The man at the center of feverish right-wing speculation that Jan. 6 was secretly engineered by federal agents denied that he has ever been a federal informant.
The Jan. 6 Committee said that it had interviewed Ray Epps, a former Oath Keeper shown on film on Jan. 5 urging Trump supporters to “go into the Capitol,” which was met with a chant of: “fed!”
Political figures ranging from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) have speculated that Epps was secretly working for the FBI, something that the crowd of Trump supporters apparently cottoned on to, in the world of the theory. Cruz himself brought the theory up at a Senate hearing Tuesday morning, demanding of a senior FBI official: “was Ray Epps a fed?”
The committee said in a Tuesday statement that Epps denies being a federal agent.
“The Select Committee has interviewed Mr. Epps. Mr. Epps informed us that he was not employed by, working with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on January 5th or 6th or at any other time, and that he has never been an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency,” the panel said in a statement.
To be clear, there’s never been any real evidence that Epps was an informant, unless you consider the crowd’s chants of “fed” to be proof.
But Epps’ purported statement collapses a figure at the center of an effort to recast Jan. 6 as a “fedsurrection,” in the words of Rep. Gaetz last week: an FBI operation supposedly meant to entrap hundreds of innocent Trump supporters.
The theory drew in part on the outward aggression that Epps displayed at the Capitol on Jan. 6, with proponents of the idea suggesting that no member of the mob would have been so brazen that day. It hinged on speculation that Epps had been removed from a public FBI wanted list without charge because he was receiving some form of federal protection.
It made its way into the conservative ether, in part after Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) asked Attorney General Merrick Garland about Epps at an October 2021 hearing.
For Cruz, Epps served as a vehicle for redemption.
The right excoriated Cruz last week after he called Jan. 6 a “terrorist” attack. During a groveling appearance on Tucker Carlson, Cruz tried to perform damage control by speculating over whether Epps was a federal agent. By extension, Cruz asked, was the whole thing a plot cooked up by the U.S. government?
On Tuesday, Cruz took the Epps furor further, using a Senate hearing with FBI national security branch executive assistant director Jill Sanborn to clean off his sullied far-right credentials.
“Was Ray Epps a fed?” Cruz asked.
For better or worse, the FBI rarely confirms or denies anything at all. Sanborn did the same, telling Cruz that she “can’t answer that.”
But Sanborn’s refusal to respond to the question ignited a flurry of speculation that Epps was, in fact, a federal informant on Jan. 6.
That continued until this afternoon, when the panel issued its statement, saying that it’s “aware of unsupported claims that Ray Epps was an FBI informant based on the fact that he was on the FBI Wanted list and then was removed from that list without being charged” but that Epps had said he was not an informant.
It’s not likely to put the conspiracy theory to rest.