The right-wing fever swamps are grasping at every possible straw to salvage a conspiracy theory blaming the January 6 insurrection on secret elements in the federal government — instead of supporters of former President Donald Trump who attempted to keep him in office by overthrowing American democracy. And the more one were to examine the people spreading the conspiracy theories, the more it looks like they are trying to distract from their own roles in that shameful national episode.
The claims surround an Arizona man named Ray Epps, who was seen on video the night of January 5, 2021, telling a crowd of Trump supporters to enter the Capitol the next day, and was also seen outside the Capitol building during the siege. Epps was identified online and interviewed by The Arizona Republic in the days following the attack, and it does not appear that he ever actually entered the Capitol or personally committed any violent acts that day.
Epps has since become the center of a conspiracy theory pushed by far-right voices online and elevated into prime time by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, claiming that he was a pivotal figure in a plot by government elements to orchestrate the January 6 attack and to frame Trump supporters. The House select committee investigating January 6 tweeted that it spoke with Epps, who told them he had never been employed by or acted at the direction of a federal law enforcement agency. (Carlson reiterated the claim last Friday: “Clearly they’re lying about Ray Epps, there's no question about that, but what exactly are they hiding?”)
Another key figure in spreading the January 6 false-flag conspiracy theory has been Darren Beattie, a former Trump administration staffer who has partnered with Carlson and appeared in the host’s Fox Nation propaganda series Patriot Purge. In his latest move, Beattie latched onto the news that Epps will sit for a formal interview with the January 6 committee, in which media reports have quoted Epps’ attorney John Blischak.
According to Blischak’s biography on his legal practice’s website, he graduated from law school in 1975 before beginning a career as an FBI agent for nine years. He then left the bureau in the 1980s and became a prosecutor in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, before going into his own legal practice.
In Beattie’s telling, however, the fact that Epps has retained the services of a defense attorney with previous experience in law enforcement is not simply the rational act of a man who was facing questions from federal authorities — it is implicit evidence that Epps was a plant from the start. (This aspect of the conspiracy theory would also require the totally ahistorical notion that the FBI in the 1970s was any kind of left-wing organization.)
The crucial point to remember about the effort to depict the January 6 insurrection as some kind of false-flag attack is that many of its most vocal purveyors now were instead defending or even celebrating the attack as it occurred on Trump’s behalf. Only after the siege of Congress failed, followed by the legitimate efforts to investigate the event, did many of these same people pull a complete 180 and begin to fabricate the narrative in which this event falsely occurred.
The perfect example can be seen in some of the latest individuals now working to keep the Epps narrative alive, starting with former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka. As the events were unfolding on January 6, 2021, Gorka proudly declared that “patriots have taken over Capitol Hill.” (Gorka also declared on his Twitter account: “American Patriots have had enough. They have taken Capitol Hill. #StopTheSteal”)
Also present with him that day were attorneys Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, who had previously played a major role in Rudy Giuliani’s attempts to smear then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in the events leading up to Trump’s first impeachment. DiGenova, in turn, declared that the attempt to stop the certification of the national election result was “in the finest tradition of American revolutionary thought,” and the “the beginning of the continuation of the Trump movement.” DiGenova and Gorka also insisted that they opposed any violent action, and falsely claimed that the events occurring on Capitol Hill were peaceful.
But on Sunday night’s edition of Newsmax’s Gorka Reality Check, the host cheered on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for asking an FBI official about Epps during a Senate hearing. (Cruz had done so after Carlson pushed him into taking up the narrative, during a Fox News prime-time interview in which Cruz renounced his prior statements that the January 6 attackers had been “terrorists.”) Gorka then claimed that “the FBI is likely implicated” in the attack.
Gorka also spoke again with diGenova, who in this latest update of the Epps theory said the Arizona man must have worked for someone else who in turn worked for the FBI — with close links to Congress, as well. Furthermore, diGenova claimed to have known all along that the Capitol attack was a setup masterminded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
DiGenova’s claims were then taken up Monday by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who has his own record of incitement leading up to the January 6 insurrection and is currently indicted for contempt of Congress over his total refusal to speak with or provide documents to the January 6 committee.
After airing an excerpt of the former Trump campaign lawyer suggesting Epps worked for the FBI through a “cutout,” Bannon hailed diGenova’s “bombshell,” as well as Beattie’s claims about Epps’ lawyer, saying “they’re not even trying to hide this, anymore.”
Joining Bannon was Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who claimed that the “cutout” model applied to many other stories: The investigations about Russian interference in the 2016 election; the first Trump impeachment over pressuring Ukraine into investigating Biden; the January 6 investigations; as well as the congressman’s own ongoing legal saga involving an investigation for alleged underage sex trafficking.
Gaetz pledged, however, that a future Republican congressional majority would get “answers about a Department of Justice and a national security apparatus that has gone totally off the rails, they have become the enforcement wing of the Democratic Party. … There’s a lot of swamp left to be drained, and I can’t wait to get the gavels in our hands, to get the subpoenas ready to go, and to get these answers for the American people.”