Couy Griffin, the founder of the organization Cowboys for Trump, was released from a federal prison on Friday, where he remained in pretrial detention on allegations stemming from the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol.
Griffin, who is also a county commissioner in New Mexico, was arrested by the FBI on Jan. 17 and charged with knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds without lawful entry after video showed him breaching the Capitol grounds, according to the Justice Department.
Last week, a judge in Washington ordered Griffin detained pending trial, ruling that his history of provocative statements suggested that he was at risk of not showing up for trial.
In a Feb. 5 order (pdf), Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell overturned the lower court ruling, saying she weighed Griffin’s unrepentant appearance among the crowd at the Capitol against his apparently candid subsequent interactions with law enforcement. She noted repeatedly that Griffin on Jan. 6 did not carry weapons, commit violence, or enter the Capitol.
“I appreciate that the charge here is that he disregarded signage about restricted areas of the Capitol on Jan. 6. But his subsequent cooperation with law enforcement showed that he is not a person who has a categorical disdain and disregard for any and every government act or authority,” Howell said.
Griffin denies federal charges that he knowingly entered barricaded areas of the Capitol grounds with the intent to disrupt government as Congress convened for a joint session to certify electoral votes.
Under the terms of his release, Griffin is banned from visiting Washington outside of court proceedings, must surrender his passport, and must not possess a firearm, destructive device, or any other weapon.
According to the Justice Department and an affidavit (pdf), Griffin told FBI special agents that he had traveled to the nation’s capital on Jan. 6 with another person to participate in a protest over election integrity.
When Griffin arrived at the U.S. Capitol, he noticed a large crowd forming around the barricade and that he was “caught up” in that crowd, which pushed its way through the barricades and into a restricted area, he told agents.
Griffin said he and his friend didn’t enter the U.S. Capitol building at any time and remained on the steps outside the building during the breach. During that time, he led a group of protesters in prayer using a bullhorn “outside the Capitol, but up where the president is inaugurated at.” Videos of the incident and other open-source materials corroborated Griffin’s statements, according to the affidavit.
He said that the police never asked him to leave the area, and he and his friend exited the U.S. Capitol grounds peacefully.
More than 150 people have been charged in federal court with crimes following the Jan. 6 incident.
Janita Kan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.