Experts alarmed by GOP secretary of state candidate’s conspiracy theorizing in New Mexico

Audrey Trujillo, the Republican candidate for New Mexico Secretary of State, appeared on Steve Bannon’s podcast in June to explain why she’s convinced former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

“Somebody asked me, ‘How do you know Trump won New Mexico?’ and I’m like, ‘We didn’t see Biden signs anywhere,’ ” Trujillo told Bannon, podcast host and former Trump adviser, who is awaiting sentencing on a federal conviction for contempt of Congress and separately facing charges of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy in New York State.

“We saw Trump signs,” Trujillo said. “We saw huge convoys. We had so many people that were so excited to see Trump continue in his presidency.”

Trujillo has embraced a wide range of conspiracy theories, including that President Joe Biden has been replaced by a clone and that school shootings are carried out by a shadowy “deep state” in order to push gun control on the American public. Last year, her social media account shared an antisemitic meme insinuating a Jewish conspiracy to push COVID-19 vaccines on the public. She told the Albuquerque Journal her account was hacked before switching gears and claiming she may have shared the image but didn’t have any “racist intent.”

She’s also a regular guest on the conspiracy podcast “Spoken Words in New Mexico,” telling host Jordilynn Ortiz in August that legalized abortion is a plot against Black and Hispanic communities.

“Look at the people who support BLM. They’re the same people that support abortion,” Trujillo said. “And they don’t realize, the whole point of those Planned Parenthoods was to put ‘em in those areas where we had the Black population, where we had, you know, Hispanics. To kill our babies!”

Only 6% of Planned Parenthoods are located in majority-Black areas, and abortion bans disproportionately harm people of color, according to doctors, researchers and advocates.

Despite her numerous false claims, 33% of voters in New Mexico say they would cast their ballots for her, according to recent polling by the Albuquerque Journal. Still, she trails incumbent Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver by a wide margin, with 45% of likely voters favoring Toulouse Oliver. Trujillo is also far behind on fundraising, with only $63,852 in her campaign coffers compared to $466,231 raised by Toulouse Oliver.

Despite the seemingly long election odds, Trujillo has gained a measure of national influence through her prolific use of social media and alliance with major far-right figures like Bannon. She is a member of a national alliance of election-denying candidates vying to become their state’s top elections administrator called the “ America First SOS Coalition.” She’s slated to appear at the Ruidoso Convention Center on Oct. 7 along with major national conspiracy figures Mike Lindell, Joe Oltmann and Seth Keshel.

Trujillo ran unopposed in the N.M. primary for the party nomination, but very little of her campaign’s financial support has come from Republican Party PACs, with only $2,700 total PAC contributions to Trujillo over the course of the election cycle.

Mike Curtis, communications director for the Republican Party of New Mexico, declined to answer questions about the party’s support for Trujillo, responding only that Source New Mexico should direct questions to Trujillo’s campaign. A recent email flyer circulated by the party advertised a meet-and-greet with Trujillo in Mesilla, though the flyer noted Trujillo’s own campaign was paying for the event.

According to Bret Schafer of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a nonpartisan think tank that works to combat authoritarian attacks on democracies worldwide, Trujillo consistently ranks among the top three most influential Secretary of State candidates on social media nationwide. The group maintains a tool, the Midterm Monitor, for tracking political candidates’ reactions and follows on various social media platforms.

Schafer said it’s impossible to tell whether the reactions to Trujillo’s social media are driven by supporters, opponents or simply by “morbid curiosity.”

“I guess if you’re taking the glass-half-empty approach, it would be that there is significant public interest in the platforms of election deniers,” he said. “If you were taking a more optimistic view, it would be that this is also on the radar of the public in general to push back.”

Schafer said secretary of state positions are among the most critical elected offices, since the winner gains direct influence over the voting process.

“Being an election denier inherently suggests that you are partisan in your leanings and have at least engaged with, on some level, conspiracy theories,” he said. “And this is not just a problem of narrative. You’re seeing in some cases that decisions are being made, laws are being changed.”

Schafer pointed to the example of Nye County, Nevada, where the county commission voted to hand count all ballots, using debunked conspiracy theories about voting machines as a rationale. Republican Nye County Clerk Sandra Merlino warned commissioners that hand counting is less accurate than machine tabulators and risks introducing confusion into the process, before resigning in frustration after the commission ignored her warnings.

David Armiak, of the progressive watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy, warned of the dangers of electing conspiracy theorists in even starker terms.

“We’re in deep trouble for democracy, because if this group comes in power, they could potentially be in power continuously” by changing election rules to ensure their own re-election, he said. “So that’s moving us towards authoritarianism or fascism.”

Rachel Orey, associate director of the Elections Project at Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Bipartisan Policy Center, said the two major risks of election deniers taking secretary of state positions are that they could potentially disrupt election processes, and that they could undermine public confidence in elections.

“When you have the spokespeople for elections in a state not believing the results of the election… it’s going to further the fracturing of the American public,” she said. “I could absolutely see another Jan. 6 happening at the state level. I hope that does not come to fruition, but it is on the table.”

