Cowboys for Trump founder convicted of entering U.S. Capitol illegally during January 6 attacks

Friday, March 25, 2022

Outside the U.S. Capitol during the January 6, 2021 attack on the building.
Image: Tyler Merbler.

On Tuesday, United States federal judge Trevor McFadden found Otero County commissioner from New Mexico Couy Griffin guilty of entering a restricted area, specifically the United States Capitol building. Griffin was acquitted on a charge of disorderly conduct in the same ruling.

Griffin is one of hundreds of Americans charged with crimes associated with the storming of the Capitol building on January 6, 2021 while Congress and then-Vice President Mike Pence were counting the electoral ballots from the November 2020 United States presidential election. This is the second trial associated with these events, and it is the first bench trial.

Griffin, a founding member of Cowboys for Trump, had been charged with entering a restricted area and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors. Prosecutors led by Senior Assistant U.S. Attorney Janani Iyengar argued that Griffin had climbed over a wall and temporary staircase to get into the Capitol building. McFadden said, "All of this would suggest to a normal person that perhaps you should not be entering the area." The case against Griffin also included video and testimony from another participant in the attacks.

The judge went on to note, "The defendant is never seen engaging in the kind of property destruction or physical violence seen in the government's montage" of the crowd that entered the Capitol. He also said that, because none of the statements Griffon made that day specifically asked others to perform acts of violence, they counted as free speech and not as disorderly conduct.

Griffin's lawyers argued that the Capitol did not have any signage reading "do not enter."

Couy Griffin views Marine One, carrying President Trump, as it prepares to lift off on September 12, 2019 from the South Lawn
Image: White House.

McFadden's decision sets a precedent, the Capitol was a restricted area on January 6, 2021 because it was protected by the United States Secret Service, who were there guarding Vice President Pence. Griffin's lawyers argued that, because Pence had been evacuated to a secure underground area below the Capitol, the building itself did not count as restricted when Griffin was there. This is the first time that Pence's location during the attacks was made public.

Griffin is the first of the January 6 defendants to go through a bench trial. In U.S. courts, defendants have the right to trial by jury but may choose to be tried by only a judge if they wish. The only other January 6 accusee to stand trial so far, Guy Reffitt, was tried by a jury earlier this month and found guilty on five counts.

Outside the courthouse, Griffin told the media "I wear January 6 like a badge of honor" and claimed that the United States government had set up the people who stormed the Capitol. Griffin is scheduled for sentencing on June 17, 2022.

Judge McFadden was appointed to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in 2017 by then-President Donald Trump.

On January 6, 2021, a large group of protesters met in Washington D.C. for a rally in support of then-President Donald Trump. Trump had repeatedly claimed that he, not Joe Biden, had really won the 2020 election. President Donald Trump addressed the protesters and urged them to go to the Capitol, though he did not ask for violence. Many of them later stormed inside and caused large amounts of property damage. Five people died in the chaos.