Former Arizona man gets year of probation for role in Jan. 6 Capitol riot

Jan 9, 2024, 5:00 PM

Ray Epps Ray Epps, an Arizona man who became the center of a conspiracy theory about Jan. 6, 2021, ...

Ray Epps, a former Arizona man who became the center of a conspiracy theory about the Jan. 6 riot, was sentenced to probation on Jan. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A man targeted by right-wing conspiracy theories about the U.S. Capitol riot was sentenced on Tuesday to a year of probation for joining the Jan. 6, 2021, attack by a mob of fellow Donald Trump supporters.

Ray Epps, a former Arizona resident who was driven into hiding by death threats, pleaded guilty in September to a misdemeanor charge. He received no jail time, and there were no restrictions placed on his travel during his probation, but he will have to serve 100 hours of community service.

He appeared remotely by video conference and wasn’t in the Washington, D.C., courtroom when Chief Judge James Boasberg sentenced him. Prosecutors had recommended a six-month term of imprisonment for Epps.

Epps’ sentencing took place in the same building where Trump was attending an appeals court hearing as the Republican former president’s lawyers argued he’s immune from prosecution on charges he plotted to overturn the results of the 2020 election he lost.

Fox News Channel and other right-wing media outlets amplified conspiracy theories that Epps, 62, was an undercover government agent who helped incite the Capitol attack to entrap Trump supporters. Epps filed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News last year, saying the network was to blame for spreading baseless claims about him.

Epps told the judge that he now knows that he never should have believed the lies about a stolen election that Trump and his allies told and that Fox News broadcast.

“I have learned that truth is not always found in the places that I used to trust,” said Epps, who asked for mercy before learning his sentence.

The judge noted that many conspiracy theorists still refuse to believe that the Capitol riot was an insurrection carried out by Trump supporters. The judge said he hopes that the threats against Epps and his wife subside so they can move on with their lives.

“You were hounded out of your home,” the judge said. “You were hounded out of your town.”

Federal prosecutors have backed up Epps’ vehement denials that he was a government plant or FBI operative. They say Epps has never been a government employee or agent beyond serving in the U.S. Marines from 1979 to 1983.

The ordeal has forced Epps and his wife to sell their property and businesses and flee their home in Queen Creek, Arizona, according to his lawyer.

“He enjoys no golf, tennis, travel, or other trappings of retirement. They live in a trailer in the woods, away from their family, friends, and community,” attorney Edward Ungvarsky wrote in a court filing.

The internet-fueled accusations that upended Epps’ life have persisted even after the Justice Department charged him with participating in the Jan. 6 siege.

“Fear of demented extremists has no apparent end in sight so long as those who spread hate and lies about Mr. Epps don’t speak loudly and publicly to correct the messaging they delivered,” Epps’ lawyer wrote.

Epps pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct on restricted grounds, a charge punishable by a maximum of one year behind bars.

A prosecutor, Michael Gordon, said Epps doesn’t deserve to be inundated with death threats but should serve jail time for his conduct on Jan. 6.

“He didn’t start the riot. He made it worse.” Gordon told the judge.

Epps’ lawyer sought six months of probation without any jail time. Ungvarsky says his client went to Washington on Jan. 6 to peacefully protest the certification of the Electoral College vote for Joe Biden, a Democrat, over Trump, a Republican.

“You’re never going to see Mr. Epps commit a crime again,” the defense attorney said.

Prosecutors say Epps encouraged the mob to storm the Capitol, helped other rioters push a large metal-framed sign into a group of officers and participated in “a rugby scrum-like group effort” to push past a line of police officers.

“Even if Epps did not physically touch law enforcement officers or go inside of the building, he undoubtedly engaged in collective aggressive conduct,” Gordon, an assistant U.S. attorney, wrote in a court filing.

Epps surrendered to the FBI two days after the riot after learning that agents were trying to identify him. He agreed to be interviewed by FBI agents as well as by the House committee that investigated the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The government initially declined to prosecute Epps in 2021 after the FBI investigated his conduct on Jan. 6 and found insufficient evidence to charge him with a crime, according to Ungvarsky. Epps isn’t accused of entering the Capitol or engaging in any violence or destruction on Jan. 6.

“Mr. Epps was one of many who trespassed outside the Capitol building. Through the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, most of those persons will never be charged,” the defense lawyer wrote.

More than 1,200 defendants have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. Over 900 of them have pleaded guilty or been convicted after trials decided by a judge or jury. Approximately 750 rioters have been sentenced, with nearly two-thirds getting some term of imprisonment.

Epps once served as an Arizona chapter leader for the Oath Keepers, but he parted ways with the anti-government extremist group a few years before the Jan. 6 attack.

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and other members were convicted of seditious conspiracy for plotting to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power from Trump to Biden after the 2020 election. Rhodes was sentenced last year to 18 years in prison.

Fox News hasn’t responded to messages from The Associated Press seeking comment on Epps’ lawsuit.

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Former Arizona man gets year of probation for role in Jan. 6 Capitol riot