Ray Epps, Target of Conspiracy Theory, Pleads Guilty to Jan. 6 Misdemeanor

Ray Epps, the Trump supporter who was swept up in one of the most persistent right-wing conspiracy theories connected to the events of Jan. 6, 2021, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a single misdemeanor charge for his role in the attack on the Capitol.

The 20-minute plea hearing, conducted by video in Federal District Court in Washington, came one day after the Justice Department charged Mr. Epps with disrupting the orderly conduct of government business by entering a restricted area on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6.

Prosecutors said at the hearing that aside from breaching the barricades outside the Capitol, Mr. Epps placed his hands on a giant Trump sign that the mob used as a battering ram against the police.

Mr. Epps will face a maximum of one year in prison when he is sentenced in December.

Mr. Epps, a former Marine and wedding venue owner who voted twice for Donald J. Trump, became the unlikely focus of a conspiracy theory promoted on Fox News and by right-wing commentators. It held that he had been a covert government asset who helped instigate the riot as a way of discrediting Trump supporters.

The theory was largely based on the fact that he was never charged with any crimes, even though he was captured on video the night before the riot encouraging people to go into the Capitol. He was also seen on Jan. 6 pointing others toward the building and then entering a restricted area of the Capitol grounds.

The guilty plea entered by Mr. Epps showed that he was being held accountable for his crimes and undercut the narrative that he was being protected by the federal government.

During the hearing, a prosecutor told Judge James E. Boasberg, who is overseeing that case, that Mr. Epps had not worked as an agent of the government “before, during or after” Jan. 6. Citing the conspiracy theories, Edward J. Ungvarsky, a lawyer for Mr. Epps, asked Judge Boasberg to grant Mr. Epps unusual privileges before his sentencing, including maintaining the right to own a gun.

Mr. Ungvarsky argued that conspiracy-fueled threats had forced Mr. Epps to leave his job and home state, and justified letting Mr. Epps continue to travel freely and have access to firearms. Judge Boasberg flatly denied the request, citing his record of restricting gun access to others charged in connection with the riot.

In a statement issued after the hearing, Mr. Ungvarsky said Mr. Epps’s guilty plea was “a step in putting his life back together.”

It remains unclear why the Justice Department decided to charge Mr. Epps now, more than two and a half years after the Capitol attack. The charging document used against him, known as a criminal information, was filed two months after he brought a defamation lawsuit against Fox News, ensuring that his story would remain in the public eye for months, if not years. It also came after he decided to fight back against the conspiracy theory in the news media, granting interviews to both The New York Times and CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

Mr. Epps was one of only a handful of people who trespassed on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6 but did not enter the building itself to be prosecuted. While videos from that day clearly depict him as being in the first wave of rioters to move past a police barricade outside the Capitol, footage from later in the day shows him trying to calm the crowd around him and de-escalate tensions with the police.

A hearing for oral arguments is likely to be scheduled soon in Mr. Epps’s defamation suit against Fox, which is unfolding in Federal District Court in Wilmington, Del. His lawyer in that case, Michael Teter, said in a statement on Wednesday that Mr. Epps cooperated with the F.B.I. as soon as he learned that investigators were trying to identify him.

“Had Ray been charged earlier, Fox News would have called him a hero and political prisoner,” Mr. Teter said. “Instead, Fox News spread falsehoods about Ray that have cost him his livelihood and safety.”

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