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Posts published by “Tom Fiedler”

Madison Cawthorn Targeted by Federal Election Commission

After high-flying campaign, he’s broke, busted and disgusted

In a message to constituents on Instagram, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) shows off his cigar

BY TOM FIEDLER, Asheville Watchdog

Fancy cigars. Four-figure dinner tabs. Coast-to-coast luxury travel and stays at swanky hotels. Generous gifts to friends, and lucrative payouts to Republican advisors and cronies. Madison Cawthorn’s re-election campaign was rolling in money.

But now, following his defeat in the May 17 Republican primary, the money’s all gone. And federal officials want to know where it went.

In a bluntly worded letter dated Aug. 1 — Cawthorn’s 27th birthday — the Federal Election Commission warned that unless Cawthorn “immediately” submits a report that was due July 15, he faces fines of about $1,000 a day, an audit, or even “legal enforcement action.” The report must detail how he handled more than $3.65 million in campaign contributions, fully listing all his donors and the amounts they gave, and providing a full account of where he spent it. 


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The Fall and Rise and Fall of Madison Cawthorn

From “douche crew” leader to Congress to late-night punch line

Before the luxury travel, before the payroll padding at taxpayer expense, before the sexually suggestive photos and social-media messaging, they were the “douche crew,” the name 20-year-old Madison Cawthorn gave to himself and his buddies. 

Cawthorn assembled his circle of friends as a student at Patrick Henry College in northern Virginia in the fall of 2016, and he remains at the center of its successor pack as the high-profile, far-right, Trump-embraced congressman representing North Carolina’s 11th District, which covers most of the state’s western mountain counties.

Cawthorn was “the ringleader of a cohort of, let’s be honest, rich kids … a group of classmates known as ‘The Douche Crew’,” one schoolmate wrote on the website Medium. The tightly knit gang became well known on campus for frat-boy pranks, for parties at Cawthorn’s off-campus house,


Our Man in Congress: Cawthorn Races From Reckless to a Possible Reckoning

Outrageous comments get him publicity and money, but traffic citations might land him in jail.

There is sexual perversion, drug use among GOP colleagues, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) tells interviewer

It seems only yesterday that Congressman Madison Cawthorn’s most newsworthy achievements were his citations for repeatedly violating motor-vehicle laws, including “extreme speeding” while driving his father’s car with a revoked license.

Since the traffic citations came to light last month, the 26-year-old Republican from Hendersonville earned bipartisan rebukes in Congress for calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a “thug” and Ukraine “incredibly evil” — charges that won him accolades on Russian state television.

He then told a right-wing YouTube channel host that unnamed Republican lawmakers in Washington “in their 60s and 70s” had invited him to “orgies” and that he had witnessed them snorting cocaine.

And on April 4 , he took to the House floor to lecture Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a grandmother of nine — on biology. “I never imagined that one of my sacred duties in this hallowed chamber would be explaining to the House Speaker the difference between a man and a woman,” Cawthorn announced.


Echoes From Civil War Reverberate In Challenge to Cawthorn Re-election

Does Constitution disqualify him for office?

Young guns: Rep. Madison Cawthorn, left, and Rep. Zebulon Vance in 1859 // Library of Congress

[This article was updated Feb. 1 to include a legal response from Rep. Cawthorn’s campaign.]

To former Army Gen. Joseph C. Abbott, a candidate seeking to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Capitol, his opponent was both unworthy to hold the office and disqualified by law. Never mind, Abbott said, that his opponent from western North Carolina had voter support and powerful political backing; the man had aided “an insurrection” and violated a sacred oath to “support the Constitution.”

The election that concerned Abbott was in 1870. His opponent was an unrepentant former Confederate colonel, an Asheville native whose name and legacy looms large in local and North Carolina history: 

Zebulon Baird Vance.   

Those charges from a century and a half ago are echoed in a pending challenge by 11 North Carolina Republican voters alleging that Rep.


Cawthorn’s Uncivil War

Congressman’s invasion into new district is triggering an intra-party reckoning

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, and Rep. Mark Walker at an American Renewal Project event in October. In return for Trump's blessing, Walker will not oppose Cawthorn ally Ted Budd for U.S. Senate.

When Madison Cawthorn revealed his plan to abandon western North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District to seek reelection in a neighboring — and seemingly friendlier — district, he exuded confidence, even cockiness, about the outcome.

“We are taking ground for constitutional conservatism,” he wrote on Twitter, describing his move into the adjacent 13th District as if leading a righteous crusade into infidel territory. Otherwise, the 26-year-old Republican added, “I’m afraid that another establishment, go-along-to-get-along Republican would prevail there. I will not let that happen.” 

