WASHINGTON — A Donald Trump supporter who was on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack went on trial before a judge Monday after having abandoned his plan to ride a horse to the federal courthouse.
Couy Griffin was arrested in January 2021, weeks after pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol to protest the results of the 2020 election. He is the second defendant to stand trial related to the attack, two weeks after a jury convicted Jan. 6 defendant Guy Reffitt on five charges. U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, a 2017 Trump appointee, is overseeing Griffin's trial.
Griffin said Monday that he decided not to ride a horse to the courthouse because he wanted to respect the court and didn't want to create a "spectacle," although he said he might ride a horse at the end of the day depending on how the trial went. He showed up with a truck with a "COWBOYS FOR TRUMP"-branded horse trailer attached.
Griffin, a county commissioner in New Mexico and a co-founder of the group Cowboys for Trump, faces misdemeanor charges. His friend Matthew Struck testified as part of an immunity deal, verifying videos he provided to the government.
Walking into the federal courthouse Monday, Griffin insisted that a metal police barricade he climbed on the grounds of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was actually a step.
"That was a step," Griffin claimed. "It was a metal step. I used it as a step. ... You can call it a barricade. I call it a step."
Prosecutors played a video of Griffin climbing even farther up the inauguration platform using what appeared to be a wooden plank set up by rioters. They also played a video of him climbing the stairs of the inauguration platform with other members of the mob.
“I love the smell of napalm in the air,” Griffin appears to say in one of the videos.
Griffin didn’t wear a mask into the courthouse and complained to security guards that jurors were being allowed to jump the security line (as is standard practice). He eventually walked around to another entrance to the courthouse and arrived in the courtroom just minutes before his trial was set to begin.
“This day has been a long day coming,” Griffin told reporters as he walked to the second entrance. “I’ve been treated like I’m America’s biggest enemy, and all I did on that day was peacefully stand and protest with so many other Americans that are concerned about our country and the validity of our last election.”
Griffin said he still believes false claims of mass voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
“I think you’re crazy if you think Biden actually really fairly won the election,” Griffin said.
Griffin is somewhat of an outlier among Jan. 6 defendants. Thousands of people were unlawfully on the grounds of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but the Justice Department has focused on charging people suspected of either entering the Capitol building or assaulting officers outside. There have been only a handful of cases against defendants who, like Griffin, were accused of being unlawfully present on the grounds of the Capitol without engaging in violence.
Griffin's defense team argued ahead of the trial that he was being unfairly targeted for the content of his speech.
“The government will present evidence showing that hundreds or thousands of similarly situated protesters did exactly what Griffin did on January 6 and have not been charged with any crime, much less Griffin’s,” Griffin’s attorney wrote in a motion. “The evidence will show that the government selected Griffin for prosecution based on the fact that he gave a speech and led a prayer at the Capitol, that is, selected him based on protected expression.”