Madison Cawthorn speaks to protesters Jan. 6

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 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

28 replies on “Cawthorn Falsely Says Democrats Paid Capitol Rioters”

  1. Cawthorn is clearly in over his head. Like Trump, he will not get better over time. Because he is so immature and altogether guilty of contributing to the insurrection, he can only make matters worse and worse. If NC 11th District wants someone to represent the real interests of the district (and not Donald Trump and his right wing kleptocratic friends), a Petition to Resign with 100,000 bona fide resident signatures ought to do it. Now, I have no expertise in this matter; Im just guessing about the kind of petition that will succeed. I am sure of this: Cawthorn is full of hubris. After all, this job as a congressman is the first full time job he has held as an adult. So, he will not go easily. A name-gathering campaign should, at a minimum, be one that spreads to every shopping center in the district and persists for months. If coincident with dissemination of upcoming news about the full scope of the insurrection, Cawthorn’s brand would surely be so damaged he could not get re-elected.

    1. We need to ck on # of signatures. I’ve done a drive like this before and it was 50,000 & we succeeded. Marsha Hammond Asheville

  2. Cawthorn is a scourge and an embarrassment to NC-11 voters. He is unintelligent, uneducated, a compulsive liar, not a businessman as he claims, is not a patriot as he claims, has no clue what the Constitution or Democracy are all about and it seems his only goal is to be in the limelight. During the campaign he said he was all in favor or term limits for members of Congress, but has since he got elected said nothing relative to that issue. I sent him an email asking what his plan was to get legislation. He never responded. Those who put him in office made a huge mistake and regrettably it appears that we are stuck with him for 2 years.

  3. Representative Madison Cawthorn is a “hype man” to energize people to go to the Trump Wild Protest Rally.

    4,500,000 (4.5 million) views | “Front Man” of a 6 minute Trump Propaganda Video

    220,000 (220 thousand) followers | “Planned and Executed” Well-Timed Tweets and Received Retweets by President Trump, Don Trump Jr., among others participating in the Trump Wild Protest

    Nationwide TV appearances (Morning, Prime Time, Late Night) To Promote Trump’s Propaganda

    Two Tweets Prior to Arrival On-Stage

    3 PM appearance | Charlie Kirk Show DURING the Riot | YouTube

    5:28 PM First Tweet to Followers For Peace | Four Hours After The Riot Started

    Representative Cawthorn is recently quoted he regrets not going out to the Capitol steps to try and stop the riot by speaking to them directly. I believe he has more than one regret.

    1. November 20 | Madison leaves Congressional Orientation to Speak To MAGA Stop The Steal Rally Outside the Capitol Building | He was there from the beginning

      January 4 | Reporter Kevin Fry | Representative Cawthorn Clearly Says President Trump’s actions to personally threaten a Georgia elected official is wrong.
      “That’s something no President, no elected official should do.”

      If he truly felt what he said on January 4, a good politician would decline the invitation to speak at the rally.

      Well, he staged his appearance at an event where Americans felt the President was voted back into power; yet, an array of nefarious forces were working against them. He didn’t fail to pump up the crowd for the next speaker.

      And, he did little to nothing to stop the invasion when it happened because that would be political suicide. He had a gun to protect himself.

      He thinks we’re stupid that he didn’t know more than he is telling us. The House Ethics Committee must investigate.

      Lets start with who funded the propaganda video?

    2. From House Judiciary Committee Report:

      At 1:00 PM on January 6th, as required by the 12th Amendment and the Electoral Count Act, Congress met in Joint Session to count the electoral votes. By 1:22 PM, Capitol Police had already begun issuing emergency evacuation orders. The crowd that had gathered to watch President Trump’s speech walked to the Capitol, and had begun to breach the security barriers surrounding the Capitol. President Trump watched the mob of his supporters attack the Capitol on television as they occurred.

      Instead of acting to stop the riot, however, President Trump continued to criticize those officials he viewed as not sufficiently supportive. He disparaged Vice President Pence, who refused to overturn the election, rightly recognizing that he did not have the authority to do so under the Constitution. At 1:49 PM—while the Capitol was under siege—President Trump tweeted a video of the rally. In the speech that he retweeted, he told the same crowd that was now storming the Capitol that “our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore and that’s what this is all about. And to use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will stop the steal. . . . you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.” In other words, just as his supporters were beginning to act, President Trump tweeted the very speech encouraging them to “be strong” and repeating the debunked lies about the election.

      By 2:20 PM, the entire country saw on live television that the mob had caused both the House and the Senate to adjourn. Yet at 2:24 p.m., President Trump tweeted his anger about Vice President Pence: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!” These statements occurred while the Capitol was under siege, insurrectionists roamed its halls, and Members of Congress huddled to protect themselves from the intruders.
      At 3 PM, Representative Cawthorn goes on the Charlie Kirk Show.
      3:40PM tweet:
      From the House Judiciary Committee Report:

      Indeed, in a video issued at 4:17 PM, President Trump opened by telling the mob, “I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us,” and then told them, “We love you, you’re very special.”
      5:17 PM Tweet:
      From the House Judiciary Committee Report:

      And at 6:01 PM, President Trump appeared to justify and celebrate the day’s events: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.” He concluded, “Remember this day forever!”

  4. And THIS is the latest rising star of the GOP? Well, actually he’s a perfect Republican — he’s stupid, he’s a pathological liar, he’s a fascist, he’s violent, and he’s been a screwup his entire life. I can’t wait to see Auntie Nancy send his sorry ass home to his mother’s house.