Initially his bravado in jumping the district line — a legal, though rare move — seemed politically sound and his victory assured. As a rising media star on the GOP’s far-right fringe and armed with the endorsement of ex-President Trump, Cawthorn had raised $2.3 million toward reelection by the end of September, with more pouring in. 


The Man Who Would Be Sheriff: Buncombe Candidate Vows to Make Everything Right

“The biggest terrorist organization right now is the United States government"

David Hurley, candidate for Buncombe County Sheriff, speaks to supporters in Asheville

[This article has been modified since it was originally published. A correction notice has been added.]

Under a Carolina-blue sky, shaded by the oaks framing Pack Square, the small crowd formed a loose, attentive circle around a man speaking and gesticulating with the fervor of a revivalist. This was David Hurley, 37, a candidate to become the Buncombe county sheriff in 2022. 

But, he told the crowd, he wouldn’t be your typical sheriff. 

Hurley described a “constitutional sheriff,” a kind of super authority who would reign supreme over all law enforcement, more powerful than mayors, county commissioners, the governor and — when it came to local matters — even the president.

“The sheriff is the ultimate power in America,” Hurley declared, pacing inside the circle. “It’s been the best-kept secret that they didn’t want to get out.


Can Asheville become more than beer and bears?

Some believe fortunes will be made by investors in 'Climate City'

Asheville is the center of the climate data universe. graphic modified by Asheville Watchdog

The answer to every quantifiable question about climate and weather here on Earth and throughout the solar system lies in the more than 40 petabytes of data stored in the Asheville computer system.

Come Hell or High Water, Asheville Is Climate “Winner”

Influx of “climate refugees” expected to exacerbate challenges

By 2100 coastal communities could experience sea-levels up to 8 feet higher than in 2000. Some scholars predict 13 million people could be displaced and likely to migrate to “safe cities.”

Back in 2006, when Scott Shuford was Asheville’s planning director, he reluctantly accepted a friend’s invitation to attend a meeting about the impact of climate change on local governments. 

“I didn’t see how a two-degree temperature change could affect the community,” he recalled, referring to the predicted rise in earth temperatures in years to come. “But I agreed to attend, thinking it would only be about 15 minutes. 

“After about an hour-and-a-half I came out of the meeting drenched in sweat.”

All the plans he had drafted up to that day suddenly seemed to have overlooked an unsettled future fraught with unanticipated challenges. Those two degrees of temperature change meant greater threats of weather extremes — of torrential rains, devastating floods, and landslides, and of their opposites, extended drought and wildfire. 

“We weren’t ready,” Shuford said of Asheville’s infrastructure at the time.


Cawthorn joins firebrand GOP colleagues on far-right media

"Censored" by U.S. platforms, QAnon and Trump coup backers flock to Congressman's new forum

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rep. Madison Cawthorn work out in the House gym

Shortly after taking his seat in Congress last month, Madison Cawthorn emailed his Republican colleagues to tell them of his intended role. “I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation,” he wrote, using the slang word for public relations.

An Esquire magazine headline offered this translation of the freshman congressman’s words: “It’s not about legislating, or fixing problems. It’s about the show.” If so, the show is not designed to appeal to Western North Carolina’s mainstream Republicans, independents or Democrats, despite Cawthorn’s post-election promise to be the congressman for all his constituents. 

[Editor’s note: This story has been modified since initial publication to remove references to handwritten notes that we erroneously said were made by Rep. Cawthorn. The notes were not written by the congressman, and were posted online as parody. The Watchdog regrets the errors.]

A new and featured attraction of Cawthorn’s “comms” is his own channel on a Dubai-based social-media platform,


Billy Graham’s Legacy Threatened by Family Split

Evangelist’s grandchildren say his son’s pro-Trump politics brings ‘shame’

Franklin Graham offered a prayer at President Trump's inauguration in 2017.

For the Rev. Franklin Graham, the scathing editorial in Christianity Today last year calling his friend Donald Trump “a leader of grossly immoral character” and urging that Trump be “removed from office” was heretical.

To Graham, it was bad enough to read such an attack on Trump. But the insult was compounded by the fact that Christianity Today had been founded by his recently deceased father, Billy Graham, the revered evangelist often called America’s Pastor. So Franklin fired back at the magazine with a powerful riposte to his millions of social-media followers:

I hadn’t shared who my father @BillyGraham voted for in 2016 but because of @CTMagazine’s article, I felt it necessary share now. My father knew [Trump], believed in him & voted for him. He believed Donald J. Trump was the man for this hour in the history for our nation.