Man convicted in January 6 riots running for Santos seat in Congress

<span>Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP</span>
Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP
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Of the 15-odd Republican candidates vying to replace George Santos in Congress, one stands out so far – not just because he has now been convicted for trying to obstruct the very body he wants to join, but because he claimed to have “no idea” Congress met at the Capitol building he stormed on January 6.

Philip Grillo, a candidate in the special election for Santos’s vacant Long Island seat, was convicted this week of charges relating to the January 6 attack, when he entered and exited the building multiple times, at least once through a broken window.

At one point during the protest Grillo, 49, was interviewed on camera about why he was there.

“I’m here to stop the steal,” he said, according to the justice department. “It’s our fucking House!”

He then made his way further into the Capitol. He also recorded videos of himself in the Capitol. “We fucking did it, you understand? We stormed the Capitol,” Grillo said in one. “We shut it down! We did it! We shut the mother..!”

On his third entrance to the building, the justice department said, he could be seen in multiple instances pushing up against police officers and, in another recording, from his cell phone, smoking marijuana inside the building and high-fiving other rioters.

Recently, during his trial, he testified that he had “no idea” Congress convened inside the Capitol.

Grillo was found guilty this week of the felony charge of obstruction of an official proceeding, along with a series of misdemeanors, including entering restricted grounds and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building.

At trial, his attorney’s argued that their client had “was acting under actual or believed public authority at the time of the alleged offenses” and said “he was and believed he was authorized to engage in the conduct set forth in the indictment”.

Grillo is one of the more than 1,230 people who have been charged with crimes related to the effort on January 6 to block certification of the 2020 election.

In May, 10 days before Santos was indicted in New York on multiple charges of fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and making false statements, Grillo registered as a candidate for New York’s third congressional district seat – the seat Santos, a Republican, held until his expulsion last week.

A special election to replace Santos will be held on 13 February, the New York governor Kathy Hochul announced this week. Under electoral rules there is no primary, so Democrats and Republicans will each pick a candidate to go head-to-head.

The candidates have not been announced, but Republicans are reported to be edging toward Jack Martins, a former state senator, and Democrats toward Tom Suozzi, who represented the third congressional district before it was redrawn.

However, the Republican selection committee has said it is conducting a formal interview process. Committee chairman Joseph Cairo Jr has said the committee has “15 bona fide candidates” to review, including Grillo.

The party will be hoping that mud from the Santos affair does not stick to their candidate, and Republicans in the state of New York have in recent years been more successful in leveraging wider turnout margins and courting independent voters than Democrats.

For Democrats, the election will be a test of the party’s ability to flip districts in New York City’s suburbs and exurbs that turned red last year in a blow to the party’s majority in Congress.

Veteran strategist Hank Sheinkopf told City & State that Santos’s expulsion would likely benefit Republicans because it made them “look like the defenders of the institution, of ethics, and of the courage to oust one of their own”.

“Democrats might just for a moment pause and stop gloating. A gone Santos does not a Democrat replacement necessarily create,” Sheinkopf said.

Since his disgrace and ouster, Santos has reportedly been making the equivalent of $174,000 a year by charging $400 for brief personalized video messages on the Cameo service.

His profile on Cameo describes him as a “former congressional ‘Icon’!” along with a painted fingernail emoji and as “the expelled member of Congress from New York City”.

The Cameo founder and chief executive, Steven Galanis, told CBS MoneyWatch this week that Santos has already booked enough Cameo videos to earn more than his congressional salary.

“Assuming he can get through the videos, he will exceed what he made in Congress last year,” Galanis told the outlet.