In the spring of 2016, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) exploded when Donald Trump cited a baseless conspiracy theory that claimed Cruz’s Cuban-born father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. At a news conference in Evansville, Indiana, Cruz, then competing in the GOP presidential primary against the front-running Trump, slammed the celebrity TV mogul: “Let’s be clear, this is nuts. This is not a reasonable position. This is just kooky. And while I’m at it, I guess I should go ahead and admit, yes, my dad killed JFK, he is secretly Elvis, and Jimmy Hoffa is buried in his backyard.” He called Trump “a pathological liar” who “doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies.” Six years later, Cruz is now a pro-Trump conspiracy theory kook—and he’s trying to raise money off the lunacy.
A few days ago, Cruz sent out a fundraising email embracing the right-wing crackpot notion that the insurrectionist January 6 attack on the US Capitol was orchestrated by the FBI or another government agency. Hardcore Trumpists, most notably Fox host Tucker Carlson, have pushed the fact-free idea that the Deep State engineered the assault on Congress to discredit Trump and his political movement. And Cruz has rushed to the front of the loony train.
In the email, he darkly asked, “Did ANY FBI agents or confidential informants actively participate in the events that day?” And to bolster his innuendo, he reiterated another unfounded far-right claim: “We know the FBI has been misused in the past to target President Trump and our conservative movement and run interference for the Democrats.”
Sticking with the scoundrel’s method of just asking questions, he wrote potential donors, “What are they trying to hide now about the events of January 6, 2021? I’m working hard to expose the full truth and shine a light on whether there was any FBI involvement on that day… and the liberal media can’t stand it!” Endeavoring to whip up paranoia, Cruz asserted that Democrats “want to twist the events of January 6” and create a “completely dishonest narrative” to “distract voters from the the Biden administration’s failures and their Party’s extreme-left agenda.” Of course, he added that “their pals in the liberal media [are] all-in on the scam.”
Capitalizing on a specific strain of January 6 conspiracy theories, Cruz asked, “Who is Ray Epps? Was Ray Epps a federal agent or informant?” Epps was a pro-Trump protester from Arizona present at the seditious raid on Capitol Hill who has become the star in a phony right-wing narrative that was already debunked by the time Cruz sent out this plea for money.
As Glenn Kessler, who writes the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” column recently noted, “The story of Ray Epps is a depressing chronicle of our times.” As Kessler put it, the Epps saga:
follows a familiar path. Self-proclaimed Internet sleuths, seeking to prove the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol was the work of federal agents, latch onto “clues.” Partisan players weave the clues into misleading narratives. Then Fox News hosts such as Tucker Carlson elevate these claims, over and over. That catches the attention of lawmakers eager to win favor with the Trump base. Idle speculation becomes embraced as established fact.
The 60-year-old Epps, who operates a business hosting events at a farm outside Phoenix and who was once the president of the Arizona chapter of the Oath Keepers militia group, came to Washington for the pro-Trump rally held on January 6. The night before he was caught on video amid a crowd of Trumpers declaring, “In fact, tomorrow, I don’t even want to say it because I will probably be arrested. Tomorrow, we need to go into the Capitol.” A clip the next day includes Epps addressing fellow protesters. “As soon as our president is done speaking, we are going to the Capitol, where our problems are. It’s that direction,” he said, pointing. “Please spread the word.” And there is a video shot later of Epps whispering to a pro-Trump protester right before that fellow joins a group of other demonstrators who are pushing through a police barricade.
The supposition here is that Epps was a Deep State agent pulling the strings and slyly egging on these irate Trumpers to violence. (In the video of the encounter at the barricade, it’s clear the mob was storming this checkpoint with or without the participation of the man to whom Epps spoke.) But there’s also this: The FBI posted a photo of Epps on its help-us-find-the-insurrectionists website. Yet, then, the photo mysteriously disappeared. Obviously, to protect an FBI operative and cover their tracks, right? No, the FBI says, it had managed to locate Epps and no longer required the public’s assistance. Epps has not yet been charged with any crime.
From these most slender of reeds, an immense mansion of suspicion has been constructed. At a hearing in October, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.)—yes, the guy who later sent out a holiday card with a photo of him and his family holding an assortment of guns—referred to videos of Epps and asked Attorney General Merrick Garland if federal agents had schemed to provoke the Trump protesters to attack Congress. Garland replied that he cannot comment on the ongoing January 6 investigation. Aha! the conspiracists shouted. After that, a former Trump speechwriter penned a long article claiming Epps was a “Fed-Protected Provocateur.”
Cruz got into the act earlier this month. At a hearing, he proclaimed:
There are a lot of people who are understandably very concerned about Mr. Epps… Mr. Epps has not been charged with anything. No one’s explained why a person videoed urging people to go to the Capitol, a person whose conduct was so suspect the crowd believed he was a fed, would magically disappear from the list of the people the FBI was looking at.
Now Cruz and Trump were on the same conspiratorial page, for a few days later, at a rally in Arizona, Trump bellowed:
Exactly how many of those present at the Capitol complex on January 6 were FBI confidential informants, agents or otherwise, working directly or indirectly with an agency of the United States government. People want to hear this. How about the one guy, “Go in, go in, get in there, everybody,” Epps. “Get in there, go, go.” Nothing happens to him. What happened with him? Nothing happened.
As Kessler pointed out, Epps and his lawyer, not surprisingly, deny he was an undercover government operator who conned an already angry mob to angrily assault Congress. There’s no evidence to back up the conspiratorial claims, and also no proof that Epps entered the Capitol that day. Kessler awarded the Epps conspiracy theory four Pinocchios.
The lack of evidence hasn’t stopped Cruz. Not only did he use his platform in the Senate to spread unfounded anti-government paranoia; he is now trying to milk that paranoia to score campaign cash. In his fundraising email, he boasts that he has “led the search for answers on whether there was any federal involvement in January 6.” He asserts: “The American people deserve answers, and I intend to pry them out of the Biden DOJ.” Of course, his effort will be greatly helped if the recipient rushes a contribution to Cruz. He ends the email: “For Liberty.”
The Epps conspiracy theory may not be as insane as the claim that Cruz’s dad helped murder JFK. But it is groundless, as well. Though Cruz once denounced the deployment of such nuttery in politics and decried Trump’s exploitation of lies and deceit, he now has squeezed into the crazy conspiracy clown car and become a leading disciple within the Trump cult. For liberty? Nah, for money and career.