Nasty, Brutish, and Short: The Political Life of Madison Cawthorn
Part 1 - Rise of the Post Turtle
The old joke goes: if you see a turtle on a fence post you know he didn’t get there by himself, doesn’t belong there, is fundamentally unqualified for the situation, won’t achieve anything useful while he’s up there, and needs to be helped down.
Meet David Madison Cawthorn, a 26-year-old Hendersonville, NC native and post turtle extraordinaire who’s been neither use nor ornament to the 11th Congressional District since November 2020.
Madison the Liar
First off, Cawthorn is a self-serving liar. In his 2017 chapel speech at Patrick Henry College about his 2014 car accident, he claimed that the driver of the vehicle, Bradley Ledford, had fled the scene and left him to die. He also claimed that he had been declared dead by emergency responders. Ledford, a close friend of Cawthorn’s, testified in a deposition that when the vehicle crashed, Ledford noticed that Cawthorn was unconscious, exited through a window, “unbuckled Madison and proceeded to pull him out while a bystander came in and helped me.” Florida Highway Patrol records describe Cawthorn’s condition after the accident as “critical,” with no mention that he was ever declared dead. In Cawthorn’s own deposition, he claimed to have no memory of the accident.
Cawthorn told another lie during that chapel speech, and this one persisted on into his Congressional campaign. According to his candidate website , his plans to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in 2014 were “derailed that year after he nearly died in a tragic automobile accident that left him partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair.” A campaign video ad stated that he had planned to serve in the Navy “with a nomination to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. But all that changed in the spring of 2014 when tragedy struck.” The truth is that Cawthorn was nominated, but never accepted into the Naval Academy, and that his application has been rejected before the crash.
In 2019, Cawthorn claimed to be training for the 2020 Paralympic Games. Actual Paralympians were quick to call foul. Cawthorn’s name is not in the International Paralympic Committee athlete database, there’s no record of him even attending any qualifying events, and the “U.S. Open” event he referenced in one of his videos does not exist.
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Madison the Sex Pest
While Cawthorn didn’t manage to distinguish himself academically while in college, he sure did build a reputation as a sexual predator. His favorite trick was to invite female classmates on “fun drives” in his car, drive to remote off-campus locations, and assault them. While on campus, Cawthorn was known to call his female classmates “derogatory names in public in front of their peers, [ask] them inappropriate questions about their sex lives, grab their thighs, force them to sit in his lap and kiss and touch them without their consent.”
Cawthorn became so notorious that Resident Assistants regularly warned female students not to be caught alone with him, especially in his vehicle. Cawthorn dropped out of Patrick Henry College after a single semester. Once he became a Congressional candidate, more than 150 former classmates and other alumni signed and circulated an open letter stating that:
“Cawthorn’s time at PHC was marked by gross misconduct towards our female peers, public misrepresentation of his past, disorderly conduct that was against the school’s student honor code, and self-admitted academic failings. “During his brief time at the college, Cawthorn established a reputation for predatory behavior…We urge the voters of North Carolina to seriously reevaluate Madison Cawthorn’s candidacy in light of who he really is.”
Madison the Racist
Cawthorn has never been steadily employed, but he does have a solid history as a racist. The real estate company he established in 2019, SPQR Holdings, was administratively dissolved by the Secretary of State in 2021. SPQR, an abbreviation of a Latin phrase meaning “the Senate and People of Rome,” that has been co-opted in the modern era by white nationalist groups such as Stormfront and Identity Evropa.
On July 14, 2020, the City of Asheville approved a Resolution Supporting Community Reparations for Black Asheville, which apologized and sought to make material and financial reparations for Asheville’s history of participation in the enslavement, segregation, and discriminatory actions and practices toward Black people and communities. Cawthorn was in the midst of his 11th District Congressional campaign to represent Asheville and the rest of western North Carolina at the time. His reaction to the City’s decision invoked his biracial fiancé and potential future children:
“I have a 50 percent African American fiancé, and so my children will be biracial, and I do not want them to have the mindset that they are a victim and that they deserve to have anything handed to them, because I think that you get what you work for in this country.”
Cawthorn further compared enduring anti-Black racial discrimination as being similar to his own personal life experiences:
“As I just said earlier, the greatest people I know in this country are Black men and women who have risen above, having to go up against the difficulties they have, very similar to me and my life, growing up against the difficulties I’ve had. And you know what? They don’t want a freaking handout. They don’t want to have people say, ‘Hey, you only got into Harvard because you’re Black.’”
This seems an appropriate place to mention that Cawthorn lied under oath about his own college admissions during depositions for a civil suit related to his car accident. He initially claimed to have been accepted at both Harvard and Princeton before later admitting that “some of his previous statements” were “not accurate.” He also dropped out of Patrick Henry College after a single semester of earning mostly D’s.
In a follow-up interview with Blue Ridge Public Radio, Cawthorn became openly accusatory toward both his opponent, Asheville Democrat Moe Davis, and “liberals” in general:
“My opponent’s a racist. White liberals are the most racist people I've ever met in my entire life. They define everything by race. They want people to be able to get into college with lower grades and lower school scores simply because they are African American. That's insane. That is saying, ‘Hey, you know what? Don't work so hard, because you're African American, because you probably just can't do it.’ Are you kidding me? That's the most racist thing I've ever heard, as I just said earlier. Any liberals listening to this right now, you are a racist.”
