James Ray Epps was at the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. But there is no evidence that he was an FBI plant assigned to instigate the riot, as a conspiracy theory — embraced by at least two members of Congress — claims. There is evidence, however, that Epps once held a leadership role in the Oath Keepers, some of whose members have been charged in the attack.
Supporters of then-President Donald Trump caused a deadly riot as they tried to stop the certification of electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021. But some high-profile conservatives have been promoting a conspiracy theory that the violence was, instead, the result of a secret government plot.
At the center of the conspiracy theory is James Ray Epps, 60, who owns a wedding venue outside of Phoenix, Arizona.
The FBI added Epps’ picture on Jan. 8 to a list, shared on Twitter, of those it sought for more information about the riot.
On Jan. 11, Epps told the Arizona Republic that he had been there.
Videos on social media from Jan. 5 and 6 also appear to show Epps in Washington, D.C. In one widely viewed video from the night of Jan. 5, Epps tells a crowd, “In fact tomorrow … we need to go into the Capitol.”
When asked about that clip by the Arizona newspaper, Epps said, “The only thing that [I] meant is we would go in the doors like everyone else. It was totally, totally wrong the way they went in.”
A video clip from Jan. 6 shows him near the Capitol as a mob breaks through a police barrier.
These videos and others have been highlighted by Darren Beattie, a former Trump speechwriter, on the right-wing website Revolver. Beattie was fired from his job at the White House in 2018 after his appearance at a conference with a white supremacist two years earlier came to light. He now posts his writing on Revolver and was recently featured in Tucker Carlson’s series about the Jan. 6 riot that aired on Fox News’ streaming service.
Revolver has published two lengthy posts on Epps. The first — headlined, “Meet Ray Epps: The Fed-Protected Provocateur Who Appears To Have Led The Very First 1/6 Attack On The U.S. Capitol” — was posted on Oct. 25. The second — “Meet Ray Epps, Part 2: Damning New Details Emerge Exposing Massive Web Of Unindicted Operators At The Heart Of January 6” — was posted on Dec. 18.
The posts each dissect about a half-dozen video clips that appear to show Epps in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5 or 6 — along with videos and photos showing other people in the crowd near the Capitol who Beattie’s posts claim are linked to Epps. Both posts focus on the fact that the FBI removed Epps’ picture from its wanted list after about six months and suggest that the FBI did this in an effort to cover up something nefarious.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene cited the most recent Revolver post in her appearance on conservative commentator Charlie Kirk’s Dec. 31 podcast, in which Greene and Kirk agreed that the removal of Epps’ picture most likely meant that he was an undercover FBI agent.
Kirk described the inclusion of the picture and its later removal as a “right hand, left hand” issue, meaning that the FBI’s right hand didn’t know what its left hand was doing. He explained that because the operation was so big, the FBI member who posted the picture didn’t know Epps was an agent and someone else in the FBI who did know removed the picture six months later.
“Well, if you’re working undercover, everybody can’t know who you are,” Greene added.
She and Rep. Matt Gaetz also cited the story and showed several videos that were featured in it at a press conference they held Jan. 6 on the first anniversary of the Capitol riot. The two Republicans announced the event after Trump canceled his press conference scheduled for that day.
“We are here to expose the truth, to ask key questions about what happened on Jan. 6 — who animated the violence, the extent to which the federal government may have been involved,” Gaetz said. “We know this — Jan. 6 last year wasn’t an insurrection. No one’s been charged with insurrection. No one has been charged with treason. But it very well may have been a fedsurrection.”
The most recent Revolver post used the same phrase. It said, “If Ray Epps is a Fed, the ‘Insurrection’ becomes the ‘Fedsurrection’ in one fell swoop.”
But neither Greene nor Gaetz produced evidence that Epps works for the federal government. And the fact that his picture was removed from the FBI’s wanted list without having charges filed against him could mean any number of things, two legal experts told us.
The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol disclosed in a Jan. 11 tweet that it has interviewed Epps, who “informed us he was not employed by, working with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on Jan 5th or 6th or at any other time.”
Investigation Is a ‘Work in Progress’
If the FBI removes a picture, it means its agents no longer need the public’s assistance in identifying him, Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor who was an advisor to former FBI Director James B. Comey, told us in a phone interview.
There are many reasons that the FBI would remove Epps’ photo without filing charges during an ongoing investigation, Richman said, including that he may have spoken to investigators and clarified his role or that he is cooperating with investigators and may implicate others.
“It’s very much a work in progress from the government’s perspective,” said Richman, who also was a consultant to the Department of Justice.
It’s worth noting that Epps’ picture isn’t the only one the FBI has removed. The bureau has also removed photos of individuals numbered 310, 311 and 312, for example. In other cases, the FBI has labeled those in the pictures as having been arrested — individual number 313 is an example of that.
The most common charge for those arrested following Jan. 6 is entering or remaining in a restricted federal building, so it’s also noteworthy that none of the videos included in Revolver’s posts show Epps inside the Capitol building. In fact, two of them appear to show Epps trying to mitigate confrontation between protesters and police outside.
Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney who co-chaired the attorney general’s advisory committee’s terrorism and national security subcommittee, told us something similar to Richman in an email.
