FBI director shoots down ‘ludicrous’ January 6 conspiracy theory

Christopher Wray rejects claims surrounding Capitol attack and Ray Epps in sworn testimony

Alex Woodward
Wednesday 12 July 2023 20:35 BST
FBI director shoots down 'ridiculous' Jan 6 conspiracy theory

FBI director Christopher Wray has rejected a far-reaching conspiracy theory that undercover federal agents orchestrated or encouraged rioters to storm the halls of Congress on January 6.

In his sworn testimony to the House Judiciary Committee on 12 July, Mr Wray shot down claims that have been invoked by members of a far-right gang, pundit Tucker Carlson, Republican officials and right-wing conspiracy theorists who have alleged that a deadly riot at the US Capitol was instigated by federal informants and agents.

More than 1,000 people have been arrested in connection with the riots, including more than a dozen people who have been found guilty on treason-related charges for conspiring their attack and 350 people who were convicted of assaulting or resisting law enforcement.

“I will say this notion that somehow the violence at the Capitol on January 6 was part of some operation orchestrated by FBI sources and agents is ludicrous and is a disservice to our brave, hardworking dedicated men and women,” Mr Wray told the committee.

He also rejected allegations that a man named Ray Epps was working undercover to provoke a riot, a claim at the center of a brewing lawsuit from Mr Epps against Carlson and Fox News – accusations that are “demonstrably (and already proven to be) false,” his attorney wrote in a cease-and-desist letter to the network earlier this year.

Though he joined the crowd on January 6, Mr Epps did not enter the Capitol, and he has not been charged with a crime – fuelling accusations from Carlson and others that federal prosecutors are protecting him.

Carlson has said there is “no rational explanation” why this “mysterious figure” who “helped stage-manage the insurrection” had not yet been charged.

Facing ongoing threats fuelled by baseless statements, Mr Epps has sued Fox News for defamation.

“Fox repeatedly published defamatory falsehoods about Epps,including by broadcasting and rebroadcasting defamatory statements by Tucker Carlson who devoted over two dozen segments to Epps and by republishing those falsehoods” across Fox platforms, according to a lawsuit filed on the day of the hearing.

During the hearing on Wednesday, Republican US Rep Andy Biggs of Arizona referenced a claim made by an attorney for a member of the neo-fascist group the Proud Boys who was convicted after assaulting police officers, breaking into the Capitol and smoking a celebratory cigar on January 6.

Mr Biggs claimed that 40 undercover agents were at the scene, an allegation that was also made in a court filing from a Proud Boys attorney in a seditious conspiracy case earlier this year.

“You don’t know whether there were undercover federal agents, FBI agents, in the crowd and at the Capitol on January 6?” Mr Biggs asked.

“I want to be very careful because there have been a number of court filings related to some of these comments and I want to make sure I stick within that,” Mr Wray replied. “I do not believe there were undercover agents on scene.”

A lawyer for Dominic Pezzola – a member of the Proud Boys who used a stolen police shield to bash through a window into the Capitol – claimed in court filings that at least 40 undercover agents were present. Earlier this year, when he testified in his own defense at trial, Pezzola repeatedly invoked the conspiracy theory, admitting that he did not have any evidence that Mr Epps was involved.

Pezzola was found guilty by a jury of robbery and assaulting, resisting or impeding police.

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