Ray Epps, a Trump supporter who became the focus of right-wing conspiracy theories after he protested in Washington on Jan. 6, has filed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News and former host Tucker Carlson for claiming he was an undercover FBI agent who helped provoke the riot at the Capitol.
In his lawsuit, Epps accuses Fox News of telling a “fantastical story” that he acted as a government-sponsored instigator of the violence that ensued as Congress sought to count the electoral votes to certify Joe Biden's victory.
The lawsuit, which seeks punitive and compensatory damages to be determined at trial, argues that Carlson launched a “years-long campaign” that spread falsehoods that “destroyed” the lives of Epps and his wife, who now reside in Utah but were living in Arizona at the time.
“Fox and Mr. Carlson made Epps the central figure in a lie they concocted about January 6, 2021. After destroying Epps’s reputation and livelihood, Fox will move on to its next story, while Ray and Robyn live in a 350-square foot RV and face harassment and fear true harm," the lawsuit says. "Fox must be held accountable."
Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Carlson’s lawyer, Bryan Freedman, declined to comment.
According to the lawsuit, FBI investigators met with Epps in March 2021 and removed his photo from its website of wanted suspects a few months later in July.
"That should have been the end of the matter for Epps," but instead he was cast as a "villain," the lawsuit says. It goes on to say that Carlson “fixated on Epps,” devoting “over two dozen segments" to him.
Epps was seen on video telling other Trump supporters the night before the Jan. 6 riot that they needed to go into the Capitol. But body camera video from during the attack shows Epps asking law enforcement officers how he can assist them, with offers to help move rioters back from the police line.
The footage from Jan. 5 spread online in right-wing circles and fueled conspiracy theories that he secretly worked for the federal government.
In testimony before the now-defunct House Jan. 6 committee, Epps said that he wasn’t a federal agent and wasn't working for the CIA, the National Security Agency or the Metropolitan Police Department.
“The only time I’ve been involved with the government was when I was a Marine in the United States Marine Corps,” Epps said.
The lawsuit alleges Fox News repeatedly broadcast defamatory statements from Carlson and shared them across its websites, social media accounts and subscription service platforms.
As a result, the lawsuit alleges, Epps got death threats that led him to give up his business and prompted the sale of his property and his relocation into an RV.
The complaint includes screenshots of what his lawyers said were threatening messages Epps got, as well a photo of a bullet casing allegedly found on the couple's property.
“The consequences to Ray and Robyn have been enormous. They lost their successful wedding venue business, they had to sell their home that they spent years building, and they have endured significant emotional and psychological harm from the attacks," Epps' attorney Michael Teter said in a statement Wednesday.
The lawsuit was filed this week in Delaware state court and has been moved to federal court at Fox News’ request.
Teter previously called on Carlson, who was still with Fox at the time, to publicly retract his “false and defamatory statements” about Epps.
In a letter in March, Teter said Carlson “persists with his assault on the truth” by pushing false and “fanciful notions” about Epps' role in the Capitol attack.
Carlson was the host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” at Fox News until April, when he was booted from the network amid the fallout over the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit.
Fox News agreed to a $787.5 million settlement with Dominion in April stemming from allegations that it had published and promoted the false claim that Dominion's voting machines rigged the 2020 election.
Epps’ lawsuit says, “As Fox recently learned in its litigation against Dominion Voting Systems, its lies have consequences.”