“It is quite possible that insufficient evidence exists to charge him with a crime, either because his conduct did not amount to criminal behavior or the facts cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said. “It could also be that he has agreed to cooperate, and so any charges are being deferred until prosecutors are able to assess the value of his cooperation.”
McQuade also noted that inciting violence at a protest would violate the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operation Guide, which, she said, “prohibits the FBI from interfering with First Amendment protected activities.”
“It is always possible that an individual agent has violated a policy,” McQuade said, but that agent would be guilty of misconduct if he incited violence and the bureau would be guilty of misconduct if it if it planted an agent to incite violence.
We asked the FBI why Epps’ photo had been removed, but a spokeswoman for the agency declined to comment.
At an Oct. 21 hearing, Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky, told Attorney General Merrick Garland, “There’s a concern that there were agents of the government, or assets of the government, present on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 during the protests.” He then showed video of Epps and noted that he hadn’t been charged.
Garland responded, “As I said at the outset, one of the norms of the Justice Department is to not comment on pending investigations.”
We asked the Justice Department if it would be able to comment at this point, but we didn’t get a response.
We also reached out to Epps by phone and email, but didn’t hear back.
But Massie’s suggestion has been echoed by others, including the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh, who has twice posted a video to social media calling the theory that Epps is a federal agent or asset “credible.”
Onetime Leader of Arizona Oath Keepers
We can’t say exactly what role Epps played during the riot or what he may have told investigators afterward. But this is what we do know about him from publicly available information:
Epps and his wife bought property in Arizona in 2010, according to records from the Maricopa County Assessor’s office. Epps has two limited liability companies registered at that address — one is called Patriot Holdings and the other is called Rocking R Farms. Both were formed in 2011.
The couple first tried farming at the property and then switched to hosting weddings and events in 2019, according to their website for the business.
A reporter for the British newspaper the Daily Mail recently went to the property, but Epps declined to comment on the conspiracy theory. Epps had told the Arizona Republic in its Jan. 11, 2021, story that he had been advised by a lawyer not to comment. We weren’t able to find any public comments from Epps after that story ran.
In photos from the Daily Mail story, Epps is wearing a Marines cap and the first Revolver post says that he served in that branch of the military. A spokesman for the Marines confirmed to us that there is a service record for Epps that matches his name and birthdate, which we got from a Pennsylvania arrest record for trespassing in 2015.
The website for his wedding business says that he spent most of his career in construction.
Epps has also been involved with the Oath Keepers, an organization founded in 2009 that describes itself as defending the U.S. Constitution and says on its website that members “will not obey” orders they deem to be unconstitutional.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have each classified the Oath Keepers as an anti-government extremist organization.
Members of the Oath Keepers have been charged in what prosecutors allege was a wide-ranging conspiracy to breach the Capitol and stop the counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6.
The organization’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, hasn’t been criminally charged, and a lawyer for one of the defendants in the conspiracy case told the judge in December that the uncertainty over whether or not he will be is hampering her ability to plan for trial.
Update, Jan. 13: On Jan. 13, the Justice Department announced seditious conspiracy charges against Rhodes and 10 members of the Oath Keepers.
The congressional committee investigating the Capitol attack subpoenaed Rhodes on Nov. 23, and he was also named in a civil suit brought by seven officers who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Epps hasn’t been charged with any crimes relating to the riot and we don’t know if he is currently a member of the organization. But in 2011 he was pictured with Rhodes and identified as president of the Oath Keepers’ Arizona chapter on a website called Freedom’s Phoenix. He was also identified as the president of that chapter in a post on the Oath Keepers’ website that year.
Again, we asked him by email about his ties to the group and whether he is currently a member. But he didn’t respond.
So, from what’s publicly available, it appears that Epps is the owner of a wedding venue in Arizona who has been, at least at one point, involved with a group that includes some members who have been charged with conspiring to impede the counting of the electoral votes. We could find no evidence that he has worked for the federal government, but we’ll update this story if more information emerges.
Update, July 14: The New York Times interviewed Epps and reported new information about the timeline for his cooperation with the government. Epps learned from a family member on Jan. 8, 2021, that the FBI was looking for him, according to the Times’ article. “He said he immediately called the bureau’s National Threat Operations Center,” it said, “and his phone records show that he spoke to agents there for nearly an hour.”
The Times also said Epps’ account is supported by transcripts it reviewed of his phone call and a March 2021 discussion Epps had with federal agents.
He told the newspaper that he and his wife have faced death threats over “lies” and that they had to sell their business and their home and move to a new location. They are seeking a lawyer to file defamation suits against people who pushed this conspiracy theory.
Correction, Jan. 13: Matt Walsh hosts a podcast for the Daily Wire. We misidentified the name of the news outlet in our original story.
Update, Jan. 12: An earlier version of this story said the Marines had no record of Epps serving in that branch of the military. After we published our story, a spokesman for the Marines told us he had initially searched for the wrong name but then found a service record for Epps after conducting another search with the correct name. We have updated our story to reflect that.
Update, Jan. 11: The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol posted its tweet disclosing its interview with Epps shortly after we posted this story. We’ve added it.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.
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