DOJ Moves Forward With Epps Prosecution
It has been nearly two and a half years since the deadly pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and yet the aftermath of that fateful day continues to unfold. One of the latest developments in this ongoing saga is the recent charging reversal of Ray Epps, a 65-year-old Arizona man who became the face of a conspiracy theory claiming that the federal government ignited the Capitol riot. In a surprising turn of events, the Justice Department has now charged Epps with misdemeanor disorderly conduct, despite officially declining to prosecute him just six months prior.
In a sentencing memorandum filed on Tuesday, the government asserted that Epps had actually engaged in “felonious” behavior during the riot and should spend six months in prison. This is a stark contrast to their previous stance, in which an FBI agent stated that their investigation had not revealed sufficient evidence that Epps had entered the Capitol, engaged in violence, or committed any other criminal violations. So, what exactly led to this abrupt change in the government’s position on Epps’ involvement in the Capitol riot?
To understand the latest developments in Epps’ case, it is necessary to go back to January 6, 2021. Epps first came under scrutiny as one of the “persons of interest” depicted on the FBI’s website after he called the agency two days after the riot to identify himself as someone who had been present at the Capitol that day. However, Epps made it clear to the FBI that he believed he had not committed any serious crimes and was only guilty of trespassing.
Despite this, Epps quickly became a target of right-wing activists and media outlets who sought to shift the blame for the riot away from Trump supporters and onto the government. False accusations, such as claims that Epps was an undercover FBI operative, began to spread through social media, fuelled by Fox News and Republican lawmakers who amplified the conspiracy theory in hearings and news conferences.
This relentless pressure from extremists and the resulting harassment and threats against himself and his family took a toll on Epps. In her letter to the court, his wife described the constant fear they live in and the impact it had on their lives. Their wedding venue business was forced to close, and they had to move to another state to escape the threats and harassment from violent individuals who believed the false accusations against Epps.
Despite repeated statements from the Justice Department that Epps was never a government employee or agent, the conspiracy theories continued to gain traction. However, the turning point in Epps’ case came after he was sued Fox News for defamation. As part of the lawsuit, Epps was able to obtain evidence proving the falsity of the accusations against him. It was this evidence that led the government to pursue the new charges against Epps.
In their sentencing memorandum, prosecutors now argue that Epps actually played a more significant role in the riot than previously believed. They claim that he was part of the mob that breached the first barricades on the Capitol grounds and that he helped incite others to engage in “dangerous and lawless behavior.” However, they also acknowledge that Epps attempted to de-escalate conflicts between other rioters and police officers on multiple occasions.
Epps’ lawyer, Edward Ungvarsky, has called the government’s decision to charge his client with a misdemeanor “ill-considered” and believes it to be a response to the pressure from extremists. He points out that the evidence shows Epps was merely trying to calm down others in the crowd and that he never intended or participated in any violence against police officers.
In a letter to the court, Epps himself expressed remorse for his actions on January 6, saying that he was “sincerely sorry for going to Washington D.C. and saying some absurd things” while there. He also placed the blame for the riot on those who misled him and others into believing the election had been stolen, rather than on the FBI or the government.
As the case against Epps moves forward, it is likely to continue to draw attention and raise questions about the events of January 6, 2021. However, for Epps and his family, the impact of that day will continue to be felt for years to come. While they may finally have some closure with the government’s acknowledgment of Epps’ innocence, the false accusations and resulting threats and harassment have taken a toll that cannot be reversed.