  5. A lot of people go through life making good stories better. And not just at the bar after work. In real life. About stuff that matters.

    We call them ‘fabulists’.

    Usually, they get away with it for years. The President has gotten away with it for half a century.

    But when you’re not the President or a billionaire or a person they want a favor from, people call you out on your lies & treat you like the lying sack of steer manure you really are.

  6. Nothing about Cawthorn’s behavior since the election has surprised me. What did surprise me is that the good people of Western North Carolina elected him in the first place. Col Moe Davis is a decent person with a solid track record of contributing to the public good, caring about people other than himself, and exhibiting serious leadership on complicated, tough, issues. He would have made a fine representative for all of WNC. Cawthorn on the other hand, no only has zero track record of working to benefit anyone other than Cawthorn and his only political experience and action has been proving he’s a bigot, trolling anyone who questions him, inciting a riot, and smearing democracy. Cawthorn has, by every measure, been an awful congressman before he’s even started.

    I get that WNC is filled with voters who vote straight GOP tickets but in this race it was clear that Cawthorn has no business being in public office. Surely party affiliation is secondary to making sure an awful person doesn’t get elected. I’m aware that there’s no chance of a recall and the odds of Cawthorn getting thrown out of Congress by the ethics committee (even if he deserves it for inciting a riot) are very low. However, the WNC GOP _can_ take action. Denouncing Cawthorn (as a few important WNC GOP members have done) is a start, primarying him is a necessary action, and if they have any guts they should make it clear that if Davis (or basically any acceptable Dem) runs against him, they will officially support the Dem. Cawthorn has made it absolutely clear that he’s anti-democratic, ignorant, and racist (at best) and should not hold office again.

  7. Wait. He says the rioters were paid by the Democrats.
    He says he was in the Capitol carrying weapons.
    That means he was one of the rioters.
    That means he was paid by the Democrats?

    1. We need to remove him from our district…somehow…someway. He is expressing violent means/opinions of insurrectionists against our Constitution! He is a train wreck for democracy.

  8. Also, Cawthorn, by participating in the insurrection, might have just lost his job.

    The 14th Amendment is pretty clear that if you did previously have a state or federal (or military) position, and participate in insurrection or give aid and comfort to those who did, you’re permanently banned from any office under the federal or any state government, unless 2/3 of Congress votes to give you a break.

    So does he get covered by the loophole, or is he banned?

  9. Ignorant, uneducated and zero experience make him the perfect Trump replacement. He is very good looking, though you know who else was very good looking and charming? A young Ted Bundy.

  10. I suddenly realize why some Democratic members of Congress feel unsafe with some of their colleagues. I thought it was them being gun-scared at first, but even I would not want this guy in my back during a crisis. There is a systemic stupidity and malisciousness in some of these new “bro”-populists.

  11. Peter, another insightful, poignant, and thoughtful article and piece of investigative journalism. Thank you and your team.

  12. A Spoiled brat. Did he benefit from anyDemocrat-led /created programs like Medicaid or \SSI?if so- a hypocrite as well/

  13. This unprepared and unqualified Congressman predictably regurgitates every right-wing lie that sounds good to him, which seems to be every one he hears. I appreciate that some who helped elect him now express regrets–which is more contrition than we’ll ever get from Cawthorn himself–but what we need to know is what they will do to make sure he has substantial opposition in the next election.

  14. Mr Cawthorn; Teeth and a Suit. An empty suit to be used as a tool by the racists in the right wing of what’s left of the Republican Party. His purpose was obvious from the git-go. He is the very ugly reflection of his supporters and his voters. Remorse my ass. They knew who this creep is and always will be.

  15. What a disgrace this little jerk is. Compounding our shame is the fact that his predecessor was in the Oval nourishing Trump’s delusions about election fraud. For crying out loud, Republicans. Nominate someone who won’t embarrass us. And is is too much to ask for a candidate with a college degree?

  16. Chuck Edwards is going to primary Cawthorn: he is rattling his sabers. Ice cream socials are in our future. Edwards is a gerrymanderer, also frm Hendersonville. Asheville cannot seem to get out from under Hendersonville & Waynesville.

    I think a discussion about that entire matter is in order.

  17. There is just so much about this guy that is offensive.
    His t-shirts make it clear he will make no attempt to be non-partisan. We pay his salary but one t-shirt claims taxes are robbery. He shoots his mouth off and then backpedals trying to claim he didn’t mean THAT! He regrets not going out and stopping the insurrection. I seriously doubt this lying coward could have done anything other than, as he did, get his ass out of there. I hope all those who gave him the “he’s cute”, he’s an invalid, he’s a republican are thrilled with this lying, cowardly, egotistical idiot as their representative. Me? I’m embarrassed

  18. David Madison Cawthorne is justification for adding another five years to the age requirement for becoming a United States Representative.

  19. Rep. Cawthorn sent to his mail list of supporters the following message:

    Tuesday, January 5, 2020 7:00 PM

    “Thank you Mr. President!
    Thank you for fighting for American jobs, thank you for fighting for the Constitution, and thank you for not giving up.
    The least we can do is fight for you!
    Help me fight for President Trump against the Radical left!
    [click here]
    Thanks for your support,
    Madison Cawthorn”

  20. I demand that this fool to resign immediately so that a real leader that puts country first will represent us. I’m so sick of the partisan lies to prop up Trumpism.

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