The founder of the group Cowboys for Trump, who was arrested for jumping barricades outside the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection, will be released from jail Friday after a judge overturned a ruling detaining him.
On Monday, Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui had ordered the man — 47-year-old Couy Griffin — to remain locked up pending trial, siding with the government’s argument that he was a flight risk. But on Friday, US District Judge Beryl Howell ruled that he wasn’t.
Since the Capitol riots, Griffin has made several public statements threatening violence toward Democrats and members of Congress and said in a public meeting that he planned to return to DC from his home in New Mexico for President Joe Biden’s inauguration with several guns.
“We could have a Second Amendment rally on those same steps that we had that rally yesterday,” Griffin said in a video posted to the Cowboys for Trump Facebook page the day after the insurrection. “If we do … there’s gonna be blood running out of that building. But at the end of the day, you mark my word, we will plant our flag on the desk of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and Donald J. Trump if it boils down to it.”
Days before the inauguration, on Jan. 17, Griffin was arrested near the Capitol building in DC and detained.
Griffin’s lawyers say that unlike others involved in the riots and protests, he did not enter the Capitol, but instead stood on the steps of the building urging on others with a bullhorn. While he is not charged with entering the building, Griffin faces charges of knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority and knowingly engaging in disorderly or disruptive conduct in order to impede the conduct of government business.
Griffin’s lawyers had appealed the decision to detain him and argued that the very fact that Faruqui held the detention hearing at all violated Griffin’s First Amendment rights, as the hearing was in reaction to his public statements.
Howell roundly rejected those claims, saying that it is absolutely constitutional to take statements made by a defendant into consideration while considering a case and that the fact that Faruqui held the detention hearing was not only correct but necessary.
However, she said, she disagreed with Faruqui’s ruling. Howell ruled that Griffin would be released on the conditions that he possess no firearms, that he turn over his passport and stay away from DC, that he report all travel outside his home state to pretrial services, and that he report all interaction with law enforcement. These conditions are a slightly more strict version of the release conditions for the vast majority of the hundreds of people who have been charged in the Capitol insurrection.
In Friday’s hearing, the government argued that Howell should order Griffin to stay in jail because his public statements and actions showed an “anarchic” disdain for government entities and protocols, suggesting that he would likely flout any restrictions placed on him if he were released, and would likely not show up for court proceedings. They did not argue that he was a threat to his community.
Howell disagreed, saying that while Griffin clearly dislikes (“to put it mildly,” she added) Congress and the executive branch of government, “he hasn’t expressed such a disdain for the judiciary court orders, and he does express some respect for law enforcement and some rules,” Howell said. This suggests he isn’t a flight risk and would obey any conditions ordered by the court and show up for his future court dates, she said.
However, Howell continued, Griffin’s words were “deeply disturbing,” and returning to the Capitol ahead of the inauguration “certainly reflects strong convictions that many in this country would consider unpatriotic, obnoxious, repugnant to the Democratic process, certainly harmful to the American body politic when he's talking about fellow Americans.”
She specifically mentioned an interview Griffin gave to the FBI about possible protests at the inauguration, in which he said he hoped they would be peaceful, but that “no option is off the table for the sake of freedom.”
Due to delays in the court system because of COVID-19, Howell said that Griffin could plausibly wait a year before his trial, especially since Griffin refused to wear a mask, potentially delaying his trial further, Howell said.
“It might be a form of rough justice for people who don't want to wear masks contributing to the spread of the virus, sitting in jail, in pretrial detention,” Howell said. “But on the other hand, shouldn't the court be concerned about the fairness of that kind of result?”
The charges Griffin faces hold a maximum sentence of a year if he’s found guilty, Howell continued, so holding him for a year before he was found guilty seemed excessive, she said.