just been hell," Epps said in the interview.

The big picture: After the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Trump and his allies falsely blamed a number of actors for the violence that ensued that day, with Antifa and the FBI emerging at the center of many of the tales, per the Times.

  • Trump allies pushed the false theory that the FBI pre-planned the attack on the Capitol to punish conservatives.

Zoom in: Right-wing media outlets, including Revolver News, compiled selectively edited videos in an effort to show Epps as a secret government agent who was responsible for provoking the riot, per the Times.

  • Trump, Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) all elevated the conspiracy theory.
  • "I am at the center of this thing, and it’s the biggest farce that’s ever been,” Epps told the Times. "It’s just not right. The American people are being led down a path. I think it should be criminal."
  • Revolver News, an obscure right-wing media outlet, published its first article about Epps in October, almost immediately setting off a flurry of death threats, trespassers at his home and family members and friends turning on him.
  • In January, Epps received a letter from someone who claimed to have been brought into the country by a Mexican drug cartel who warned that some members discussed killing Epps, per the Times.

Epps and his wife are seeking a lawyer to help them file a defamation lawsuit against many of the individuals who pushed the fake story, per the Times.

  • "The truth needs to come out," he said.

Between the lines: Epps did attend the Jan. 6 riot in D.C., but believers of the false story say that because he was never arrested, he is being protected by the government.

  • Yes, but: There are a number of other individuals who were involved in the attack — and investigated by the FBI — who were not arrested, the Times notes.
  • Epps also says that because he contacted the FBI within minutes of learning that agents wanted to interview him, he was able to avoid arrest. He also said he never actually entered the Capitol.

As a result of the threats, Epps fled Arizona, leaving behind his mobile home to settle in a trailer park in the Rocky Mountains.

  • He now keeps a low profile, wearing a wide-brimmed hat when he goes out, but he knows that his connection to the conspiracy theory will long linger.
  • "They’ll always be associated," Epps told the Times.
  • "You can’t convince some people. There are extremists out there that you’ll never convince them that they’re wrong."

Go deeper... New wave of Jan. 6 conspiracy theories

Go deeper