Election deniers rally behind an unrepentant Couy Griffin

Thousands of dollars raised in donations to mount a defense for former county commissioner in NM

By: - September 13, 2022 4:41 am

Flags fly at the “Justice for J6” rally attended by a few dozen people, including Couy Griffin, at the Arizona capital in September 2021. (Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy / Arizona Mirror)

The far right is rallying behind former Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin following his court-ordered removal from his commission seat last week. 

Griffin remained unrepentant, telling a far-right radio host that the judge who ordered him off the board had no authority to do so, and suggesting that shadowy forces barred him from office in order to further supposed election fraud in the state.

Griffin was removed from office by order of Judge Francis Mathew on Tuesday, Sept. 6. Mathew ruled that Griffin violated the 14th Amendment by participating in the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The attack constituted an attempt at insurrection, making Griffin ineligible to ever serve in office in the United States, Mathew ruled. The rule, originally intended to bar Confederates from office after the Civil War, had not been used in over 150 years.

Reviewing commission decisions

Mathew ruled that Griffin’s removal from office is effective retroactively since the day of the riot, meaning any votes Griffin took as a county commissioner since then are invalid. Otero County Attorney R.B. Nichols told the board Thursday that he will review all the votes since Jan. 6, 2021, to determine if Griffin cast a deciding vote in any of them.

“We may need to revisit those votes,” Nichols told the commission. “It’s kind of uncharted territory.” In figuring it out, they’ll “hopefully get some input from some other attorneys, their thoughts on what it means for the county,” he said.

Couy Griffin attends Otero County Commission meeting as a member of the public after his ouster

Griffin was convicted of entering and remaining in a restricted area during the attack on the Capitol and sentenced to 14 days in jail in June by Trump-appointed Judge Trevor McFadden. Griffin had already spent more than 14 days in jail awaiting trial, so McFadden did not order additional jail time. 

Immediately following his sentencing in Washington, D.C., Griffin called into the Otero County Commission and voted to defy an order from the New Mexico Supreme Court ordering him and other commissioners to certify the results of the 2022 primary election.

The Clements file a complaint against the judge

Griffin’s case was taken up on messaging app Telegram by election-conspiracy theorists David and Erin Clements, who posted contact information for Mathew and encouraged their followers to call and email him. Officials targeted by the Clements have often reported a wave of harassment and threats stemming from their attacks.

Erin Clements also uploaded a complaint that she told her followers she had filed against the judge and encouraged them to file similar complaints. Judge Mathew “committed a gross overstepping of his power as a state district judge by daring to attempt to remove a duly elected official, Mr. Couy Griffin, based on his own personal political vitriol and personal feelings about the conservative half of the country,” Clements wrote in the complaint.

Clements also posted a letter she wrote to the remaining commissioners, Nichols and Otero County Sheriff David Black, urging them to defy Judge Mathew’s order.

“I understand that Sheriff Black and Roy Nichols are both assisting in carrying out this unconstitutional, disgusting order which works directly against the civil rights of the citizens of Otero County,” she wrote. They should have recused themselves, she continued, in anticipation of an appeal and because the order is unconstitutional.

“They would have been within their rights to let this out-of-county judge figure out how to enforce his own order,” she wrote. “I hope you will all consider that by submitting to this out-of-district judge’s insane order, that you are giving him power he doesn’t have and setting a dangerous and disgusting precedent.”

She urged her followers to send similar letters to the sheriff and the other officials.

In an email response to Source NM, Clements challenged the legality of Mathew’s order. By “backdating what is an illegal removal in the first place, the judge took away the fundamental right of 20,000 citizens from Mr. Griffin’s district to have representation in their county government,” she wrote. 

Couy Griffin first elected official barred from office for participating in Jan. 6 attack

Nikhel Sus, senior counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said the decision to invalidate Griffin’s votes since Jan. 6, 2021, is based on cut-and-dry precedent from the New Mexico Supreme Court. CREW was one of the organizations that represented plaintiffs in the lawsuit seeking to remove Griffin from office. 

“The case law in New Mexico makes clear that the date you forfeit office, if you’re a disqualified office holder, is the date the disqualifying condition occurs,” Sus said. “That is not a point that Mr. Griffin disputed at trial.”

A campaign to recall Griffin from office failed in September 2021, but that’s irrelevant, Sus said. 

“Mr. Griffin’s argument appears to be that because the people didn’t remove him from a recall election, that he can hold office even if he’s legally disqualified from serving, and that’s just not how the law works,” he said. “That disqualification is part of the United States Constitution and is completely separate from his removability through a recall election.”

In a video posted to Telegram Thursday, David Clements called Judge Mathew’s decision “tyranny” and vowed to assist Griffin in finding a lawyer to file an appeal. In response, commenters on Clements’ channel called for Judge Mathew to be jailed, and one suggested Griffin should sue the judge for defamation.

Spreading theories and raising funds

Griffin appeared alongside Erin Clements Thursday on election denier Joe Oltmann’s podcast, telling the host that the judge did not have the right to order him removed from office. “He doesn’t have jurisdiction in this deal, man… it’s been very hard to stomach,” Griffin said.

The two people behind the election denial movement in New Mexico

Oltmann repeatedly called Judge Mathew a “Nazi,” and added “I’m not going to apologize” for the comment. He urged Griffin to lock himself in his office at the Otero County Commission and refuse to leave.

“There’s no precedent that would allow a judge to remove a sitting elected official. But that didn’t stop this Nazi judge from breaking the law,” Oltmann said.

Griffin vowed to file an appeal and doubled down on his earlier accusations of election fraud, falsely claiming that fraud had been proven in this year’s Otero County primary election and insisting he was right not to certify the results.

He also insinuated without evidence that Judge Mathew’s order was part of a conspiracy to enable wide-scale voter fraud in Otero County.

Oltmann encouraged listeners to donate to a crowdfunding page set up to fund a legal appeal for Griffin. By the end of the weekend, the page had raised nearly $10,000.

“I had an agenda item on the agenda today to call a public hearing to pass an ordinance against the ballot dropboxes,” Griffin said. “So that was my next move, was to draft an ordinance against ballot drop boxes in Otero County, and all of a sudden I’m removed from office two days before the meeting. You know, coincidence.”

He went on to say that his opponents will spend their lives in federal prison after “the truth comes out” about “the Biden laptop thing.” He did not elaborate further on what he meant by “the truth.”

Mathew did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Griffin could not be reached for comment for this story. Oltmann and David Clements did not respond to an email asking for comment.

Conservative media more broadly also rallied behind Griffin, with Breitbart writing that Griffin “apparently believed he was defending the Constitution, not rebelling against it,” while the Daily Caller claimed in a headline that “Walking Around Outside The Capitol Is Now Officially ‘Insurrection,’ Says Judge.” Numerous other conservative and right-wing outlets including the Gateway Pundit and RedState also defended Griffin following Mathew’s ruling. 


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Andrew Beale
Andrew Beale

Andrew Beale has 15 years of reporting experience, starting with the UNM Daily Lobo. He's reported for national and international publications including the New York Times, Vice and al-Jazeera from locations as far-flung as Portland and Palestine. He has a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and he resides in Southern California.