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Ray Epps, a Jan. 6 protester now at the center of a far-right conspiracy, says he relives the Capitol riot every day

Ray Epps: The 60 Minutes Interview
Ray Epps: The 60 Minutes Interview 13:23

For millions of consumers of conservative news, Ray Epps is a notorious villain — a provocateur responsible for turning peaceful protests on January 6th into a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol. The irony is that Epps was a passionate supporter of President Trump who went to Washington to protest the 2020 election. But his often contradictory behavior that day spawned a full-fledged conspiracy theory, casting him as a government agent who incited an insurrection. Today, Epps is in hiding, after death threats forced him to sell his home. So who is Ray Epps? Tonight, you'll hear from the government, and the man himself.

Ray Epps: As soon as President Trump is finished speaking, we are going to the Capitol. It's that direction.  

At 6-foot-4, in his desert camouflage, bright red Trump hat, and military-style backpack, Ray Epps stood out from the crowd on January 6th. 

That's him running toward the U.S. Capitol alongside the vanguard of rioters who first attacked and overran police.

Bill Whitaker: What do you think when you see this now?

Ray Epps: Brings back some bad memories. It's hard to see our Capitol under attack. 

It's been more than two years since the storming of the Capitol, but Ray and his wife Robyn told us they relive January 6th every day of their lives.

Robyn Epps and Ray Epps 60 Minutes

Robyn Epps: Some people have said, "Well, just let it go, and let it die down."

Ray Epps: It doesn't.

Robyn Epps: What they don't understand is it doesn't. 

Tucker Carlson: What exactly was the role of Ray Epps in the chaos of January 6th?

The theory Epps, a former member of the Oath Keepers, was an FBI informant who incited the crowd on January 6th bubbled up from a right-wing news site called Revolver News – run by a former Trump speechwriter... 

Darren Beattie: He is the smoking gun of the entire Fed-surrection.

And landed on Fox News primetime...

Laura Ingraham: According to a new investigation from Revolver, Epps may have led the breach team that first entered the Capitol on January 6th…

The convoluted conspiracy theory made its way to Capitol Hill.

Matt Gaetz: It's not the Proud Boys who engage in the initial breach. It's Ray Epps at that precise moment. 

Thomas Massie: How did Ray Epps know that there were gonna be pipe bombs?

Ted Cruz: Ms Sanborn. Who is Ray Epps? 

That question has animated Fox News host Tucker Carlson for nearly two years.

Tucker Carlson: Ray Epps? He is on video several times encouraging crimes, riots, breaches of the Capitol...

Carlson has focused on Epps more than 20 times on his top-rated show … a half-dozen times so far this year.  

Ray Epps: He's obsessed with me. He's going to any means possible to destroy my life and our lives. 

Bill Whitaker: Why?

Ray Epps: To shift blame on somebody else. If you look at it, Fox News, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ted Cruz, Gaetz, they're all tellin' us before this thing that it was stolen. So you tell me, who has more impact on people, them or me?

Epps — once a loyal Fox News watcher — told us he doesn't understand how he got cast as the villain. The Epps' version is more mundane: they believed the 2020 election had been stolen from Donald Trump… and considered January 6th a legitimate protest.

Ray Epps: It was a sloppy election. And then to top that off you have talking heads reporting that there's problems with the voting machines and different things like that. The election's stolen.  So yeah, we had concerns. I wanted to be there. I wanted to witness this with my own eyes.

Epps went to Washington with his 36-year-old son and almost immediately stepped into trouble. The conspiracy theory starts here - the night of January 5th.

Ray Epps (on Jan. 5): Give me one minute! Give me one minute!

On the streets of D.C. tensions were running high at a pro-Trump rally being live streamed on the internet. The Marine veteran tried to take charge…

Ray Epps (on Jan. 5): I'm gonna put it out there I'm probably gonna go to jail for this. Tomorrow, we need to go into the Capitol! Into the Capitol! [What?!] Peacefully! [Fed Fed Fed! Fed!] 

Bill Whitaker and Ray Epps look at video from Jan. 6 60 Minutes

To some in the crowd, Epps seemed so over the top, he must have been a government agent — a Fed — sent to entrap them.

Bill Whitaker: When you said, "We have to go into the Capitol, we have to go into the Capitol." What were you thinking? 

Ray Epps: I said some stupid things. My thought process, we surround the Capitol, we get all the people there. I mean, I had I had problems with the election. It was my duty as an American to peacefully protest, along with anybody else that wanted to.

The next morning, January 6th, Epps was out by the Washington Monument… still focused on a single goal.

Ray Epps (on Jan. 6): We are going to the Capitol, where our problems are. It's that direction! 

President Trump (on Jan. 6): We're going to walk down to the Capitol.

While President Trump was still speaking at the Ellipse, Ray Epps walked toward the Capitol. He told us he wanted to be up front to help keep the peace. What happened next at Peace Circle where protesters first overran police is seen as a smoking gun. Epps pulled this agitated rioter aside and said something — conspiracists say he was giving marching orders, because seconds later, this happened… the first Capitol police officer goes down.

Bill Whitaker: As closely as you can remember, what exactly did you say to him?

Ray Epps: "Dude, we're not here for that. The police aren't the enemy," or somethin' like that. 

Bill Whitaker: Did anyone from the federal government direct you to be here at the Peace Circle at this time?

Ray Epps: No.

Bill Whitaker: No one from the FBI?

Ray Epps: No.

Bill Whitaker: Your old comrades with the Oath Keepers?

Ray Epps: No.

