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Prosecutors recommend six months in prison for a man at the center of a Jan. 6 conspiracy theory

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal prosecutors on Tuesday recommended a six-month term of imprisonment for a man at the center of a right-wing conspiracy theory about the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol — an attack that he has admitted to joining.

Ray Epps, who is scheduled to be sentenced next Tuesday, pleaded guilty in September to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct on restricted grounds.

Epps, a onetime Donald Trump supporter from Arizona, became the focus of a conspiracy theory that he was an undercover government agent who incited the Capitol attack. Right-wing news outlets amplified the conspiracy theory and drove him into hiding after the Jan. 6 riot.

Epps, who worked as a roofer after serving four years as infantry in the U.S. Marine Corps, has vehemently denied ever working for the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Gordon said during Epps’ plea hearing in September that he was not a confidential source for the FBI “or any other law enforcement agency.”

Epps, 62, filed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News Channel last year, saying the network was to blame for spreading the baseless claims that led to death threats and bullet casings in his yard.

In videos shared widely on social media and right-wing websites, Epps is seen the day before the riot saying, “Tomorrow, we need to go into the Capitol … peacefully.” On Jan. 6, video shows him saying, “As soon as the president is done speaking, we go to the Capitol.”

Epps has said he left Capitol grounds when he saw people scaling walls and never actually went inside the building.

Prosecutors say Epps participated in a “a rugby scrum-like group effort” to push past a line of police officers.

“Even if Epps did not physically touch law enforcement officers or go inside of the building, he undoubtedly engaged in collective aggressive conduct,” they wrote in a court filing.

But they also noted that Epps turned himself in to the FBI two days after the riot after learning that agents were trying to identify him. The false conspiracy theory about Epps not only has harmed him “but also attempts to undermine the integrity of the ongoing and overall federal prosecution,” prosecutors said.

“Epps only acted in furtherance of his own misguided belief in the ‘lie’ that the 2020 presidential election had been ‘stolen,'” they wrote. “However, due to the outrage directed at Epps as a result of that false conspiracy theory, he has been forced to sell his business, move to a different state, and live reclusively.”

The charge to which Epps pleaded guilty is punishable by a maximum of one year behind bars.

Epps served as an Arizona chapter leader for the Oath Keepers before parting ways with the anti-government extremist group a few years before the Jan. 6 attack.

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and other members were convicted of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6 attack for what prosecutors said was a weekslong plot to stop the transfer of power from Trump to Democrat Joe Biden. Rhodes was sentenced in May to 18 years in prison.

More than 1,200 defendants have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. Over 900 of them have pleaded guilty or been convicted after trials decided by a judge or jury.

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