Ray Epps, a man some suspect was a federal informant goading the crowd ahead of the Capitol riot despite his denials, reportedly called the FBI tip line two days after the violence upon seeing himself on a list of Jan. 6 suspects.
Investigators were told by Epps that an exchange captured on video showing him whispering into the ear of another man, identified as Ryan Samsel, was Epps attempting to calm Samsel, telling him police outside the Capitol were just doing their jobs before Samsel charged the barricades, people familiar with the call told the New York Times.
Epps, an Arizona man and former Oath Keeper, had been on the FBI's Capitol Violence Most Wanted list before he was removed without explanation after nearly six months. The New York Times reported in January there was no evidence Epps entered the Capitol on Jan. 6. "We're holding ground — we're not trying to get people hurt," Epps was filmed telling the rioter while standing on restricted Capitol grounds. The report also said Epps committed an offense by entering a restricted part of Capitol grounds but added that the crime "has largely gone unpunished."
IMPORTANT: this is exact moment the siege of the Capitol building began as the two men in front ripped down a preliminary barrier & rushed officers who were behind a 2nd barrier— ELIJAH SCHAFFER 🇺🇸🇦🇺 (@ElijahSchaffer) January 6, 2021
They then encouraged others to follow their lead. Officers appeared to be taken completely off guard pic.twitter.com/LE0a01PXBi
Epps was also seen on video on the night of Jan. 5 urging people to "go into the Capitol." All this, in addition to his lack of arrest for his involvement in the riot, has fueled speculation among some Republicans that he was an FBI informant tasked with egging on the pro-Trump crowd at the Capitol.
Disagreement between trump supporters in #dc pic.twitter.com/TFYNSNtFJq— Miss N0b0dy (@MissN0b0dy1) January 6, 2021
Epps told the FBI that instigators might have been in the crowd on the day that followed, but he denied he was one of them, also suggesting the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, according to the people who heard the recording.
Samsel appeared to confirm Epps's account about their exchange in a late January 2021 interview with the FBI, which the New York Times said it obtained. “He came up to me, and he said, ‘Dude’ — his entire words were, ‘Relax, the cops are doing their job,’” Samsel said of a man he did not know, according to the report published Thursday night.
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Samsel, who hails from Pennsylvania, faces a bevy of Jan. 6-related charges and is accused of injuring a Capitol Police officer. In his interview with investigators, Samsel claimed Joseph Biggs, a leader of the far-right group the Proud Boys charged with being part of a Jan. 6 conspiracy, also pulled him aside, encouraged him to push at the barricades, flashed a gun when he hesitated, questioned his manhood, and repeated the request. Biggs denied Samsel's version of events.
The Justice Department, which announced plans for such a disclosure in late March, released the recordings last week as part of discovery to defense lawyers representing defendants in Jan. 6 cases.
An attorney for Paul Russell Johnson, a Jan. 6 defendant accused of assaulting police at the Capitol, claimed Epps could help his case. “Our argument is that James Ray Epps was involved in the attack on the Capitol in a way that would be beneficial to our defense," said attorney Kobie Flowers during a status conference, according to Law & Crime.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Republican lawmakers, and Trump have fanned the flames of unproven theories involving Epps.
“How about the one guy — ‘Go in, go in. Get in there, everybody.’ Epps. ‘Get in there. Go, go.’ Nothing happens to him. What happened with him? Nothing happened,” Trump said at an Arizona rally in January.
While the Justice Department has evaded questions about any informants or agents present in the crowd on Jan. 6, the House committee investigating the Capitol riot released a statement in January that said its investigators interviewed Epps.
“The Select Committee is aware of unsupported claims that Ray Epps was an FBI informant based on the fact that he was on the FBI Wanted list and then was removed from that list without being charged,” the panel said in a statement. “The Select Committee has interviewed Mr. Epps. Mr. Epps informed us that he was not employed by, working with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on January 5th or 6th or at any other time, and that he has never been an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency."
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An attorney for Epps, John Blischak, told Politico, “Mr. Epps provided a full disclosure to the House committee." Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republican members on the Jan. 6 committee, tweeted that Epps was taken off the list "because apparently he broke no laws." He also said Epps "has cooperated and is nothing but a Jan 6 protest attendee, in his own words."
Epps told the Arizona Republic several days after the riot that he did nothing wrong. After being read a transcript of what he said in the video of him encouraging people on Jan. 5 to go to the Capitol, Epps replied, “The only thing that meant is we would go in the doors like everyone else. It was totally, totally wrong the way they went in.”