As the head of Cowboys for Trump, Couy Griffin has led pro-Trump horse rides through Washington, D.C., and posed for a photo in the White House with Donald Trump. He’s a superfan of the president and on May 17, he made the case that Democrats should die.
“I’ve come to a place where I’ve come to a conclusion where the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat,” Griffin said to cheers at a rally at a New Mexico church. He was there to defy a public safety order pertaining to the coronavirus.
Griffin, a county commissioner in the state, hastily added that he only meant Democrats who were dead in “the political sense”—an effort at cleanup he repeated in an interview with The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
“I could’ve chosen a different verbiage, you know. I guess I need to be more careful when I choose the words that I speak,” Griffin said. “But you know, it’s just so hypocritical of the left how they’re blowing this up, like I’m some hate-speech murderer.”
But in the interview, Griffin also repeated his claim that “the only good Democrat is a dead one” and signaled that he still thinks some top Democrats—such as governors Ralph Northam (D-VA) and Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI)—could be guilty of treason and the punishment that comes with it.
“You get to pick your poison: you either go before a firing squad, or you get the end of the rope,” Griffin said.
Asked by The Daily Beast about whether anti-lockdown protesters are increasingly considering violence, he didn’t hesitate in his reply.
“I’ll tell you what, partner, as far as I’m concerned, there’s not an option that’s not on the table,” Griffin said.
Envisioning a scenario in which one's political opponents are hurt or dead is about as dark a turn as there can be for political discourse. And yet, Griffin has company. Anti-lockdown protesters across the country are ramping up their calls for violence against Democrats, even as states relax the coronavirus restrictions they’re protesting.
On Sunday, anti-lockdown protesters in Frankfort, Kentucky, hanged an effigy of Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear from a tree outside the state capitol. The effigy bore Beshear’s face and a message: “Sic Semper Tyrannis.” The slogan, which means “thus always to tyrants,” is associated with the assassination of Julius Caesar and has become popular with anti-government groups. It is also what John Wilkes Booth shouted from the stage of Ford's Theater after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.
In North Carolina, prominent anti-lockdown activist Adam Smith posted a Facebook Live video on Friday saying he and other activists were “willing to kill people” over coronavirus restrictions.
“But are we willing to kill people? Are we willing to lay down our lives?” Smith said in the video. “We have to say, ‘Yes.’ We have to say, ‘Yes.’ Is that violence? Is that terrorism? No, it’s not terrorism. I’m not trying to strike fear in people by saying, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ I’m gonna say, ‘If you bring guns, I’m gonna bring guns. If you’re armed with this, we’re going to be armed with this.’”
This isn’t the first time Smith has toyed with the idea of using violence to oppose coronavirus rules. He appeared at an armed “Big Igloo” protest in the state, in a reference to the “Boogaloo”—a movement of armed anti-government extremists eager for a second civil war that they’ve dubbed the “Boogaloo.” Other armed Boogaloo activists around the country have rallied to oppose coronavirus stay-at-home and public safety orders, with several showing up to “defend” businesses operating in defiance of them.
Smith has since tried to distance himself from his “willing to kill” video, claiming on Monday in a local television interview that he was just making a reference to the American Revolution.
“I’m just doing this in the mindset of 1776,” Smith said.
He didn’t respond to a request for comment. But the growing extremism from him and other anti-lockdown protesters and groups has created some fractures in the movement. Smith’s wife, Ashley Smith, is the co-founder of “Reopen NC,” a North Carolina Facebook group devoted to opposing pandemic-related restrictions. In April, Ashley Smith told The Daily Beast that she wasn’t concerned about catching COVID-19. “When it’s my time to go,” she explained. “God’s going to call me home.”
But Ashley Smith’s commitment to risking arrest over coronavirus restrictions has split her from at least one of her Facebook group’s founding members. In late April, ReOpen NC co-founder Kristen Cochran publicly broke with the group, saying she and Smith disagreed over “civil disobedience.”
“This movement has taken a turn that we were not in agreement with,” Cochran wrote on Facebook.