WND's Obsession With Ray Epps
WorldNetDaily desperately wants to believe that a protester at the Capitol riot was a secret government plant, despite the utter lack of credible evidence to prove it.
By Terry Krepel
The Washington Post said this in early 2022 about articles written for right-wing Revolver News by Darren Beattie -- whom, it pointed out, was "a former Trump speechwriter who had been fired because it was learned he had appeared at a conference with a white supremacist" -- pushing the conspiracy theory that Capitol rioter Ray Epps was actually a "provocateur" paid by federal agents to encourage Trump supporters to riot:
The articles are filled with innuendo, leaps of logic and suspicion to create an impression of a massive federal conspiracy at the heart of the Jan. 6 attack. Beattie suggests that Epps led a “breach team” that set a “booby trap” for unwitting Trump supporters. “If Ray Epps is a Fed, the ‘Insurrection’ becomes the ‘Fedsurrection’ in one fell swoop,” Beattie declared in the second article.
Chief among those gobblers, needless to say, was WorldNetDaily. Here's Art Moore touting Beattie's conspiracy in an October 2021 article:
Attorney General Merrick Garland refused to comment on video clips played for him during a House hearing last week by Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., showing a man the congressman suspected was an informant planted by the FBI to urge Trump supporters to breach the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Moore spent a lot of that article regurgitating Beattie's report, including a claim of "detailed analysis of the many videos of Epps and the breaches of the Capitol." Unmentioned by Moore is the fact that Massie knew Garland would not answer the question about Epps because it involves an ongoing investigation, as the Post noted: "Every lawmaker knows this will be the answer they receive. So it’s catnip for those who want to suggest something nefarious is going on since they know that, under the rules of this Washington game, no matter what they allege, a Justice Department official is not going to contradict them as long as the investigation is not complete."
Moore and WND continued to push the Epps conspiracy theory:
Another December 2021 article by Moore hyped the Epps conspiracy story moving its way up the right-wing media food chain:
One of the world's biggest online newspapers, DailyMail.com, tracked down the mysterious Arizona activist who remains unindicted in the Jan. 6 riot investigation despite being seen in numerous videos directing people to storm the Capitol building.
It's another indicator of WND's lack of journalistic standards that Moore introduced a blatantly false claim into his conspiracy theory. Rupert Murdoch does not own the Daily Mail; it's owned by a completely different company.
Bob Unruh rehashed the Epps conspiracy in a January 2022 article claiming that "the federal government at this point still is refusing to reveal what agents, informers or "assets" it had at the events, and what they were doing." The "event," of course, being the Capitol insurrection, which Unruh also dismissed as "mostly vandalism."
When Gaetz and fellow far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene used the anniversary of the riot to spin their own Epps-centered conspiracy theory, Unruh was there for that too:
Referring to the events about which the Democrats scheduled daylong memorials, Gaetz said, "It may very well have been a fedsurrection."
Moore touted a repeat of the Massie trick a few days later:
In a Senate hearing Tuesday, the FBI's assistant executive director for the national security branch, Jill Sanborn, repeatedly said she could not answer whether or not a man seen on video urging people to go into the Capitol the eve of Jan. 6 and then directing the initial breach of barriers was an FBI informant.
Of course, by this point Epps' story had been explained by federal officials: He's not a government plant, and he was never charged because he never entered the Capitol or assaulted law enforcement. But the truth interferes with Moore's and WND's ramshackle conspiracy theory.
The Post further explained what Moore and WND showed no interest in doing:
This conspiracy theory follows a familiar path. Self-proclaimed Internet sleuths, seeking to prove the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol was the work of federal agents, latch onto “clues.” Partisan players weave the clues into misleading narratives. Then Fox News hosts such as Tucker Carlson elevate these claims, over and over. That catches the attention of lawmakers eager to win favor with the Trump base. Idle speculation becomes embraced as established fact.
And, that, in a nutshell, illustrates WND's shoddy approach to journalism and why nobody trusts it -- and why it would not let go of the story.
