The man at the centre of a right-wing conspiracy theory surrounding January 6 and the attack on the US Capitol has filed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News and Tucker Carlson for amplifying a “fantastical” story alleging he is an undercover federal agent who incited a riot.
A lawsuit from Ray Epps follows a cease-and-desist letter sent to the network earlier this year, demanding that Carlson retract his “false and defamatory” statements about him and deliver a “formal on-air apology” for the “lies” he promoted.
“Fox’s role in creating and disseminating destructive conspiracy theories has already been well documented,” according to the lawsuit filed in Delaware Superior Court on 12 July.
Mr Epps and his wife Robyn – who both voted for Donald Trump and were “loyal” viewers of Fox and its now-former most-watched personality – were subject to campaign of “falsehoods” that “have destroyed Ray’s and Robyn’s lives,” according to the complaint, which seeks unspecified damages.
The lawsuit follows a historic $787m settlement between Fox and Dominion Voting Systems, which accused the network of spreading false statements about its business in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. Fox also has settled a lawsuit from a former producer for Carlson for $12m after she accused the company of “fostering a toxic workplace” where “truth remains a fugitive”.
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. But in May, the US Department of Justice notifed Mr Epps that he could face criminal charges, according to the lawsuit.
On his now-former programme, Carlson said there is “no rational explanation” why this “mysterious figure” who “helped stage-manage the insurrection” had not yet been charged.
“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 the lawsuit.
Those claims have also been echoed by Republican members of Congress making Mr Epps the subject of legislative hearings – including on the day of the lawsuit’s filing, as House Republicans grilled FBI director Christopher Wray about alleged federal agents at the scene of the attack.
“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 said in his sworn testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.
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.
Mr Epps also was interviewed by the House select committee investigating the events surrounding and leading up to the Capitol attack.
Following Carlson’s on-air statements and a wave of allegations surrounding Mr Epps across social media, the couple received threatening messages, including death threats and a plastic bag with a bullet casing inside and voicemails threatening to burn their house down, according to the complaint, which includes several examples of harassing emails, letters and text messages.
The couple was reportedly forced to move out of their home and into an RV.
“Epps was not a federal agent. He was a loyal Fox viewer and Trump supporter,” the lawsuit states.
Had the Justice Department charged him with a crime, Carlson “would have hailed Epps a hero,” according to the filing.
”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 alleges. “Fox must be held accountable.”
The Independent has requested comment from Fox.
Carlson, in his first interview since his exit from the network in the wake of the Dominion settlement, said he doesn’t know why he was fired.
The network announced that Carlson “agreed to part ways” days after Fox agreed to the settlement with the voting machine company over bogus claims that Carlson privately disputed but amplified on air.
Fox Corporation also reached a $12m settlement a lawsuit from Abby Grossberg, a former producer for Tucker Carlson Tonight, who alleged a culture of misogyny at the network in a federal complaint that depicted an environment where women are routinely verbally violated “by a poisonous and entrenched patriarchy.”
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