Trujillo has been endorsed by David and Erin Clements, who have played a major role in sowing discord and disrupting elections in New Mexico, and were named by NPR as some of the most influential election deniers in the country. David Clements claimed to have met with Trujillo in July, and Trujillo has repeatedly shared posts by the Clements on social media.

David and Erin Clements were the masterminds behind a statewide push for county commissions to refuse certification of the June 7 primary elections. Commissioners in at least three counties acting on the Clements’ advice voted against certification, though all counties eventually certified the results. Trujillo posted a message to Facebook days after the election urging county commissioners to vote against certification. In Otero County, the New Mexico Supreme Court had to step in and order the commission to certify the elections.

Trujillo did not respond to emailed requests for comment for this story. David and Erin Clements declined to comment.

Alex Curtas, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office in New Mexico, said he thinks it’s unlikely that election deniers could cause a total breakdown in the state’s electoral system.

“I think our laws, the institutions we have, are really good. And I think they would still hold up, and the way they’re structured would resist even an election denier being in the Secretary of State’s Office,” he said.

Still, he said, a conspiracy theorist taking the reins could cause a lot of damage. He pointed to the example of the Otero County commission’s refusal to certify the primary election results.

“We mobilized very quickly to give as much information as we could to the Otero County clerk, the Otero County attorney… and we had to then take them to court to make sure the Otero County Commission acting as the election board didn’t disenfranchise something like 8,000 voters,” he said. “That scenario… with someone like Audrey Trujillo as Secretary of State would have played out quite different.”

Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Marisa Demarco for questions: Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.

Election deniers rally behind an unrepentant Couy Griffin after court removes the Cowboys for Trump founder from office

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.

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.

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.

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.

Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Marisa Demarco for questions: Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.

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

The Otero County Commission met Thursday for the first time since former Commissioner Couy Griffin was removed from office by court order earlier this week because of his participation in the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Griffin’s nameplate and chair were both absent from the dais as the two remaining commissioners called the regular meeting to order. Griffin, however, attended the meeting and even spoke during the public comment session.

Each speaker was given three minutes to address the commission, and Griffin used his time to discuss two items on the agenda — funding for a road and a contract extension for the county attorney. But Griffin also used the final minute of his allotted time to address his removal from office, telling those in attendance that his computer was seized by county officials before he was notified that District Court Judge Francis J. Mathew had ruled Griffin could no longer serve in his elected position — or any other for the rest of his life.

“This has been the hardest time of my life, not that I’m trying to get anybody’s sympathy. But it’s been very difficult for me,” Griffin said. “I think that it’s just very difficult that I don’t have the respect of being able to be out by Friday without having the county sheriff or the sheriff’s department standing guard.”

In an interview Thursday, Griffin told Source New Mexico that he learned of the judge’s ruling during a phone call from the Otero County manager. That’s also when he learned he no longer had access to his county office, and that his county-issued computer had been removed from his office.

“That’s the thing that has hurt the most in this. I kind of was bracing myself because I figured that it was going to go this way,” Griffin said. “I’ve been in my office, cleaning my office out today with the undersheriff standing guard in the room. They won’t even give me a key to my office so I can get my stuff out without being surveilled by the sheriff’s department.”

Judge Mathew ruled Tuesday that Griffin was to be removed from his elected position and barred for life from holding any other elected federal and state positions.

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

The case against Griffin was initially filed in March by three New Mexico residents who argued Griffin should be removed from his elected position for violating the Constitution, specifically because of his participation in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Griffin represented himself during a two-day bench trial last month in District Court in Santa Fe. In Tuesday’s decision, Judge Mathew ruled that Griffin had broken his oath to support the Constitution when he participated in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack in Washington, D.C., violating Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

Griffin said he plans to appeal the ruling and that during the appeals process, he won’t be representing himself. Instead, he will be hiring “some great legal minds.”

The decision to represent himself during the bench trial was made, Griffin said, because he felt he’d provided the judge with strong evidence to have the case dismissed, and he never thought the case would go to trial. He also expressed frustration that a judge, and not Otero County voters, had the final say.

“The left is always crying about how our democracy is under attack. Well what bigger example is there whenever the courts remove a duly elected representative only to make way for the governor to hand select who she wants to represent the people?” Griffin said. “Now it’s no longer the people’s choice. It’s the governor’s choice.”

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokesperson for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, confirmed that the governor will fill the vacancy, adding that the governor accepts “applications from eligible residents” as possible replacements.

“Gov. Lujan Grisham knows that New Mexicans expect their elected officials to uphold our Constitution and rule of law,” Sackett said. “Protecting our democracy cannot be optional — the people of Otero County deserve elected officials committed to protecting and upholding our laws.”

And though he’s been removed from his seat on the county commission, Griffin showed that he won’t be silenced when it comes to county matters and is more than willing to address decisions made by his former colleagues as a private citizen. And being in the audience of Thursday’s meeting instead of being seated with the commissioners brought a specific feeling to his mind.

