By Peter H. Lewis | January 17, 2021
In the middle of the siege of the Capitol on Jan. 6, while a mob of insurrectionists still roamed the halls and ransacked offices, leaving five dead and dozens injured, Madison Cawthorn called a friendly conservative radio host and blamed the violence on left-wing agitators sent by “the Democratic machine” to make President Trump look bad.
“I believe that this was agitators strategically placed inside of this group — you can call them antifa, you can call them people paid by the Democratic machine — but to make the Trump campaign, the Trump movement, look bad. And to make this look like it was a violent outrage, when really the battle was being fought by people like myself and other great patriots who are standing up against the establishment and standing up against this tyranny that we see in our country.”Cawthorn to The Charlie Kirk Show, Jan. 6
Only hours earlier, speaking at the Jan. 6 “March to Save America” protest in Washington, D.C., Cawthorn shouted, “Wow, this crowd has some fight in it!” He called the protesters “lions,” and repeatedly called his Congressional colleagues “cowards” who were hiding in their offices.
“It’s on,” he told his followers on Twitter.
Cawthorn confirmed to the radio host, Charlie Kirk, that he carried loaded weapons into the House that day. “Me being in a wheelchair, I am able to carry multiple weapons at one time,” he said.
“It’s Time to Fight”
In December Cawthorn told a crowd at a conference for young Republicans to “lightly threaten” members of Congress if they did not challenge the election returns that favored Biden. “Say, ‘If you don’t support election integrity, I’m coming after you. Madison Cawthorn’s coming after you. Everybody’s coming after you,’” Cawthorn said.
Even after police cleared the rioters, dead bodies, and injured police officers from the Capitol, and in defiance of appeals for unity, Cawthorn once again voted to contest the legitimacy of the Biden-Harris electoral victory, in an effort to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.
So Much Controversy, So Little Time
Despite being on the political scene for less than a year, since Mark Meadows resigned his Western North Carolina congressional seat in March 2020 to become President Trump’s chief of staff, Cawthorn has instigated or been involved with a remarkable number of controversies. He has strongly denied accusations from multiple sources that he is a white supremacist, a sexual predator, a serial liar, and an admirer of Adolph Hitler.
Now, less than two weeks after the 25-year-old Republican took office as a U.S. Congressman — his first full-time paid job as an adult — some of his supporters, and likely everyone who voted for his opponent, are wondering: Are we really stuck with him for two years?
Neither the Constitution nor North Carolina state law make provisions for removing a member of Congress from office, except through resignation, expulsion by a two-thirds vote of his peers in the House of Representatives or defeat in subsequent elections.
Even so, calls for Cawthorn to resign are increasing, along with demands for House leadership to expel him from office. As of Saturday, more than 32,000 people had signed a change.org petition calling for Cawthorn’s removal from office. A small group of protesters gathered in front of his Hendersonville campaign office last week.
As reported earlier by the Asheville Citizen Times, Cawthorn has lost the support of prominent conservative backers including George Erwin Jr., a former Henderson County Sheriff, and local conservative activist Eddie Harwood.
“Make no mistake: There is blood on his hands,” Harwood wrote on Facebook.
Erwin, former head of the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police, said he was wrong to lend his support to Cawthorn and campaign on his behalf. “I apologize to all of my law enforcement friends, other politicians, family and friends – I was wrong, I misled you,” he wrote in a message posted on Facebook.
Cawthorn “has surrounded himself with his bros from his campaign, placed them in key positions in Washington with absolutely no experience and not even from our district,” Erwin wrote.
Cawthorn is also at risk of losing support from campaign donors. Dozens of corporations and political action committees on both sides of the political spectrum have signaled their disgust for the so-called “sedition caucus” and attempts to undermine democracy by announcing they will not support candidates “who do not respect the rule of law.”
Attack on Democracy
Besides his involvement in the Jan. 6 protests that led to the deaths of five people at the Capitol, Cawthorn was among the earliest of 147 Republicans in Congress to announce they would refuse to certify Electoral College tallies representing the legal votes of millions of Americans, in an attempt to keep Donald Trump in power.
Critics characterized the effort as an attack on the foundation of democracy. Cawthorn called it “standing up against this tyranny.”
A week earlier, Cawthorn posted to Twitter a video of himself announcing, “Put simply, the 2020 vote violated our constitution.” He cited “incredible Constitutional scholars” in support of his view.
“Voter fraud is common in America,” Cawthorn said. “Those that tell you otherwise are lying.” He said he had “a list of thousands, yes thousands, of recent instances of election fraud that has led to criminal convictions and even the overturning of election results in our country.”
“Fact check that,” Cawthorn challenged.
Just a week later Cawthorn conceded that he had no proof. “I can’t personally prove fraud and I have really not seen an overwhelming amount of evidence for it,” he told Smoky Mountain News.
The Trump Administration lost all but one of more than 60 legal appeals it brought before state and federal courts, including the Supreme Court, alleging voting misconduct. Republican and Democratic elections officials affirmed the legitimacy of the vote, investigated and dismissed all claims of significant voter fraud, reaffirmed the voting through hand counts, and confirmed that Trump lost re-election by more than 7 million votes.
Attorney General William Barr, a Trump appointee, said local, state and federal reviews found no evidence of significant fraud in the November elections. All of the federal agencies monitoring election integrity under the Department of Homeland Security issued a joint statement calling the 2020 elections “the most secure in history,” adding, “there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”
No Comment on False Claims
Cawthorn’s office did not respond to multiple requests by Asheville Watchdog for comment about the congressman’s claims that left-wing antifa (anti-fascist) agitators, paid by Democrats, were responsible for the bloodshed and terrorism at the Capitol.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it has found “no indication” that individuals associated with the anti-fascist movement disguised themselves as pro-Trump supporters in order to provoke the mob, a claim repeated by several Republican lawmakers and conservative media luminaries.
Earlier, through a spokesman, Cawthorn said carrying loaded weapons into the Capitol was his privilege as a member of Congress and a demonstration of his rights under the Second Amendment. Congressional rules allow members to keep loaded weapons in their offices and on Capitol grounds, but prohibit them in House and Senate chambers. The District of Washington does not allow weapons to be carried openly.
On social media since the insurrection, Cawthorn has condemned violence in all forms, called for insurrectionists to be punished to the fullest extent of the law, and disavowed the QAnon conspiracy fantasy and its followers.
Cawthorn denied he had any responsibility for inciting the Jan. 6 crowd to violence, and, in comments to New York magazine, declined to apologize. In fact, he told the magazine, “I think my comments there led to less violence.” He said the vast majority of demonstrators were peaceful “patriots.” He said his only goal in rallying the protesters was to call attention to what he said were violations of the Constitution.
What he was sorry about, he told the magazine, was his “Cry more, lib” Tweet immediately after winning election: “That’s the thing I regret most,” he said. As of Saturday, his Cawthorn for NC Shopify account was still hawking CRY MORE, LIB T-shirts for $35.
UPDATE Jan. 21, 2021: Although Congressman Cawthorn has not responded to Asheville Watchdog requests for comment, he did post the following response on Twitter:
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Peter H. Lewis is a former senior writer and editor at The New York Times. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.