Arizona man targeted by Jan. 6 conspiracy theorists sues Fox News for defamation

Jul 12, 2023, 5:47 PM

Ray Epps, in the red Trump hat, center, gestures to others as people gather on the West Front of th...

Ray Epps, in the red Trump hat, center, gestures to others as people gather on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Ray Epps, the Arizona man that conspiracy theorists falsely claim led an FBI plot to orchestrate the January 6 insurrection, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against Fox News, accusing the right-wing channel and former host Tucker Carlson of defamation.

“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 said. “Eventually, they turned on one of their own.”

Spokespeople for Fox News did not immediately return a request for comment. Neither did Carlson.

The lawsuit from Epps comes after his lawyer demanded a retraction in March over the “fanciful notion” Carlson advanced on his show.

In the aftermath of the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, conspiracy theorists baselessly suggested that the assault was a so-called “false flag” operation staged by the federal government to make supporters of then-President Donald Trump look bad.

As part of that conspiracy theory, some right-wing figures falsely claimed Epps was part of a secret FBI plot to orchestrate the attack.

Defamation suit produced trove of Tucker Carlson messages

Carlson repeatedly breathed life into those conspiracies by giving them attention on his highly rated program. On many occasions, Carlson specifically mentioned Epps on his show, and played footage from January 6 of Epps outside the Capitol.

“Fox’s lies about Epps reached hundreds of millions of people and caused enormous harm to Epps,” the lawsuit said, accusing the network of running a “years-long campaign spreading falsehoods” about him that “destroyed” his life.

“As Fox recently learned in its litigation against Dominion Voting Systems, its lies have consequences,” the lawsuit added.

Epps’ lawsuit said he was a “poorly cast villain” for Fox News and Carlson, describing him as a former Trump-voting Marine who “was an avid and loyal Fox viewer and fan of Mr. Carlson’s.” In fact, the lawsuit indicated Epps was at the US Capitol on January 6 because he was “persuaded by the lies broadcast by Fox asserting the election had been stolen.”

In a private deposition with the House committee that investigated January 6, Epps denied that he ever worked for the FBI or for federal law enforcement, according to a transcript of his interview. He told the committee he supported Trump in 2020 and attended the DC protest because he was concerned about widespread voter fraud.

These denials from Epps are meaningful because it’s a crime to lie to Congress.

Fox News reaches settlement with Venezuelan businessman in election defamation case

The lawsuit against Fox News comes as the network tries to untangle itself from the legal mess it has found itself in for advancing false election theories after Trump was defeated at the ballot box in 2020.

Fox News in April agreed to a historic $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology company that accused it of defamation. In that same month, Fox News also settled an election-related lawsuit with a Venezuelan businessman who had also sued the network for defamation.

More recently, Fox News settled a lawsuit with one of its former producers, Abby Grossberg, who accused her former employer of sexism and pressuring her into giving false testimony in the Dominion case. The network paid $12 million to Grossberg to settle the lawsuit, her lawyer said.

Fox is also facing another major defamation lawsuit from voting technology company Smartmatic, which is suing the network for $2.7 billion. That case isn’t expected to go to trial until 2025.

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Arizona man targeted by Jan. 6 conspiracy theorists sues Fox News for defamation