By Helen Coster, Tom Hals and Jack Queen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – An Arizona man filed a defamation lawsuit against Fox News on Wednesday, alleging the network spread a conspiracy theory that he played a key role in the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Ray Epps, who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, claimed in his lawsuit that Fox knowingly and recklessly spread claims that he was an undercover FBI agent who instigated the Jan. 6, 2021 attack as part of a government plot to discredit Trump.

This years-long campaign of disinformation, Epps claims in his suit, “destroyed” the lives of Epps and his wife.

Epps was interviewed by the Congressional select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack and the committee put out a statement saying he was not an FBI agent, according to the lawsuit.

Fox did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit in Delaware state court comes as voting technology company Smartmatic is suing Fox for defamation, and several months after the company settled defamation claims brought by Dominion Voting Systems for $787.5 million.

The company acknowledged the court found some Fox claims about Dominion were false.

In June, Fox News’ parent company Fox Corp settled for $12 million a lawsuit by former Fox News producer Abby Grossberg, who had claimed gender discrimination and accused the network’s lawyers of pressuring her to make misleading statements in the Dominion case.

Epps is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in amounts to be determined at trial.

Epps traveled to Washington for the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the storming of the Capitol, but he never entered the building and said in his lawsuit he tried to calm the crowd.

Epps claims that nearly a year after the attack, then-Fox host Tucker Carlson seized upon a conspiracy theory that the FBI was responsible for the insurrection and that Epps was part of that effort. Carlson told viewers in January 2022 that Epps was a “central figure” in the attack and “helped stage-manage the insurrection,” according to the lawsuit.

Fox fired Carlson in April.

Epps is suing the network for defamation and false light, alleging that the statements about him on Fox “would lead the public to believe that Epps was a federal agent working to provoke or otherwise incite others to attack the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.”

(Reporting by Helen Coster and Jack Queen in New York, and Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Jamie Freed)

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