A federal magistrate judge in Washington has ordered that a New Mexico county commissioner charged for breaching security lines at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot be detained pending trial.
Lawyers for Couy Griffin, 47, urged that he be allowed to return home, but Judge Zia Faruqui sided with prosecutors who said the Cowboys for Trump founder was a flight risk.
During a videoconference hearing Monday afternoon, Faruqui said Griffin’s disdain for the government was so intense that he was unlikely to obey the court’s orders.
"He demonstrated that he believes that violence is on the table," the magistrate said. "His statements demonstrate to me a lack of faith and belief in the legitimacy of this government. … I don’t believe that he will believe that those orders are to be respected or followed."
Griffin is known for his provocative and sometimes disturbing statements at Otero County commission meetings and elsewhere. "The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat," he said at a rally in May, before insisting he was speaking metaphorically. Following the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, Griffin said he planned to return to Washington armed for a Second Amendment rally on Inauguration Day.
Griffin was arrested near a security checkpoint in Washington on Jan. 17. He faces one misdemeanor count of entering a Secret Service-restricted area without permission during the riot earlier in the month.
A lawyer for Griffin said he had "caveated" his statement about Democrats and that all of Griffin’s statements were within First Amendment standards, but the judge sounded doubtful.
"You don’t get to say something and then say you don’t really mean it," Faruqui said. "Words matter. Facts matter … I don’t think this is political speech. This is far from it."
Griffin attorney Nicholas Smith argued that his client’s concerns with the executive branch and legislative branch did not extend to the courts. "Nothing in the record suggests he doesn’t have respect for the judiciary," Smith said.
However, the judge said he saw no reason to make such a distinction.
Smith also argued that prosecutors needed to show that Griffin knew a Secret Service protectee was at the Capitol when he allegedly breached the barricades outside.
Faruqui said it was obvious to anyone that Vice President Mike Pence was inside because of his role in the tabulation of electoral votes — the process that was the target of the Jan. 6 protesters. The judge also mentioned members of Congress, incorrectly stating that they are protected by the Secret Service.
"This is not something that was relegated to a civics class," the magistrate said. "It was an international news story. … I think that is a reasonable inference."
An initial hearing for Griffin held on Jan. 21 was aborted after he reportedly refused to talk to the judge on a telephone and refused to take a Covid-19 test that would allow him to go to an area of the D.C. jail where prisoners join video court hearings.
Smith said the episode was a misunderstanding and his client thought guards were trying to get him to speak to a lawyer seeking to represent him. Griffin has since taken a coronavirus test and been placed in the general population, the defense attorney said.
Griffin, a former street preacher and cowboy performer at Paris Disneyland, is one of the most lightly charged defendants in federal court cases stemming from the Capitol riot. He faces a maximum sentence on the current charge of up to a year in prison. Prosecutors have not alleged that he entered the Capitol, but solely that he went through police lines and took up a position on the Capitol steps during the melee.
Griffin can appeal the magistrate’s ruling to the court’s chief judge, Beryl Howell, who has said she views the events of Jan. 6 as exceptionally grave.
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