Ray Epps 60 Minutes

Bill Whitaker: I think what is so damning about the video is that there's a barrier there. The barrier gets knocked down. And a police officer, a female police officer gets knocked down. And the mob, including you, walk over the barrier and march on toward the capitol.

Bill Whitaker: Why didn't you stop to help this, this police officer who was knocked over?

Ray Epps: When she was knocked down and I started to go towards her to help her up. And I saw a billy club over here in the corner of my eye. And I thought, "You know, they're gonna think I'm part of this." So I backed off.

Bill Whitaker: You were part of it.

Ray Epps: I was there. I wasn't a part of that, knocking her down.

Robyn Epps: And he wasn't part of the violence. There's a big difference there. 

Bill Whitaker: Is that you there? 

Ray Epps was never seen committing an act of violence that day, or entering the Capitol. Epps told us when he saw the violence … his fervor to enter the building became a desire to play peacemaker.  

And police body cam video backs him up. 

Ray Epps: I thought I could stop it. So I went back and forth. I talked people down. And I just worked the line back and forth. "Step down. Step down. We're good here," that kinda thing. And I kept it that way for quite some time. 

Epps says he left the Capitol grounds to help evacuate an injured man. The time: 2:54 p.m. 

Ray Epps: I looked back at the Capitol, and there was people crawlin' up the Capitol walls. And it looked like, it looked terrible. I mean, I was kind of ashamed of what, what was goin' on at that point. So I started to walk out. 

He told us that's when he sent this text to his nephew. Conspiracists saw it as the true confession of an agent provocateur.

Bill Whitaker: "I was in front with a few others. I also orchestrated it."  Explain this to me. 

Ray Epps: I was boasting to my nephew. I helped get people there. I was directing people to the Capitol that morning.

Bill Whitaker: You know how this sounds?

Ray Epps: I know exactly how it sounds. I've been scolded by my wife for using that word. I shouldn't have used that word.

Bill Whitaker: When you add up all of these things, as your critics have done, you've given them a lot of ammunition to paint you as this instigator. 

Ray Epps: There was an effort to make me a scapegoat. 

Tom Joscelyn: If Ray Epps was a covert plant, he is the worst covert plant of all time. If you are part of some elaborate conspiracy against thousands of people in Washington, D.C., I don't know why you'd want to stand out from the crowd the way Ray Epps did.

Tom Joscelyn 60 Minutes

Tom Joscelyn is a researcher and author, one of the country's top terrorism experts …  tapped by the January 6th Committee to help write its final report, which found evidence far-right extremists like the Proud Boys planned and executed the breach of the Capitol. He says the committee interviewed Epps — and found he wasn't important enough to put in the report.

Tom Joscelyn: I wouldn't defend Ray Epps or anybody else who was on the Capitol grounds that day. I would just defend the facts. So the idea that he's leading the charge or really orchestrating it is just contradicted by this mountain range of evidence. And that's what the conspiracy theorists want you to, want you to do, right? They don't want you to look at this mountain range of evidence. They want you to turn around and focus on this pebble on the ground named Ray Epps. They also don't want you to look at what President Trump was saying and doing.

He calls Epps' behavior baffling, but not evidence of a conspiracy. 

Tom Joscelyn: They've gotta come up with some sort of connective tissue between Ray Epps and the FBI, and they've got none. And so they can make up all sorts of ad hoc arguments to justify their beliefs, but that's all they are. It's not actual investigative work. It's not actual evidence.

The January 6th Committee looked at the evidence — video, phone records, travel receipts — so did the FBI. When Epps got back to Arizona on January 8th - a relative told him he was on an FBI poster "seeking information" about certain rioters.

Robyn Epps: We literally hung up the phone and walked right into the house, sat down and called the FBI.

Bill Whitaker: Do you remember what you said to the FBI?

Ray Epps: Told 'em who I was, and that I would cooperate in any way I could. I didn't break any laws.

Two months later, he met with agents.

Ray Epps: So when we met with the FBI, I mean, it was like, "Finally. We're gonna clear this up." There was no, "I take the Fifth." There was none of that. It was just like we're talkin' right now. I went through everything. And they had a lotta questions.

In the summer of 2021 the FBI took his picture off the Bureau's website. Epps thought that would end his troubles, but it only added fuel to the conspiracy. 

Tucker Carlson: A new piece in "Revolver News" notes that the FBI removed a photo of Ray Epps from its Most Wanted page this summer..

President Trump: How about the one guy? Go in, in. Go in! Epps. Get in there! Go! Go! Go! Nothing happens to him.

The Epps would dispute that. After former President Trump mentioned Epps by name, harassment and death threats picked up.

Bill Whitaker: "I pray," to come to you to kill you. What do you think when you open a letter like that?

Robyn Epps: Scares me to death. 

It got so bad they were forced to sell their 5-acre ranch outside Phoenix. They're now in hiding, living in this 300-square foot recreational vehicle, somewhere in the Rocky Mountains — we agreed not to disclose exactly where.

Robyn Epps: It's so sad what people have done to Ray, and to us, and to our lives. Sometimes I've used my maiden name just so that we don't call attention. 

Ray Epps: I have a hard time, being a man, being on the, bein' a Marine, being on the run. I had to do the necessary things to keep my family safe.

If you're wondering what the FBI has to say about all this - for the past two years it has said nothing. After repeated queries by 60 Minutes, late this past week the Bureau issued this statement: "Ray Epps has never been an FBI source or an FBI employee."

Produced by Graham Messick. Associate producer, Jack Weingart. Associate producer, Eliza Costas. Edited by Robert Zimet.

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