“Humility, brother,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s very humbling, and it’s very disappointing. … I know that sometimes you travel down a hard road to get to a better road, but God’s a gracious God, and I think he’s got me on that track.”

Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Marisa Demarco for questions: Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.

Republican Couy Griffin sentenced to time served for Jan. 6 charges

Otero County commissioner Couy Griffin avoided jail time at a federal court sentencing hearing Friday for his role in the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Judge Trevor McFadden sentenced Griffin to 14-days in jail, but since he spent more time than that in pretrial detention he will not be incarcerated, according to federal court records.

Griffin was also sentenced to one year probation, 60 hours community service, and a $3,000 fine – far less than the $50,000 he has raised online following his participation in the riot.

Griffin’s sentencing came one day after the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office asked the state Attorney General to launch a criminal investigation into Griffin and other commissioners for refusing to certify the vote count in the county’s primary, as well as attempting to unilaterally change election procedures in the county in violation of state law.

Griffin was not accused of entering the Capitol building itself on Jan. 6, but of knowingly crossing police lines to enter a restricted area outside the Capitol building. In a March bench trial, he was convicted of entering and remaining in a restricted area and acquitted of a charge of disorderly and disruptive conduct.

“Griffin climbed onto the Capitol grounds over the Olmsted Wall, knowing that police officers directed him not to enter that area,” according to the sentencing report. “After entering the area, he mounted another wall using a makeshift ramp and then waited for a door to ‘be broken down’ so he could enter the staircase leading up to the inaugural platform … Griffin remained on the Capitol grounds for over two hours while rioters engaged in acts of violence and property damage on the Capitol grounds.”

Although Griffin denies knowing he was entering a restricted area, the government’s sentencing memo reports that Griffin stayed on the Capitol grounds as rioters fought with police and broke windows to enter the building.

Griffin also recorded a video from inside the restricted area of the Capitol grounds, saying “I love the smell of napalm in the air,” in reference to crowd-control chemicals police were using against rioters, according to the sentencing report.

Source New Mexico contacted Griffin’s lawyers by phone and email and called a number listed for Griffin on the Otero County Commission website, but was not able to reach either Griffin or his lawyers before publication of this article. A public information officer for the US Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C. declined to comment. A spokesperson officer for the US Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C. declined to comment.

Griffin continued agitating against the election results after Jan. 6 and made threatening remarks towards Congress and President Joe Biden, according to the sentencing report.

In a video recorded the day after the Capitol riot, Griffin said the riot could have been worse.

“You want to say that was a mob? You want to say that was violence? No, sir. No, ma’am. No, we could have had a 2nd Amendment rally on those same steps that we had that rally yesterday,” Griffin said in the video. “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.”

A week later, Griffin said that he was planning to return to D.C. for Biden’s inauguration and would bring guns with him, according to the sentencing report. Following his arrest, he continued to insist he did nothing wrong, and posted tweets insulting the federal judge overseeing his case.

Webpages set up for Griffin’s defense also raised over $50,000 online, despite the fact that he was using court-appointed lawyers at no cost to himself. The sentencing report notes that the webpage posted a picture of a $5,000 check written from Couy Griffin to the Barnett Law Firm. The Barnett Law Firm did not represent Griffin in his Capitol riot case.

In the sentencing memorandum, government lawyers recommended a sentence of 90 days in jail for Griffin, noting that he has shown “an utter lack of remorse for his actions.”

The government also recommended Griffin pay a fine of $1,000 and additional restitution of $500. Noting the more than $50,000 he raised, prosecutors wrote that Griffin “should not be able to ‘capitalize’ on his participation in the Capitol siege in this way.”

In their own sentencing memo, Griffin’s lawyers argued that he is in fact sorry for his actions.

“Griffin deeply regrets his decision to climb on the inaugural platform and enter the restricted area. To the extent his presence there contributed to the distress of outnumbered law enforcement officers, he offers them his sincere apology,” the lawyers wrote. “Though he is of limited means, Griffin would seize an opportunity to offer assistance to injured officers and to contribute to the repair of physical damage to the Capitol.”

Griffin requested a sentence “no greater than two months’ probation,” the lawyers wrote.

NM Supreme Court steps in after Otero County refuses to certify primary results

This week, Griffin and the other two members of the Otero County Commission refused to certify the results of the state’s June 7 primary election, citing vague concerns about voting machines. The New Mexico Supreme Court Wednesday ordered the commission to reconvene by June 17 and certify the results.

Griffin told CNN Thursday that he was planning to defy the court order.

The Secretary of State’s office also referred Griffin and the other two members of the Otero County Commission, Vickie Marquardt and Gerald Matherly, to the New Mexico Attorney General’s office for potential criminal prosecution.

In the referral, the Secretary of State alleged that the members of the commission likely committed felonies when they refused to follow election code by voting not to certify the primary results, as well as by voting at an earlier meeting to discard legally-mandated election procedures by removing ballot dropboxes, removing voting machines and ordering an unauthorized hand recount of the ballots.

Source New Mexico is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Source New Mexico maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Marisa Demarco for questions: Follow Source New Mexico on Facebook and Twitter.