January 6 committee: We interviewed Ray Epps and he told us he’s never worked with law enforcement

If you don’t know who Ray Epps is, read Jon Ward’s analysis of Tucker Carlson’s “Patriot Purge” documentary for background. Epps features in that film and in other apologias for the riot as a possible federal agent provocateur, a guy who was seen the day before January 6 egging on a crowd to enter the Capitol the next day, drawing jeers of “Fed! Fed! Fed!” by the people around him. Suspiciously, Epps’s photo was initially featured on an FBI “Wanted” poster but was removed from a later iteration, with no explanation. Was Epps working with the FBI? Was he maybe even an FBI agent? Is that why he was no longer “wanted”?

Ward lays out what’s known:

Epps is a military veteran who was listed in years past as a leader in the Oath Keepers. Beattie has documented the ways in which Epps is on video the night before Jan. 6 and in the hours leading up to the assault exhorting people to go to the Capitol and into the building. Epps is also seen at the site of the first violent confrontation between Trump supporters and police, urging one young man to wait and telling him, “We need more people.”…

The FBI has acknowledged having at least one “informant” among the right-wing militants in the crowd on Jan. 6, who entered the Capitol building after it was breached. There is no photographic evidence of Epps inside the Capitol…

If Epps was an informant, that would raise uncomfortable questions for the government. The Justice Department declined to comment when asked. But Epps also could be cooperating with authorities and avoiding prosecution that way. And it strains credulity to believe that the majority of people who assaulted the Capitol did so because of one man yelling in a crowd, versus the explicit instructions to march to the Capitol from Trump, the sitting president they had gathered to support.

It’d be a serious government scandal if Epps turned out to be connected to the FBI. Not for the reason that the January 6 whitewashers want him to be, so that they can claim that the actions of thousands of people involved in a diffuse protest-turned-riot were all the fault of the federal government. It’s because law enforcement should never, ever incite lawbreaking. It’s one thing to have informants in the crowd to provide real-time intelligence, it’s another to have informants egging people on to get violent. Ray Epps not being there that day wouldn’t have prevented the riot but if he worked for the FBI and crossed the line into incitement, the FBI must be held accountable.

Ted Cruz is desperate to worm his way back into the good graces of Tucker Carlson and his MAGA audience after he pissed them off last week by accurately describing the insurrection as “terrorism.” Using that word raised doubt as to whose side he’s on, a perilous place for a populist presidential candidate to be. So Cruz put on a show at a hearing this morning with an FBI supervisor, using his best “A Few Good Men” tone to try to get answers on whether Ray Epps has ever worked for the FBI. The supervisor continually refused to comment. Although she did say that she had no knowledge of anyone inciting violence on January 6 who was working for or with federal agents.

After that performance went viral, the January 6 committee decided to show some of its cards. They interviewed Epps — in November, reportedly — and he testified that he hasn’t worked with or for any law enforcement agency.

How much stock do we want to put in Epps’s own testimony? Granted, lying to the committee would be perjury, which could send him to prison. But if he really was a CI for the FBI on January 6, the agency might intervene and ask the committee and the DOJ not to prosecute him, not wanting to blow his cover. And maybe the committee would keep that revelation secret for the same reason. The more relevant question is: Has the FBI itself confirmed to the committee or any other agency that Epps wasn’t acting at the bureau’s direction? That wouldn’t satisfy Tucker’s audience but denials on both sides here would be a bit more reassuring that Epps really isn’t an informant.

But wait. If Epps wasn’t working with the feds, why did they take him off the “Wanted” list? Adam Kinzinger, one of the January 6 committee’s two Republican members, hopped onto Twitter this afternoon to answer that question. According to Kinzinger, although Epps was apparently eager to see other people enter the Capitol, there’s no evidence that he entered himself or took to attacking any cops. Simply put, the feds don’t have anything to charge him with.

What about Epps encouraging others to enter the Capitol, though? Isn’t that incitement? Actually, no. He said that the day before the riot; under Supreme Court precedent, incitement is protected speech until it’s intended to cause and likely to cause imminent lawless action. If Epps had been caught telling the mob on January 6, while they were gathered outside the Capitol, that it was time to move forward and bust some heads, that would be classic criminal incitement. But planting the idea in their heads the day before? That’s legal since violence wasn’t “imminent” at that moment.

He’s a bad guy but not all bad guys are criminals. Most aren’t, in fact.

Anyway, Kinzinger’s right about the populist motive in obsessing over Epps. The point is to shift blame for the insurrection to literally anyone except Trump and the Trumpers who participated in it by claiming that the true perpetrators were some established enemy of MAGA. It was Antifa in red hats, or it was an inside job by the deep state that ended up roping in peaceful MAGA protesters, etc. We’ll see if the FBI decides to go on the record about Epps tomorrow.

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