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A Judge Ordered The "Cowboys For Trump" Founder To Remain In Jail Through His Trial

"Words matter. Facts matter," a federal magistrate judge in Washington said Monday in ordering Couy Griffin jailed pending trial.

Posted on February 1, 2021, at 5:22 p.m. ET

Gotham / Getty Images

Couy Griffin in New York City, May 1, 2020

WASHINGTON — A judge on Monday ordered Couy Griffin — the "Cowboys for Trump" founder charged with participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection — to remain in jail pending trial, agreeing with prosecutors that he was a flight risk and posed a danger to the community if released.

Griffin, a county commissioner in Otero County, New Mexico, is charged with one count of illegally entering a restricted area. In other cases where the government has argued for pretrial incarceration for people charged in the insurrection, the defendants have typically faced more serious felony counts, such as assaulting law enforcement or conspiracy. But prosecutors argued that a combination of factors made Griffin a danger, including his threats of violence if he returned to Washington, DC, for President Joe Biden's inauguration — prosecutors quoted him saying "there's gonna be blood running out of that building" in a now-deleted Facebook video — and his refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the election.

Announcing his decision from the bench after hearing arguments, Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui cited Griffin's threatening statements — prosecutors quoted him previously saying that "the only good Democrat is a dead democrat" — and the fact that after Jan. 6, he hadn't shown remorse and had instead "doubled down" by vowing to go back to Washington. The refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the election, the judge said, meant he couldn't have confidence that Griffin would obey orders if released.

"We all live in a system of rules where we have to follow them, and if we don't, there are consequences," Faruqui said.

Griffin's lawyer had argued that the judge couldn't consider his political beliefs in deciding whether to hold him, adding that his alleged actions were less serious than those of other jailed defendants because he hadn't gone inside the Capitol. But Faruqui said that Griffin couldn't make threats and then claim he didn't mean them and that there was strong evidence that he'd gone into a clearly restricted area as part of "an attempt to stop Democracy from moving forward because people were happy about the results of an election." Faruqui said it was "beyond implausible" that the people at the Capitol that day to protest Congress's certification of Biden's win didn't know they were going into a protected zone.

"Words matter. Facts matter," he said.

Griffin can appeal Faruqui's decision to Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the US District Court for the District of Columbia. But Howell has already signaled that defendants in these cases face a steep climb in convincing her they should be released as their cases go forward. At a hearing last week for Richard Barnett, the man identified in photographs sitting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office with his foot on a desk, Howell ordered him kept behind bars, angrily decrying his "entitled" behavior and "total disregard" for the law and the Constitution.

The vast majority of people charged with participating in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol have been granted pretrial release. Faruqui said on Monday that the government's "very measured approach" in only asking for detention in a small percentage of these cases meant it carried more weight when they did.

In arguing to keep Griffin behind bars, prosecutors highlighted the now-deleted video that he'd published on the Cowboys for Trump Facebook page after the Jan. 6 insurrection saying he planned to go back to Washington for Biden's inauguration.

"We could have a 2nd Amendment rally on those same steps that we had that rally yesterday. You know, and if we do, then it's gonna be a sad day, because there's gonna be blood running out of that building," Griffin said in the video, according to a transcript included in his charging papers. "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."

In an interview with the FBI, Griffin, who said he'd met President Donald Trump twice, including once at the White House, admitted going up to the Capitol steps. Asked about his plans to go back to Washington, Griffin told the FBI that he'd hoped it would be nonviolent but that there was "no option that's off the table for the sake of freedom."

"If the defendant denies the authority of the lawfully elected President of the United States, whose election was certified by the Congress of the United States,
certainly he would deny the authority of the judicial officers appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate," prosecutors wrote in Jan. 19 memo arguing for detention.

Prosecutors also said that Griffin's background weighed against releasing him pending trial, including the fact that he didn't have a profession — "whether as cowboy, cowboy actor, restauranteur, or otherwise," they wrote — and that he'd engaged in "inflammatory, racist, and at least borderline threatening advocacy" as the leader of Cowboys for Trump.

Griffin's lawyer argued on Monday that he understood why the government was concerned about some of his "unfortunate statements" but insisted he wasn't a flight risk or a danger, saying he had strong family ties in his community in New Mexico and a lack of criminal history.

Late last week, Faruqui issued an order revealing that Griffin had been held in isolation in jail since his arrest on Jan. 17 because he'd refused to take a COVID-19 test, and he also had refused to participate remotely in his first court appearance in Washington on Jan. 21. Griffin's lawyer indicated in a recent court filing that his client was struggling with some of the conditions at the DC jail, but Faruqui was unmoved; the judge also ordered Griffin to appear at Monday's hearing or face contempt.

"Simply taking a COVID-19 test, something hundreds of millions of people have safely done across the world, will allow the defendant to exit isolation," the judge wrote.

Griffin's lawyer told the judge on Monday that his client had finally taken a COVID test and was now in the general population at the jail.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.