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Trial begins for Cowboys for Trump founder

An elected official from New Mexico has gone on trial over charges he illegally entered the US Capitol grounds on the day a pro-Trump mob disrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential election victory.

US District Judge Trevor McFadden is scheduled to hear closing arguments on Tuesday for the case against Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin, whose trial in Washington, D.C., is the second among the hundreds for people charged with federal crimes related to the siege on January 6, 2021.

The case against Griffin is unlike most of the Capitol riot prosecutions.

He is one of the few riot defendants who is not accused of entering the Capitol or engaging in any violent or destructive behaviour.

He claims he has been selectively prosecuted for his political views.

Griffin, one of three members of the Otero County Commission in southern New Mexico, is among a handful of riot defendants who either held public office or ran for a government leadership post in the two-and-a-half years before the attack.

Griffin, a 48-year-old ex-rodeo rider and former pastor, helped found a political committee called Cowboys for Trump.

He had vowed to arrive at the courthouse on horseback. Instead, he showed up Monday as a passenger in a pickup truck with a horse trailer on the back.

Griffin is charged with two misdemeanours: entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds, and disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds.

A key question in Griffin’s case is whether he entered a restricted area while Pence was still present on Capitol grounds, a prerequisite for the US Secret Service to invoke access restrictions.

Griffin’s attorneys said in a court filing that Pence had already departed the restricted area before the earliest that Griffin could have entered it, but Secret Service inspector Lanelle Hawa testified that Pence never left the restricted area during the riot.

Defence attorney Nicholas Smith said prosecutors apparently believe Griffin engaged in disorderly conduct by peacefully leading a prayer on the Capitol steps.

“That is offensive and wrong,” Smith told the judge during his brief opening statements.

Prosecutors did not give any opening statements. Their first witness was Matthew Struck, who joined Griffin at the Capitol and served as his videographer. Struck has an immunity deal with prosecutors for his testimony.

After attending then-President Donald Trump’s ‘Stop the Steal’ rally on January 6, Griffin and Struck walked over barriers and up a staircase to enter a stage that was under construction on the Capitol’s Lower West Terrace.

Prosecutors played video clips that showed Griffin moving through the mob that formed outside the Capitol, where police used pepper spray to quell rioters.

After climbing over a stone wall and entering a restricted area outside the Capitol, Griffin said, “This is our house … we should all be armed,” according to prosecutors.

He called it “a great day for America” and added, “The people are showing that they have had enough”, prosecutors said.

In a court filing, prosecutors called Griffin “an inflammatory provocateur and fabulist who engages in racist invective and propounds baseless conspiracy theories, including that Communist China stole the 2020 Presidential Election”.

Griffin’s attorneys say hundreds if not thousands of other people did exactly what Griffin did on January 6 and have not been charged with any crimes.

More than 770 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot.

More than 230 riot defendants have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanours, and at least 127 of them have been sentenced.

Approximately 100 others have trial dates.

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