A July 2022 article by Moore complained that the New York Times did what WND wouldn't by actually looking into Epps's story and cleared him of being some kind of secret government agent. Moore called in a fellow conspiracy theorist for backup:
Why did the New York Times run a story in defense of the one man who has been captured on video urging people to storm the Capitol on the day before the Jan. 6 riot and then directing the breach of the guarded perimeter while Donald Trump was still speaking one mile away?
And it apparently never occurred to Beattie or Moore that there is no there there, that the reference meant nothing sinister. Moore also didn't explain why anyone should believe Beattie, a conspiracy theorist who was told to resign from a federal commission after spouting bogus Capitol riot conspiracy theories.
Instead of fact-checking anything Beattie said about Epps, Moore quoted him uncritically claiming that the Times is "kicking off a massive damage control campaign to make any unsanctioned ideas about Epps too toxic and dangerous to print."
Moore found another less-than-trustworthy source to attack Epps for an Aug. 4 article:
A Jan. 6 defendant who faces decades in prison on charges related to the Capitol riot wants to know why the Arizona man he claims tried to recruit him to go inside the Capitol and is seen in numerous videos doing the same is not "on the stand to answer the tough questions."
Yes, Moore thinks a violent thug like McHugh is a credible source -- and even then, he undersold McHugh's rap sheet (he also spent time in jail on a statutory rape conviction), and he also failed to explain how McHugh's violence is connected to Epps. Indeed, Moore seemed to walk that back a bit by admitting that McHugh said he only had "coincidental contact" with Epps and "people who appeared to be working in concert" with him. Again, it still doesn't make this criminal trustworthy.
Moore grumbled some more that folks weren't buying into the Epps conspiracy theory in a Sept. 25 article:
Reacting to a Republican resolution demanding the Justice Department turn over documents related to suspected federal informant Ray Epps, a member of the Jan. 6 committee insisted during a House hearing there was nothing to see.
Moore then rehashed the claims from Beattie and McHugh without, again, bothering to explain why anyone should consider them to be trustworthy.
Conspiracy theorist Jack Cashill tried to further the Epps conspiracy in his Nov. 16 column:
"Understanding what it means if the facts and the evidence are there, and they decide not to prosecute how do we then call ourselves a nation of laws?" Rep. Liz Cheney said of the Department of Justice on CNN in August.
After a lengthy recitation of Epps' purported offenses and bashing of Cheney for pointing out that the committee she was on can't order any prosecution, Cashill took us back into conspiracy theory territory:
Despite the millions who had seen it, Cheney carried on as though the video did not exist, trying desperately to memory-hole Epps before he was even a memory.
Cashill doesn't want Epps prosecuted, of course -- at least, not as a member of a violent mob. Like his fellow conspiracists, he believes that Epps was a deep-state plant and FBI informant who egged on his fellow protesters. But as others have noted, there are good reasons why Epps -- who, by the way, is very much a conservative, not an FBI plant -- has not been prosecuted: he did nothing beyond being unlawfully present on the Capitol grounds, and very few rioters have been prosecuted solely for presence on restricted grounds.
But Cashill doesn't care about facts -- he has a conspiracy theory to foment. Indeed, he whined: "Epps seemed so much an agent provocateur, in fact, that on one occasion the protestors in his vicinity chanted 'no, no, no' and 'fed, fed, fed' after he encouraged them to breach the Capitol."
Cashill has to ignore a whole lot of inconvenient facts to keep this conspiracy theory alive. That, of course, puts him in good standing as a WND columnist.
Editor Joseph Farah used his Jan. 9 column to channel Fox News' Tucker Carlson in rehashing numerous right-wing conspiracy theories about the Capitol riot, including Epps:
"Nor does anyone in authority want to talk about Ray Epps," says Carlson. "Ray Epps, of course, is the man who was caught on tape encouraging the crowd outside the Capitol, both on January 5 and 6, to commit felonies by rushing inside. Now, what's interesting is that the January 6 Committee, under public pressure, did in the end interview Ray Epps. Now, we don't have all of the committee's records about that interview. We should, but we don't. But some have been released, and what they tell is a remarkable story. In the testimony that we have, the committee coaches Ray Epps on how to answer questions about his involvement. 'I was in the front with a few others. I also orchestrated it. I helped get people there.'"
