DOVER, Del. (AP) — A former Donald Trump supporter who became the center of a conspiracy theory about Jan. 6, 2021, filed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News on Wednesday, saying the network made him a scapegoat for the U.S. Capitol insurrection.
Raymond Epps, a former Marine who said he was forced from his Arizona home because of threats, is asking for unspecified damages and a jury trial.
He filed his lawsuit in Superior Court in Delaware, the same court where Dominion Voting Systems sued Fox for lies broadcast following the 2020 presidential election. Shortly before a trial was to begin this spring, Fox agreed to pay Dominion $787 million to settle the charges.
Fox did not respond to texts, phone calls and emails seeking comment on Epps’ lawsuit.
The suit also says the Justice Department told Epps in May that he faces criminal charges for his actions on Jan. 6, and blames that on “the relentless attacks by Fox and Mr. Carlson and the resulting political pressure.”
Epps, who had traveled to Washington for the Jan. 6 demonstration, was falsely accused by Fox of being a government agent who was whipping up trouble that would be blamed on Trump supporters, the lawsuit claims.
“In the aftermath of the events of January 6th, Fox News searched for a scapegoat to blame other than Donald Trump or the Republican Party,” the lawsuit says. “Eventually, they turned on one of their own.”
Although the lawsuit mentions Fox’s Laura Ingraham and Will Cain, former Fox host Tucker Carlson is cited as the leader in promoting the theory. Epps was featured in more than two dozen segments on Carlson’s prime-time show, the lawsuit said. Fox News fired Carlson shortly after the Dominion settlement was announced.
Carlson “was bluntly telling his viewers that it was a fact that Epps was a government informant,” the lawsuit says. “And they believed him.”
Carlson ignored evidence that contradicted his theory, including Epps’ testimony before a congressional committee investigating the insurrection that he was not working for the government, and videos provided by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy that showed Epps’ efforts to try to defuse the situation, the lawsuit says.
Carlson is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Epps’ lawyer, Michael Teter, noted that Carlson “was an employee of Fox when he lied about Ray, and Fox broadcast those defamatory falsehoods.”
“Fox is therefore fully liable for Mr. Carlson’s statements,” Teter said.
The former Fox star did not respond to a text message seeking comment.
Also Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray, in an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, denied having any knowledge of Epps being a “secret government agent.”
“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,” Wray told lawmakers. He refused to say, however, how many of the people who entered the Capitol and surrounding area on Jan. 6 were either FBI employees or people with whom the FBI had made contact.
Meanwhile, Epps claims in his lawsuit that, as a result of the alleged defamatory statements made by Fox, he and his wife have been the target of harassment and death threats from Trump supporters, forced to sell the Arizona ranch where they ran a successful wedding venue business, and now face financial ruin. According to the lawsuit, Epps and his wife are now living in a recreational vehicle in Utah.
The lawsuit displays threatening messages Epps says he received, including one that reads, “Epps, sleep with one eye open.”
In his defamation suit, Epps claims that on Jan. 5, the day before the storming of the Capitol, he tried to defuse a tense situation between Trump supporters and police, confronting an agitator referred to in the lawsuit as “Baked Alaska.” That man, later identified as far-right social media personality Anthime Gionet, was sentenced earlier this year to 60 days in prison.
Epps says that in an effort to persuade Trump supporters that he was on their side, he told them, “I’m probably gonna go to jail for this. Tomorrow, we need to go into the Capitol. Peacefully.”
Epps claims in the lawsuit that he was “shocked and disappointed” when demonstrators started climbing the scaffolding and walls around the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“He had concerns about the election and believed it was his duty as a citizen to participate in the protest. But he did not believe violence was appropriate,” the lawsuit claims.