Sen. Ted Cruz’s humiliating appearance on last night’s edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight is getting lots of attention, for the manner in which the senator reversed himself on labeling January 6 insurrectionists who had assaulted police as “terrorists.” But another key detail should not be lost through the cracks: As part of his seeming penance, Cruz also signed up in advancing Carlson’s propaganda campaign suggesting that the entire riot had been a false flag operation mounted by government elements in order to persecute conservatives.
The discussion centered around an Arizona man named Ray Epps, who on the night of January 5, 2021, was seen on video telling a crowd to enter the Capitol the next day, and was also seen outside on the Capitol grounds during the siege. Epps was identified online and interviewed by The Arizona Republic in the days following the attack.
“I didn't do anything wrong,” he told the paper, adding: “It was totally, totally wrong the way they went in.”
There is no credible evidence that Epps was some kind of point man in leading the entire attack. But his name has been spread prolifically by Darren Beattie, Carlson’s main partner in spreading the false flag conspiracy theory, claiming that Epps should “expose his handlers” in the government. (Beattie is a former Trump White House staffer who previously left his job after reports surfaced that he had attended a white nationalist conference.) Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon ran clips of Beattie and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) talking up Epps as a supposed government-backed instigator. (Bannon, of course, had his own record of incitement leading up to January 6, 2021.)
Epps was also mentioned in a tirade delivered Thursday on Alex Jones’ show by guitarist and former National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent, who claimed that Black Lives, anti-fascist elements, and FBI “punks” had “perpetrated all the violence, all the violent activity, dressed in Trump regalia. Who the hell doesn’t know this?”
And in a key moment last night, Cruz agreed with Carlson that the “obvious implication” was that Epps had been working with the FBI — though it was also “not conclusive.”
Just to be clear, PolitiFact explained this past November that Epps’ removal from the FBI’s most wanted list “could also merely confirm that the FBI is no longer seeking help in locating him,” or that he “may have already been interviewed by investigators.” The site also noted that while Epps was on the Capitol grounds during the riot, there does not appear to be any evidence that he actually entered the building or committed violent acts, the two main categories that have led to charges against other individuals connected to the insurrection.
The Washington Post caught this moment, albeit buried way down in the second-to-last paragraph of his analysis piece that focused more on how Carlson called out the fact that Cruz was obviously pulling an about-face due to political pressure. (While Cruz claimed that his wording had been “sloppy,” he had in fact used the term “terrorist attack” multiples times both verbally and in writing in the aftermath of the siege.)
The interview ultimately turned to friendlier topics, like speculating about whether a person present at the Capitol who was encouraging violence on Jan. 6 was an FBI informant — a hobbyhorse of Carlson’s that has often gone awry. Cruz concluded it by saying of the alleged efforts to tarnish Trump supporters, “I’m the one leading the fight in the Senate against this garbage.”
If he wasn’t before, he surely is now — even if it means not saying what he really thinks and disowning what he said before. The situation demands it.
Others have missed it entirely, including Politico’s write-up of Cruz’s hypocrisy and self-abasement, as did CNN New Day co-anchors John Berman and Brianna Keilar, the latter of whom said: “I think that, you know, Tucker Carlson will be picking his teeth this morning with Ted Cruz’s spine.”
The problem is, Ted Cruz being utterly spineless is hardly news at all. The real focus should be on how the Overton window in conservative media has shifted so much to the far-right that Republican officeholders are now willing to become mouthpieces for every unhinged conspiracy theory Tucker Carlson has to offer.