Again, there no actual evidence to frame him as the FBI plant Farah wants him to be.
Epps worked into Carlson's firing
Unsurprisingly, WND was unhappy that Fox News fired Tucker Carlson, a fellow right-wing conspiracy theorist. A month before Carlson's firing, for instance, WND was eagerly touting cherry-picked footage from the Capitol riot given to Carlson to push the false narrative that the riot was peaceful.
But WND needed someone to blame for Carlson's firing, and it tried to find one in an old scapegoat: Ray Epps. As it so happened, the day before Carlson was fired, "60 Minutes" did a segment on Epps that recapped the right-wing conspiracy theories falsely smearing him and highlighting the threats that have targeted him as those conspiracy theories spread in the right-wing media bubble.
Farah spent his April 24 column ranting that Epps had called out Carlson for falsely targeting him, and even went so far as to call CBS interviewer Bill Whitaker a "hitman":
On Sunday night, "60 Minutes" whitewashed the shameless Jan. 6 provocateur Ray Epps. And Fox and Tucker Carlson coincidentally parted ways.
Instead of actually rebutting anything Epps said, Farah simply quoted from the interview.
Peter LaBarbera furthered the idea that Epps got Carlson fired in another April 24 article:
One day after the airing of a sympathetic CBS "60 Minutes" interview with controversial, videotaped, alleged Jan. 6 instigator Ray Epps in which Epps played the victim and sought to shift blame for J6 violence to Tucker Carlson the most popular host on Fox News was ousted by the network.
LaBarbera complained that the "left-leaning" Los Angeles Times pointed out the right-wing conspiracy theory about Epps:
"Murdoch also was said to be concerned about Carlson’s coverage of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol," the Times reported. "The host has promoted the conspiracy theory that it was provoked by government agents, and Carlson has called Ray Epps a Texas man who participated in the storming of the Capitol but did not enter the building an FBI plant, without presenting any evidence."
LaBarbera didn't give Gateway Pundit an ideological label, even though it's a far-right conspiracy rag that's currently being sued for spreading lies. He then repeated right-wingers manufacturing conspiracy theories about Epps' "60 Minutes" appearance:
Many conservatives saw the "60 Minutes" piece Sunday as only the latest effort by liberal elites to distract the public from the federal government's role in stoking the J6 "insurrection" narrative to disparage Trump supporters and undermine Trump's pursuit of another presidential term in 2024.
It wasn't until the 15th paragraph of his article that LaBarbera got around to noting that Epps' lawyers had sent a cease-and-desist letter to Carlson and Fox News, which sent him into Carlson defense mode:
"Mr. Carlson and Fox News have repeatedly peddled claims about Mr. Epps that lack any foundation in fact," states the letter by attorney Michael Teter. "Mr. Carlson and Fox News guests and contributors have incorrectly called Mr. Epps a federal agent, accusing him of acting as a provocateur of the riots. Oddly, Mr. Carlson now also espouses the view that those rioters were akin to peaceful tourists. This leads to the obvious question: is Mr. Carlson now accusing Mr. Epps of provoking peaceful protests."
Carlson's footage of Chansley was cherry-picked and ignored his behavior before his arrest, and even his own attorney said Chansley's release from prison had nothing whatsoever to do with the video.
Farah used his April 25 column to rant that Carlson's firing was "election interference" -- even though Carlson isn't running for anything -- and again cited the "60 Minutes" story on Epps, "the one man safe from the Liz Cheney's House Unselect Committee of Jan. 6," as a contributing factor: "One would have to be blind or a Democrat not to see the fix was in."
A May 4 article by LaBarbera tried to drag Epps into the trial of several members of the Proud Boys over their actions regarding the riot, repeating claims by far-right writer Julie Kelly referencing "multiple sightings in evidence of the still-uncharged Ray Epps."