Ray Epps to be interviewed by Jan. 6 committee over Capitol riot

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Ray Epps, the Arizona man who has become the central figure in a viral conspiracy theory after videos showed him encouraging people to go into the U.S. Capitol last January, will be interviewed Friday by the special House committee investigating the Capitol riot.

His attorney, John Blischak, confirmed to The Arizona Republic that he and his client will sit for a transcribed interview over Zoom on Friday with the Jan. 6 House select committee

The interview will not be public. 

“I would rather wait until that interview was completed before disclosing anything. I have nothing otherwise to hide. It’s nothing I’m worried about,” Blischak told The Republic. 

The development was first reported by Politico. Hannah Muldavin, deputy communications director for the select committee, declined comment on Wednesday. 

Epps, a 60-year-old Queen Creek resident who operates a Western-themed wedding venue, was first identified days after the riot, when videos across social media showed him the night before the event, and later appeared to show him at a police barricade when it was first breached.

But Epps was never charged in the case, and has since become the center of a viral conspiracy theory.

Social media influencers accuse Epps of being part of a secret government plot to stage the Jan. 6th riot at the U.S. Capitol and blame it on supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

Yet there is no evidence Epps was a government operative, and he may have longtime or former connections with the extremist group the Oath Keepers, some of whom were recently charged in the riot.

More: Phoenix man charged in ‘seditious conspiracy’ related to Jan. 6 Capitol breach

As to how all the online speculation has impacted Epps, his attorney said simply:

“It’s been very traumatizing.” 

Blischak indicated he may be able to discuss more details after Friday’s interview. 

Last week, two Republican senators questioned top Justice Department and FBI officials testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee about whether Epps was actually a U.S. government informant who incited rioting at the Capitol as part of a conspiracy-laden operation.

Within hours, the special House Committee investigating the Capitol insurrection disclosed that it had interviewed Epps and that he had denied taking part in any such government operation.

The committee said on Twitter, “Epps informed us that he was not employed by, working with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on Jan 5th or 6th or at any other time, & that he has never been an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency.”

Blischak said the substance of Friday’s interview will be to confirm Epps is telling the truth. When asked by The Republic about his client’s involvement on Jan. 6, he said  Epps was “merely present” that day.

“He did not have any agenda to go into the Capitol or cause any violence whatsoever,” he said. 

Epps at the Capitol in 2021

Epps is not among the more than 700 people facing criminal charges related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The Republic identified Epps last January as the man shown in a video a day before the riot. He is wearing khakis and a red Trump hat and tells the interviewer, “I’m going to put it out there. I’m probably going to go to jail for it, OK. Tomorrow, we need to go into the Capitol. Into the Capitol.”

As people in the crowd start yelling, he adds, “Peacefully.”

The crowd starts chanting, “Fed, fed, fed.” 

In another video taken the day of the Capitol riot, Epps cups his hands around his mouth and yells, “OK folks, spread the word. As soon as the president is done speaking, we go to the Capitol. The Capitol is this direction.” 

Epps has avoided talking to the media on his attorney’s advice. But last January in a brief telephone interview with The Republic, he confirmed that he had traveled to Washington, D.C., for the event, and said, “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

He told The Republic he is a law-abiding citizen. 

When asked what he meant in videos by going into the Capitol, he said, “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.” 

Then he ended the conversation, saying he had been advised by his attorney not to say anything. 

Another video from the scene of the raid appears to show him at a line of barricades, crossing that line as others smash down the barricades and topple the police officers behind him. But that video does not extend to the time that rioters actually entered the Capitol building.

Epp’s attorney told The Republic this week that his client did not go into the Capitol that day. 

FBI posted, then removed photos

Photos showing Epps outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were prominently posted on an FBI website that seeks the public’s help in identifying people who may have entered the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. But those images were removed several months later, fueling online speculation at to why.

When asked this week whether the FBI has indicated why the photos were removed, Epps’ attorney said, “I have an answer for that, but, again, would rather answer all those questions after the statement on Friday.”

 Epps is a longtime Arizona businessman. 

In a video taken the day before the Capitol riot, Epps tells the interviewer he is from Queen Creek and is “with the Knotty Barn.”

Webpages for the Knotty Barn, a Western-themed wedding venue, and Rocking R Farms in Queen Creek describe Ray Epps as the owner. The site previously included photos of him, though those photos have been removed since Jan. 6, 2021.

Epps may have longtime — or former — ties to the Oath Keepers, which experts say started during the Obama administration as a group to fight what it saw as federal government overreach and has since become more of an extremist group.

The whistleblower group Distributed Denial of Secrets released a database hacked from the Oath Keepers website, which includes a file that purportedly provides names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of almost 40,000 members. Those fields appear to be based on a sign-up form. USA TODAY reporters have independently verified the accuracy of dozens of members whose names appear on the list. 

That database lists Epps as a member, and includes a home address for him, which matches the address of a home in Mesa that Epps owned until 2010. The database lists a membership number for each person, numbering to more than 38,000. Epps’ number is in the 400s, suggesting he may have been added to the list early on.

Archives of emails sent by the Oath Keepers can be found online, soliciting attendees for events as far back as 2011. They describe Epps as state chapter president.

Epps has not responded to questions from The Republic regarding the Oath Keepers. 

The USA TODAY Network contributed to this story. 

Reach the reporter at anne.ryman@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8072. Follow her on Twitter @anneryman.

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