Santos and Murray appear together on a Queens public access television show. Screenshot via YouTube/Michael Ferrara
Among the colorful cast of characters surrounding scandal-plagued New York congressman George Santos, one of the more prominent is Joe Murray, his personal attorney and de facto spokesperson. Journalists covering Santos’ various legal headaches frequently seek Murray’s comment, which is almost as frequently given, and the lawyer appears to be close to his client, with the pair having been photographed several times walking around Washington D.C. and even through the halls of Congress.
In posts on a Twitter account that has since been deleted, though, Murray espoused conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential elections, expressed his intention to be at the Capitol on January 6 to protest the results, and called elected officials “traitors.” And screenshots of Facebook posts made by an account using Murray’s name and photograph, which were provided to VICE News by a source who says they took them on and around January 6, also include conspiratorial rhetoric about the election. In one screenshot, under an undated photo of what appears to be Proud Boys marching, a comment reads, “Proud Boys had our backs!”Murray declined to comment when reached by VICE News, and did not reply to a subsequent email outlining the reporting in this story and again requesting comment. While in recent weeks Murray’s primary role has been to represent Santos in the press, he himself is an ex-New York City Police Department officer and former amateur boxer whose life has been nearly as colorful as his client’s. In his own telling, he was arrested on duty in 1993 and charged with felony assault for breaking a fellow officer’s jaw in a fight that was, he said, over whether that officer had brutalized one of Murray’s friends. Murray has written that following the fight, he was suspended and threatened with termination by the NYPD and sued by the officer. After representing himself in court, he has written, he was told by the judge that he should consider law school. In 2002, Murray retired from the NYPD, and records show he was admitted to the New York State Bar in 2007; he specializes in criminal defense, civil-rights suits, and trial law, according to his website. In 2019, he ran for Queens district attorney as a registered Democrat. Despite that, he told New York outlet The City that he voted for Donald Trump, and he marketed himself as the law and order candidate, against bail reforms and closing Rikers Island.
Murray lost the election to former Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who took office in 2019. By 2020, archived Twitter posts show, his since-deleted campaign account, @JoeMurrayLaw, was being used to fulminate against establishment Republicans, with the rhetoric reaching a fever pitch just before the attempted insurrection. On January 3 alone, the account posted COVID conspiracy rhetoric in response to Trump lawyer Sidney Powell; announced Murray’s intention to attend the January 6 demonstration in replies to tweets from Powell, Trump, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and others; and called elected officials who didn’t support the overturning of the election “disloyal traitors.”
The account repeated the message the next day in a post replying to Fox News personality Mark Levin. (Like the others, the post included what looks like a cartoon from right-wing cartoonist Ben Garrison depicting an enormous eagle, labeled “Trump voters,” staring down a small and shivering elephant labeled “GOP.”) On January 7, 2021, the account tweeted at Senator Lindsey Graham, “You’re finished! We will not forget your cowardice!”In another tweet, directed at CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, Murray wrote, “We will be gathered outside our nation’s Capitol building waiting and watching to see who has the courage to stand up for our republic and who the cowards are. Those who do not stand up for our republic will be voted out of office R or D! We will not forget!” The tweet was punctuated with three American flag emojis.
The Internet Archive captures no activity from the account after January 8; it’s unclear precisely when or why it was deleted.According to a source, Murray expressed much the same sentiments on Facebook. This person, who requested anonymity to protect their privacy, says they were Facebook friends with Murray before the lawyer deleted his account, and sent VICE News what they said were a series of posts from Murray in the leadup to January 6. They’d screenshotted and saved the posts, they said, because they “couldn’t believe what he was posting and writing.” They decided to send the images to VICE News because, they added, “I felt it was necessary to report it based on his access to Congress via Santos.”
One of the posts, from an account in Murray’s name and using a profile picture of him, reads, “Our country is in the midst of the worst constitutional crisis since the U.S. Civil War, that is tearing our nation apart, in that a large portion of our country has no faith in the integrity of the 2020 Presidential Election.” It called on the Supreme Court to hear a lawsuit brought by several states contesting the election results. In another post, the account appears to have tagged the Facebook account of a woman who, according to public records, has worked as Murray’s law office and as his campaign manager. (She did not respond to a request for comment.) The post references “the power of Vice President Mike Pence tomorrow”—an apparent reference to the discredited theory that Pence had the power under the Constitution to overturn the election results, which was taken up by many January 6 demonstrators as well as Trump.
