A lawyer for Ray Epps, the man at the center of a prominent conspiracy theory about the Capitol riot, sent a letter on Thursday to the Fox News host Tucker Carlson demanding that he publicly retract his “false and defamatory statements” that Mr. Epps had worked as a government provocateur on Jan. 6, 2021, and helped to instigate the mob attack.
The letter to Mr. Carlson from the lawyer, Michael Teter, also demanded a “formal on-air apology for the lies” that have been “spread about Mr. Epps” by others at Fox.
“The fanciful notions that Mr. Carlson advances on his show regarding Mr. Epps’s involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection are demonstrably (and already proven to be) false,” Mr. Teter wrote. “And yet Mr. Carlson persists with his assault on the truth.”
Letters seeking retractions and apologies are often sent when lawyers are preparing to file a defamation lawsuit. As Mr. Teter noted, Mr. Epps’s demands come as Mr. Carlson and other top figures at Fox are already under pressure from a $1.6 billion defamation suit brought by Dominion Voting Systems accusing them of amplifying lies that the voting machine company was involved in a bizarre plot to steal votes from President Donald J. Trump during the 2020 election.
In a series of recent filings, Dominion revealed embarrassing text messages and emails swapped by several leading Fox employees showing that in private they dismissed the idea that the company was involved in voting fraud, even though they supported the notion in public. The internal communications also suggested that Fox’s corporate leadership permitted lies about the election to be spread on the network in order to keep ratings high and viewers watching.
Fox News v. Dominion Voter Systems
Documents from a lawsuit filed by the voting machine maker Dominion against Fox News have shed light on the debate inside the network over false claims related to the 2020 election.
“Recent revelations from the Dominion Voting lawsuit may help explain why Fox News has allowed the falsehoods about Mr. Epps to continue to spread, and be amplified, through its network,” Mr. Teter wrote. “But fear of losing viewers by telling them the truth is not a defense to defamation and false light.”
A spokeswoman for Fox did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Mr. Epps, a former Marine, traveled to Washington from his home in Arizona to support Mr. Trump and was videotaped on the night before the attack urging people to go inside the Capitol. He was also in the crowd on Jan. 6 moving past barricades outside the building, although he never went inside and ultimately sought to de-escalate tensions in the mob.
Still, he became the face of the conspiracy theory that the federal government had instigated the Capitol attack for a single reason: He was never charged for what he did on Jan. 6. In reality, prosecutors declined to file charges against thousands of people who had breached the barricades outside the Capitol but never entered the building.
Mr. Carlson was one of the first major figures in the news media to give the stories about Mr. Epps a wide audience. Ultimately, they were also echoed by Republican members of Congress like Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
Mr. Carlson featured Mr. Epps on his show on Fox again this month in a segment based on tens of thousands of hours of Capitol surveillance video footage, to which Speaker Kevin McCarthy granted him exclusive access. Mr. Epps appeared only briefly on the show, which broadly sought to play down the events of Jan. 6 and falsely paint the Capitol attack as a largely peaceful gathering of “sightseers.”
Mr. Teter mocked Mr. Carlson in his letter, suggesting that the TV host was trying to have it both ways.
“Oddly, Mr. Carlson now also espouses the view that those rioters were akin to peaceful tourists,” Mr. Teter wrote. “This leads to the obvious question: Is Mr. Carlson now accusing Mr. Epps of provoking peaceful protests?”
Mr. Teter’s letter requested that Mr. Carlson and Fox send written confirmation that they intended to comply with Mr. Epps’s demands by March 31. The letter also asked Fox to preserve all communications concerning the network’s arrangement with Mr. McCarthy and about any dealings that Fox or Mr. Carlson might have had with Darren Beattie, the proprietor of a website called Revolver News, which published early stories about Mr. Epps.
The letter also noted the costs that Mr. Epps and his wife had faced by being the target of a conspiracy theory. After the false stories started gaining traction, the couple sold their house and business in Arizona and went into hiding in a mobile home in the Rocky Mountains.
“Mr. and Mrs. Epps have been subjected to threats, intimidation and harassment, resulting in significant economic and emotional damages,” Mr. Teter wrote. “Each time Mr. Carlson and Fox News spreads more misinformation about Mr. Epps, the harm redoubles.”
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