An elected official in New Mexico, who helped found the Cowboys for Trump, is sent to court in Washington next week on charges of violent uprising in the U.S. Capitol. He plans to appear in court on horseback in a show of support for the former president Donald Trump.
County Commissioner Otero Coe Griffin has been charged with intentionally entering restricted areas of the Capitol, one of hundreds of Trump supporters accused of disrupting certification. Joe BidenPresidential victory in 2020. His trial will be the second of hundreds arrested in the riots.
He is one of at least 10 people accused of rioting, who either held public office or ran for government two and a half years before the attack. These include mayoral candidates in West Texas, the Kansas and West Virginia City Councils, the Washington State County Commission, the Florida Congressional seats, and the Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia states. Another defendant on January 6 is running this year for a seat in Congress in New Hampshire.
Seven of the 10 defendants were accused of entering the Capitol building, and at least five expressed doubts about the legitimacy of the presidential election. False allegations of election security have become widespread in Republican circles, and the outcome of the Griffin trial could create political problems for other elected officials who find themselves in mass prosecution.
Griffin has held the position since 2019 and is one of three elected officials responsible for management, administration and budget. During his tenure, he was also a member of the district council for campaigning local elections.
In 2019, he along with a group of acquaintances on the rodeo helped found Cowboys for Trump to spread a conservative message about gun rights, immigration controls and restrictions on abortion. Many of these messages were delivered on horseback.
Griffin, a former rodeo rider and former pastor, plans to take his Red horse to the nation’s capital, as was previously the case in Washington with the group, and then take the animal to the courthouse.
He rejects Biden’s election in 2020 and considers Trump a real winner, despite the lack of evidence and statements by election officials, local election leaders and Trump’s own Attorney General that the results were correct.
In January, Griffin voted with his constituency commission to hire a private contractor to handle the 2020 presidential election in Otter County – where Trump won with a 62% share – with door-to-door campaigning that raised concerns about voter intimidation. The review is still underway.
Prosecutors have released a number of images showing Griffin breaking through the barricades on the day of the 2021 uprising – climbing a fallen fence and another barrier to access the steps of the Capitol. Images taken by Griffin’s own videographer show him reveling in the crowd on January 6 and using a beep to lead the crowd in prayer.
Matthew Struck, the cameraman who accompanied Griffin, has been granted immunity and is expected to testify in court, prosecutors said in a statement Thursday.
He does not deny that he was at the Capitol on January 6, 2021; he admits that he entered the barricaded area to go out into the open balcony of the Capitol in the afternoon without going inside the building.
But his lawyers demanded that the prosecutor’s office provide first-hand evidence that the then vice president Mike Pence was still in the Capitol, a prerequisite for the US Secret Service to impose restrictions on access.
Prosecutors say the exact location of Pence at the time the county commissioner entered the Capitol does not matter – and that the Secret Service should not disclose confidential security information regarding the response to the riots.
Griffin strongly disagrees.
“People are being accused of being in an unauthorized zone, and it may not have been an unauthorized zone – it’s a legal issue now,” Griffin told The Associated Press. “It’s really a disgrace on the part of Mike Pence – individually and personally – he has to speak up and tell us what time he left the building unless he tries to protect the government and tries to continue to suffer patriots.”
U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden ruled that prosecutors should call a witness to testify who knows first-hand Pence’s whereabouts during the attack if they want to try Griffin on charges of entering and staying in a prohibited building or area. Earlier, McFadden dismissed Griffin’s accusations of false and discriminatory prosecution.
Griffin was arrested on January 17, 2021 by Capitol police after returning to Washington against Biden’s election and inauguration. He spent almost three weeks behind bars before being released on trial.
Returning home to southern New Mexico, Griffin withstood an attempt to call off the election. State election officials have sued Griffin for his refusal to register the Cowboys for Trump as a political group. Griffin says the group is a commercial business and that he is concerned about identifying and harassing members.
In early March, Griffin reaffirmed that he would not seek election this year as a commissioner or otherwise participate in the 2022 election cycle, saying he had lost faith in the political system.
The fate of other politicians remains unclear. The former Pennsylvania legislature is now in jail for 60 days for being in the Capitol building during the riots. The former West Virginia lawmaker, who left office three days after joining the crowd in the building, is charged under one article on civil unrest and is due to stand trial on Friday.
A total of at least 765 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riots. At least 231 of them pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. At least 119 people involved in the riots have been convicted, 50 of them have already served their terms.
About 90 others have trial dates. The first trial of the rioter ended with a guilty verdict on all counts.
Billeaud reported from Phoenix.