In August 2020, a 2017 Instagram post from resurfaced of his vacation trip to Eagle’s Nest, the site of one of Adolf Hitler’s former properties. Cawthorn described the trip to “the vacation house of the Führer” as having been on his “bucket list for awhile [sic]” and that it “did not disappoint.” When the post went viral and started receiving national pushback, Cawthorn initially said the intent of the post was to celebrate the Allied forces 1945 “victory over evil” in World War II and compared it to historical photographs of Allied soldiers at Eagle’s Nest. When that approach didn’t quell dissent, Cawthorn admitted that his use of “Führer” could be perceived as reverence and saying he wished he had used more empathy in that situation. The Instagram post has since been deleted.
Anyone hoping Cawthorn had learned any lasting lessons about racism or social media etiquette from the Eagle’s Nest incident would be disappointed. In October 2020 he launched an attack website against his Congressional opponent, Moe Davis, called moetaxes.com. In addition to accusing Davis of violence, perversion, and supporting terrorists, Cawthorn also took aim at Davis for his association with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tom Fiedler. According to the website, Fiedler’s crime was that he “quit his academia job in Boston to work for non-white males, like Cory Booker who aims to ruin white males.” The webpage in question has since been edited.
Madison the Provocateur
At a Turning Point USA event on December 21, 2020, Cawthorn told the crowd to “call your congressman and feel free, you can lightly threaten them and say, you know what, if you don’t start supporting election integrity, I’m coming after you, Madison Cawthorn is coming after you, everybody’s coming after you.”
Sixteen days later, and only three days after Cawthorn took his oath of office, rioters mounted an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying President-Elect Joe Biden’s electoral votes. Cawthorn spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally just before the violence broke out, saying “this crowd has some fight in it” and claiming that Democrats and “the Republicans hiding and not fighting…do not want you to be heard.” He claimed that “there is a significant portion of our party that says we should just sit idly by and sit on our hands. They have no backbone.”
Five people were killed as a direct result of the attack on the Capitol, including one police officer. Approximately 140 other officers were injured. Cawthorn denounced the violence by saying “We [Republicans] are the party that backs the blue. I ask you to back the blue now and let the objections continue in accordance with the constitution.” He also directed blame for the attack toward former President Trump, saying “he never should’ve directed that crowd toward the Capitol. The bad outcome was destined at that point.”
While Cawthorn expressed no regrets for his words on January 6, one of his biggest local law enforcement supporters certainly did. Former Henderson County Sheriff George Erwin, Jr. is also a former executive director of the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police. Erwin had helped Cawthorn gain endorsements during his Congressional campaign. After hearing Cawthorn’s remarks at the “Stop the Steal Rally,” Erwin wrote on Facebook, “I apologize to all of my law enforcement friends, other politicians, family and friends — I was wrong, I misled you. When I saw [Cawthorn’s] speech to the crowd in Washington I thought this is not good. I saw no calming words and people died and were injured.” When interviewed about his apology post and retraction of support for Cawthorn, Erwin said, “You can’t talk about you support blue lives matter and support the blue when you are firing up people who are harming law enforcement officers.”
Instead of calming his rhetoric, Cawthorn chose to escalate it. On August 29, 2021, Cawthorn spoke at a Macon County GOP meeting in Franklin, NC. Cawthorn autographed a rifle handed to him by a member of the audience. He continued to hold the gun, muzzle pointed upward to the ceiling, as he told the crowd “The Second Amendment was written so that we can fight against tyranny…as much as we all enjoy sport shooting, we all need to be storing up some ammunition.” After handing the weapon back, Cawthorn added, “It doesn’t matter if our votes don’t count. If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, it's going to lead to one place and that's bloodshed. I will tell you, as much as I am willing to defend our liberty at all costs, there is nothing that I would dread doing more than having to take up arms against a fellow American.”
In November 2021, Cawthorn posted an Instagram story offering Kyle Rittenhouse an internship after the 18-year-old was acquitted of homicide, attempted homicide and recklessly endangering safety for killing two men and wounding a third with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle in Kenosha, Wisconsin. “Be armed, be dangerous, and be moral,” Cawthorn said in the video.
Cawthorn must have gotten a taste for having weapons at public events, because he was caught four times between September 13 and October 5 with knives on school campuses throughout his district. Two of the events were school board and County Board of Education meetings. Despite this being a Class 1 misdemeanor offense in North Carolina, no charges were filed after any of the incidents. By comparison, a student who is caught with a knife on campus could face both criminal charges and expulsion.
In early March 2022, Cawthorn was charged with driving with a revoked license in Cleveland County, on top of two pending citations in Buncombe and Polk County for driving at speeds in excess of 85 mph. Driving with a revoked license is a misdemeanor in North Carolina that can carry a sentence of up to 20 days in jail. Cawthorn had faced the same charge in 2017, through his case was ultimately dropped.
To be continued…