“WE WILL BE THERE at this historic moment!” the post adds. “Where will you be?”
Another undated screenshot appears to show a still from a video. In it, men in clearly identifiable black and gold Proud Boys shirts are marching on a street with other people carrying Trump and American flags. In a comment under the post, the account wrote, “Proud Boys had our backs!” (The person who provided the screenshots was not sure whether the Proud Boys photo was posted on January 6 or after an earlier rally in Staten Island that Murray posted about having attended.)(Disclosure: Gavin McInnes, who founded the Proud Boys in 2016, was a co-founder of VICE in 1994. He left the company in 2008 and has had no involvement since then.)Another post includes illustrations of the American Revolutionary War, with the comment, “We’ve done it before and we will do it again!”
All of this came as a surprise to one Murray ally. Steve Behar is a New York City Council candidate and a longtime friend of Murray’s; the two frequently, jocularly argued about politics on Facebook before Murray deleted his account, Behar recalled. Murray never mentioned, online or off, that Behar recalls, any intention to participate in the events of January 6. “I never saw any posts of him at the Capitol,” Behar told VICE News. “And he’s never mentioned being at the Capitol.”
In another undated Facebook post shared by the source, the apparent Joe Murray account shares advice about what to do in the event of violent civil unrest, and references the need to carry firearms.“Stay calm,” the post instructs. “We are New Yorkers. There is nothing we cannot handle. That withstanding, NYC is a key east coast target and prize for the resistance so we have to expect to be hit first.”The post adds, “Those who already have firearms, I know you already have your weapons cleaned, oiled and extra ammunition already in your go bags. If you can, bring extra for those who are unarmed or underarmed, please do so. If you do not have any firearms, get cozy with someone who does.” The post adds a winking emoji; it also says that “recent organized rioting and civil unrest” was what the account calls a “test run,” adding, “Our Governor and Mayor failed to protect us.” The post then urges everyone to “stay calm and use commonsense.”
Murray does appear to have been concerned with civil unrest in what he called “Democratic jurisdictions” in an appearance with the conservative podcaster Rory Sauter. Murray refers to “lunatics that are involved with antifa and anarchists,” alleging that they assaulted pro-police protesters.
Murray has previously appealed for calm and obeying the rule of law in such situations, though. In a 2020 appearance on a law enforcement podcast called InsideBlue360, he opposed the idea, floated by then-Sergeants Benevolent Association President Ed Mullins, that the chief of police in Portland, Oregon should “defy” the mayor, in the midst of intense protests against police brutality there. Mullins floated a hypothetical scenario that the police chief should consider taking his police force, “walk into the city hall” and “remove” the mayor.“Currently, under our system, the mayor is the elected official,” Murray objected. “He’s the chief executive officer.” The mayor was, he added, accountable to voters and subject to recall. Mullins’ scenario was “unlawful,” he added. (In an unrelated scandal, Mullins pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud this January; the government alleged he stole $600,000 from the SBA through “fraudulent expense reports.”) The Facebook account bearing Murray’s name appears to have been deleted. In a post shared by the tipster, the account announced that Murray was moving to the far-right social media site Parler, and shared a screenshot of a Parler page created on August 7, 2020. That Parler account does not appear to currently exist; the bio in the screenshots, however, exactly matches Murray’s bio on the Republican National Lawyers Association website. (It reads, “Retired NYPD officer, trial lawyer, recent candidate for Queens County District Attorney (2019), proud father of the best son and daughter, I love ❤️ NY & USA, I support and defend the Constitution & Trump 2020!”) Vish Burra, Santos’ attention-seeking “director of operations,” responded to a request for comment by referring a journalist to Naysa Woomer, the director of communication for Santos’ congressional office. Woomer wrote, “On background: Mr. Murray is the congressman‘s personal counsel, he is not a spokesperson for the congressional office. He is not employed or associated with the official office of Rep. George Santos.” (We did not agree to place such information on background.) She did not answer a question about whether Murray has any kind of security clearance.