TULAROSA, NM – He rodeo on a Buffalo Bill-style Wild West show, carried his message on horseback from the Holy Land to Times Square, and was invited to the White House to meet the President.
But luck may have run out for this cowboy pastor who rode to national political glory by hugging former President Donald Trump with a line of horse caravans and collapsing on Jan. 6 with a defiant stance against the election of President Joe Biden.
Today Couy Griffin is divorced, disparaged by the family, and faces a political recall, state corruption investigation, and federal charges.
And yet he remains determined. He sees himself as governor one day.
The first-term district commissioner forged a group of rodeo acquaintances into a cowboys for Trump campaign in 2019 to get his conservative message across on gun rights, immigration controls and abortion restrictions.
Trump’s electoral defeat put the 47-year-old father in a lonely struggle for his political life after preaching to crowds during the siege of the U.S. Capitol and promising to bring his weapons to Biden’s inauguration and end up in prison for over a week.
In Washington, prosecutors revealed photos of Griffin climbing a fallen fence and another barrier to reach the Capitol steps.
Prosecutors say a close reading of the law shows the area was not closed. They say Griffin did not participate in violence and was within his right to freedom of expression when he voiced election complaints and tried to lead a prayer with a megaphone.
Griffin is one of thousands of Trump loyalists in public office with plans for an uncertain future ahead of the 2022 election cycle. He is part of a smaller cadre that has flirted with the uprising on behalf of Trump and can still pay a high price. In total, more than 400 people were charged in the uprising, killing five and injuring dozens of officials.
Griffin has been reprimanded by some Republicans for his racial abuse. He has also been suspended from Facebook and banned from Native American land in his district as he denies charges of breaking into the Capitol and disrupting Congress, which could result in a one-year prison term. A recall is ongoing amid a host of lawsuits.
Still, loyal voters are easy to find in a rural district steeped in the anti-establishment and gun culture that dominates southern New Mexico.
“He doesn’t mean malice to anyone,” George Seeds said outside New Heart Cowboy Church in Alamogordo, where Griffin once served as a pastor. “His concern is about the direction of this country, where it is going.”
Resistance to the federal government and its oversight of public land are cornerstones of politics in Otero County, which encompasses an area three times the size of Delaware, from the dunes of White Sands National Park to the peaks of Lincoln National Forest.
Banned from Washington until the testimony or in court, Griffin returns to normal domestic routines in a neat, double-width trailer in Tularosa and works as a stonemason most days. A donkey named Henry yells from a side courtyard.
Speaking to The Associated Press, Griffin says he learned to love the limelight while working as a rodeo expert on a Wild West show at Disneyland Park in Paris for five years.
His trips with Cowboys for Trump through numerous states were a repetition of his missionary trips from Ireland to Jerusalem before he distributed the Gospel of John on social media.
The group captured the public imagination with their first outing, a 2019 flag-waving drive along the banks of the Potomac River to Arlington National Cemetery.
Ramie Harper, a 67-year-old ex-bull rider from Fruitland, took a break from making bespoke hats to join the caravan.
“You loved it,” said Harper. “We went to ‘Fox & Friends’ the next day.”
With calls for an independent investigation into the Capitol siege blocked by the Senate Republicans, Griffin is bailed out and giving his opinion.
He is an advocate of tougher federal electoral laws and a staunch opponent of COVID-19 restrictions who says “hell no” to taking the vaccine.
Griffin still wears a monogrammed Cowboys for Trump shirt to mandate meetings. But his loyalty to Trump has wavered.
“I don’t have the same confidence in him,” said Griffin. “Whenever you say, ‘China stole the elections. … the election was stolen from me ‘and then you just walk away? I find that difficult to accept. “
He says his obsession with politics took its toll and contributed to his 2019 divorce and tensions with relatives.
“My own family has said some pretty gross things,” Griffin said. “It was really tough.”
With or without Trump, Griffin still attributes unsubstantiated claims of massive 2020 election fraud.
He longs to run for governor someday, despite the fact that state GOP leaders are openly contemptuous and Democrats hold every nationally elected office.
In close proximity, Griffin is watching an open sheriff race in 2022 in another New Mexico borough where he grew up. His grandfather, Wee Griffin, held the post in Catron County from 1963 to 1966. Trump won there in 2020 with 73% of the vote.
Griffin has cast Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham as his political nemesis on gun control, abortion and pandemic restrictions. He wants to reinvent the role of the sheriff as the governor’s brake on power.
“The county sheriff’s only duty and responsibility is to protect our individual rights,” he said. “You think the governor hates me as a district captain – put a gun and a badge on me and we’ll see.”
Jeff Swanson, leader of the Otero County Democratic Party, says Griffin’s divisive remarks are hampering the county’s efforts to secure state infrastructure spending and he has used intimidation by watching Cowboys for Trump videos from his office with a shotgun in sight recorded.
In Alamogordo, Griffin’s rhetoric about the race has hardened the determination of opponents to want him out of office.
Griffin made a damning rebuke last year when the NFL announced the opening of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black National Anthem.
“They want to destroy our country,” Griffin said in a video monologue. “I have a better idea. Why don’t you go back to Africa and start your little soccer teams. … You can play on an old, disused dirt slot. “
Everette Brown, a Navy veteran and information technology specialist at Holloman Air Force Base who is black, said the comment shows that politics changed Griffin, whom he once respected.
“I am a big boy. I can handle a lot. And that was one who got me, ”said Brown, part of a committee that wanted to call Griffin back.
Griffin has put the petition on hold for the time being on an appeal to the state Supreme Court, which has not yet decided whether to intervene. Meanwhile, prosecutors are investigating allegations that Griffin, in coordination with Cowboys for Trump, used his office for personal financial gain and signed a maintenance check for his ex-wife from his Cowboys for Trump account.
Griffin has admitted using the county building for promotional videos but said he never claimed they were linked to Otero County. He also says Cowboys for Trump is a for-profit company, not a political group.
Donnie Reynolds, a 51-year-old sales rep at an Alamogordo hardware store, says Griffin is being targeted for ties to Trump.
He says Griffin is right about many things, such as the need for a border wall.
“You will find out that he has nothing to do with such things,” he said. “You will eat a crow.”