New Mexico official who said 'the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat' arrested for Capitol riot
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By Aaron Blake
President Trump's culpability for the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago will be judged by US senators in a looming impeachment trial - and possibly by the court system after he leaves the presidency.
And now a man with a personal connection to Trump - and whose violent rhetoric Trump promoted to the world - has been arrested in the riot.
Otero County, New Mexico Commissioner Couy Griffin was arrested Sunday for illegally entering the Capitol on January 6. Griffin, the head of a group called Cowboys for Trump, claims he got caught up with the crowd and didn't actually enter the building, but the affidavit says video on his personal Facebook page showed him in restricted areas.
Griffin also pledged to return to Washington with guns for President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday, and he alluded to the prospect of violence and another incursion into the offices of lawmakers. According to the affidavit, he said in a video posted after the Jan. 6 riot:
". . . 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. 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."
It's not the first time Griffin has employed such violent rhetoric. He did so in May as well. And at the time, his message was promoted by Trump on Twitter.
In the video, Griffin said, "The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat." He qualified in the video that he was only speaking metaphorically about politics.
Trump promoted the video by saying, "Thank you Cowboys. See you in New Mexico!" (Twitter suspended both Trump's and the Cowboys for Trump accounts this month.)
But while Griffin qualified his comments in the video, he later indicated to the Daily Beast that he wasn't speaking entirely figuratively. He suggested that Democratic governors who locked down their states amid the coronavirus pandemic could be guilty of treason and might face the death penalty.
"You get to pick your poison: You either go before a firing squad, or you get the end of the rope," Griffin said.
He was also asked whether anti-lockdown activists like him might need to resort to violence to get their way, and he suggested that they might.
"I'll tell you what, partner, as far as I'm concerned, there's not an option that's not on the table," Griffin said.
Trump's connection to Griffin isn't limited to the retweet. Three months earlier, Griffin had posted photos from an audience with Trump in the Oval Office to the Cowboys for Trump page on Facebook.
Trump also spoke with Griffin by phone a year earlier, after Cowboys for Trump organized a week-long horseback ride through Maryland to Washington to highlight border security. And it wasn't just a brief hello; according to Griffin, the two spoke for 30 minutes. Griffin also said Trump asked for his personal phone number.
When Griffin told Trump that his group planned to return to Washington that summer, Griffin said Trump talked about welcoming them onto the White House grounds.
"He said, 'Couy, that sounds amazing,' . . . 'If you will do that, then whenever you get here, there's 20 acres on the South Lawn and the gate will be open to you at the White House where you can ride your horses right in,' " Griffin said. "Then he jokingly said that he might have to get on my horse whenever I get there."
Griffin is hardly the only fringe figure in the conservative movement whom Trump has engaged with and promoted in ways that presidents generally avoid. But he's now one who is accused of actively taking part in an attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol - and who spoke in violent terms about a redux this week. The type of rhetoric he used surrounding his arrest echoes the message Trump decided to promote less than a year ago.
Just a day after the May retweet, Trump also tweeted of racial justice protesters, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts" - a phrase with an ugly history in American politics.)
Trump's critics argue that Trump incited the scenes we saw at the Capitol. They have significant evidence, in that some of those who participated and were arrested at least cited a belief that they were indeed acting at Trump's request. And now, they can draw a more direct through-line from Trump's promotion of violent rhetoric to the siege on the Capitol.