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Ashley Oliver, Justice Department Reporter


NextImg:Ray Epps, face of Jan. 6 conspiracies, to be sentenced

Ray Epps, who has been widely accused by former President Donald Trump’s supporters of secretly working on behalf of the federal government during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, is set to be sentenced next week for his actions that day.

Epps, 62, was charged last fall with a misdemeanor for disorderly conduct in a restricted area and pleaded guilty. He has consistently denied ever working for the government.

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The Department of Justice is now seeking a six-month prison sentence for Epps, a surprisingly tall ask after reaching a plea agreement with him in the span of a couple of days in September 2023 that involved the single and relatively mild charge.

The plea agreement had drawn backlash from some on the Right, who accused prosecutors of giving Epps suspiciously kid-glove treatment.

The same critics have continued to perpetuate an unproven allegation that federal law enforcement officers encouraged riotous activity on Jan. 6 to frame Trump supporters, and Epps has been their poster child for it.

After some conservatives' criticism of the DOJ for going light on Epps, prosecutors shifted their tone in a strongly-worded sentencing memorandum filed this week, saying Epps “engaged in felonious conduct” that warranted the severe six-month penalty.

They indicated that they went easy on Epps's charges because of a set of factors not seen in any other case.

Prosecutors said Epps immediately turned himself in to the FBI two days after the riot after he saw that the bureau had shared his photo among pictures of several people of interest. Epps has cooperated with the FBI since the riot by participating in “multiple lengthy voluntary interviews,” they said. They also said video clips showed five occasions on Jan. 6 where Epps attempted to keep the peace.

Lastly, they said, the false accusation that Epps worked as an undercover government agent on Jan. 6 "continues to affect him, but also attempts to undermine the integrity of the ongoing and overall federal prosecution."

Epps is retired but previously worked jobs as a handyman, farmer, and U.S. Marine for four years in the 1980s.

Epps “has never been a federal agent,” his attorney wrote in a court filing, adding that Epps was “not a federal agent or working at the direction of a federal agent” during the riot and that the allegation has drastically affected his livelihood.

“Due to the outrage directed at Epps as a result of that false conspiracy theory, he has been forced to sell his business, move to a different state, and live reclusively,” the attorney wrote.

Steven D’Antuono, a top official in the FBI’s Washington Field Office on Jan. 6, testified to Congress last year that he had no awareness of Epps working as a source for the FBI.

“I feel awful for Mr. Epps because he has been wrongly accused of being a CHS [confidential human source] and I think it's ruined his life,” D’Antuono said.

D'Antuono also lamented that the FBI did not do more to correct the public narratives about Epps, which were driven by figures with massive platforms.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) labeled Epps a “fed” on social media in 2021.

Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson repeatedly promoted the theory that Epps worked for the government. A year ago, Carlson asked on air why Epps, who was cooperating with the FBI then, had not yet been charged.

“Why is that? Well, let’s just stop lying. At this point, it’s pretty obvious why that is,” Carlson said.

Epps is now suing Fox News for defamation, contending that the network, and Carlson specifically, "destroyed" his life by spreading the false claim that he covertly worked for the government.

Other pundits who vocally support Trump have called Jan. 6 a "fedsurrection" and often point to Epps as proof.

The prolific allegation originated with an encounter on the evening of Jan. 5 between Epps and Tim Gionet, also known as "Baked Alaska," another Jan. 6 defendant who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor over the riot and was sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Both attended a pro-Trump event that night at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., where several factions of activists appeared to be interacting and protesting.

“I’m gonna put it out there. I’m probably going to go to jail for it. Tomorrow, we need to go IN to the Capitol!” Epps yelled at the event, according to viral video clips Gionet shared on his X account.

Epps is heard emphasizing the word “in” to Gionet when speaking about entering the Capitol, and Gionet, finding Epps's behavior off-putting, immediately began referring to Epps as a government “plant” and a “fed,” according to the footage.

Epps testified about the encounter to the Jan. 6 Committee in 2022, saying he thought the Capitol was open to the public and emphasized that he was encouraging peaceful entry into it, as well as attempting to relate to Gionet's crowd.

"My vision was get as many people in there as we can and surround it, be there, let them know that we're not happy with the — with what — what has happened, and that was it," Epps said. "No violence."

Epps has asked the judge not to sentence him to prison in his case, saying he believes probation and restitution are fair penalties.

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His attorney emphasized in the sentencing request that Epps has been "vilified" and has received not just verbal death threats but in-person threats, including people showing up at his property and leaving gun shell casings on it. The attorney said Epps and his wife left their longtime home of Arizona and moved to another state, "as much off-the-grid as possible," out of fear.

"Mr. Epps has been punished. He is deterred. Jail time for him will not deter others," his attorney wrote.