Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin, 48, faces charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct on restricted Capitol grounds, each punishable by up to one year in prison. The charging documents say the Otero County, NM, commissioner posted a Facebook video of himself at the inauguration stage next to the capitol building within the barricaded perimeter of his grounds during the Jan. 6 siege. , in which rioters injured dozens of police officers, ransacked offices and forced the evacuation of Congress as it met to confirm the results of the 2020 election.
Griffin rejected prosecutors’ offer to plead a lesser charge and serve his probation sentence. Instead, he waived a jury trial and bet his freedom on a trial before U.S. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden, a former Fairfax County police officer and official of the Ministry of Justice Administrations of George W. Bush and Trump.
An acquittal would mark an embarrassing setback for prosecutors, potentially raising questions about the government’s decision to arrest more than 750 people and charge about half of them with misdemeanors even though, like Griffin, they did not assaulted police or damaged property. Even fewer were charged if they, like Griffin, had not entered the Capitol. His defense suggested that his prosecution was politically motivated.
But a conviction by a Trump-appointed judge could validate the Justice Department’s interpretation of events, even as the former president pushed a majority of elected Republicans to accept his baseless claims that the 2020 election was robbed and led efforts to dismiss the violence of that day.
Griffin is one of at least 10 people charged in the riot who held public office or ran for government leadership in the two-and-a-half years before the attack, according to a tally by the Associated Press.
In a pretrial order on Friday, McFadden denied Griffin’s claim that he was politically targeted. The judge ruled that many other people lured to the Capitol for a protest had been charged, and that Griffin’s leadership role and more egregious conduct at the scene might rationally merit different treatment by prosecutors.
Griffin, the judge ruled, also “ignores the fact that his elected position puts him in a different – and unprotected – category from other rioters”.
But McFadden questioned government evidence establishing the whereabouts of Vice President Mike Pence, a key requirement for conviction, demanding testimony from the US Secret Service over prosecutors’ objections.
Griffin, a former Disneyland Paris rodeo cowboy and self-proclaimed preacher, is a political provocateur whose mockery of Native American rites had him banished from neighboring lands by the Mescalero Apache tribe and who condemned as “vile scum” those who view the Confederate flag as racist. In July 2020, when the National Football League started playing the so-called Black National Anthem before games, Griffin suggested that players “go back to Africa and form your little football teams in Africa and you can play on a[n] old clay court and you can play your black national anthem there.
His partisan face-to-face style won him election with 65% of the vote in 2018 in New Mexico and a personal plea from President Trump, who also later promoted Griffin on Twitter when he said on video, “The only good democrat is a dead democrat. Griffin claimed he was speaking metaphorically. Twitter suspended both Trump and the Cowboys for Trump’s accounts in January 2021.
Griffin is a well-known figure in conservative Otero County, where he backed a $50,000 taxpayer-funded audit of the 2020 election results, even though Trump carried the county 25%.
He said he was not running for office himself. But it has called the justice system’s handling of his case a “disgrace”, saying that after his arrest last January, he spent three weeks in solitary confinement under pandemic quarantine and had to wait 14 months to stand trial for a misdemeanor.
“I didn’t do anything violent that day, I didn’t break anything, I didn’t fight with anyone,” Griffin told the court. “All I did was stand on the Capitol steps and pray with people, that’s all.”
Prosecutors disagree. They plan to call as a witness the videographer Griffin brought with him to record his activities in Washington and to show videos in which Griffin describes his conduct before and after.
The videos show Griffin on Jan. 6 scaling a stone wall and metal barricade inside the Capitol’s security perimeter, saying, “This is our home. . . we should all be armed,” prosecutors said. He spent more than an hour perched on the front railing of the inaugural stage with a megaphone, ignoring the lingering smell of pepper spray and leading the crowd below in prayer, according to video cited by prosecutors.
The following week, at a January 14, 2021 county commission meeting in Alamogordo, NM, Griffin said he knew “Mike Pence certified a fraudulent election” before heading to the Capitol grounds, prosecutors said. In a YouTube stream of the town hall meeting, Griffin also acknowledged that the crowd pushed through the fences securing the inauguration area and that he planned to travel to Washington the next day to protest Biden’s inauguration, claiming constitutional right to keep his “.357 Henry big boy rifle” and single-action revolver in his car, prosecutors said.
“You mean it was a crowd?” You mean it was violence? No sir. No, ma’am,” Griffin said in a Jan. 7 recorded video that the government cited in Griffin’s bond proceedings. “No, we could have a 2nd Amendment rally on the same steps we had that rally yesterday. You know, and if we do, it’s going to be a sad day, because there’s going to be blood spilling out of this building. But at the end of the day, you take my word for it, we’ll plant our flag on the desk of [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer and Donald J. Trump if it comes down to that.
Meanwhile, Griffin had been questioned by the FBI, telling officers “he hopes a change of direction can be accomplished ‘without a single shot being fired'”, but noted that he did not There was ‘no option that is not available in the name of freedom.’” He was arrested on January 17 just north of the Capitol.
Defense attorneys David B. Smith and Nicholas D. Smith said US authorities targeted Griffin for prosecution because of his protected speech. They say there is no evidence Griffin walked through multiple barriers, saw a “Do Not Enter” sign or was told by police to leave.
The government must prove that Griffin knew Pence was present at the Capitol building or grounds at the same time he was, Griffin’s defense argued. They maintain that Pence had been evacuated underground at 2:28 p.m. to a location that was technically outside of these grounds, and that in any case Griffin did not know where Pence was.
“As Griffin will show at trial, the place is not located in the ‘restricted area'” that prosecutors allege, Griffin’s court-appointed attorney argued in a pre-trial brief.
Prosecutors say not only was Pence in a restricted area, but Griffin’s prosecution only requires proof that Pence was present or would return there. McFadden decided that Griffin’s lawyers could cross-examine a US Secret Service inspector to probe government evidence as to Pence’s whereabouts.