Video footage from a Republican Party event last weekend showed Western North Carolina Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn speaking about January 6th insurrectionists in a much different way than he had previously. Those remarks have people from both parties calling for a rebuke or his removal.
Last weekend, 11th District Representative Madison Cawthorn spoke at a Macon County GOP event in Franklin. Afterwards, he stopped to answer questions from the crowd. Let’s listen.
“What are you doing to support the 535 Americans that were held captive from Jan. 6?”
“Political hostages!” Cawthorn replied.
But back on Jan. 7, just one day after Cawthorn and other members of Congress were forced to flee the House floor after a mob of insurrectionists breached the Capitol, he told The Smoky Mountain News they were “disgusting and pathetic.” So what changed for Cawthorn between then and now?
“I want to be very clear that the people that I'm specifically talking about, those people were there causing violence or they were causing some kind of vandalism, I want them to be charged to the full extent of the law,” said Cawthorn. “Even the people who were actually just around the Capitol, I want them to be charged to the full extent of law.”
Cawthorn says he’s concerned that some insurrectionists aren’t being given due process, or are being unfairly targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice because of their political affiliation.
He cites Michael Sherwin, a former Justice Department official and Trump appointee who resigned under fire after telling CBS News back in March that he wanted to charge as many people as possible to ensure that there was “shock and awe.” Cawthorn thinks that the prosecutions were intended to serve as a deterrent to those who dared to oppose the Democratic Party.
“I think it needs to be pretty specific about the actual people we're talking about,” said Cawthorn. “Because you know, there was definitely I believe a group of people within the Jan. 6 protestors, a small minority who literally were the ones that endangered people's lives, ones who got very aggressive, who were the ones busting down the doors, were going bare-knuckle fisticuffs with the Capitol Police. Those people, I believe are dangerous individuals, but the overwhelming majority of the people of the Jan. 6 thing were just normal people, there for a normal protest.”
One specific person is Ashli Babbitt, who was shot by a Capitol Police officer when she tried to enter a corridor that had been blocked to protect Members of Congress.
Cawthorn said he didn’t have all the details of the shooting and didn’t want to comment on whether or not the shooting was justified – a Justice Department investigation said it was – but he doubled down on the “political prisoners” label when he made a comment in the video about “busting them out.”
“The big problem is, we don’t actually know where all the political prisoners are, and so if were actually be able to go and try to bust them out – and let me tell you, the reason why they’ve taken these political prisoners is because they’re trying to make an example,” he said in the video. “Because they don’t want to see the mass protests going on in Washington. They don’t want to see people redressing their government for leaving 13 Marines to die in Afghanistan.”
Cawthorn later said he didn’t actually advocate “busting them out.”
“If anybody interpreted what I said, “bust them out,” as me getting out of my wheelchair and going Rambo mode and getting these guys out through some kind of illegal action – that's by no means what I meant,” he said.
As Cawthorn answered that question, another man in the crowd interjected with a startling question of his own, given Cawthorn’s Jan. 6 speech at the Ellipse before insurrectionists stormed the Capitol.
“When are you going to call us to Washington again?”
Cawthorn appeared to tell the man, “We're working on that,” but Cawthorn told BPR by phone on Sept. 1 that he was actually finishing his answer about political prisoners, and wasn’t answering the “call to Washington” question at all.
“We have no plans, and no one is trying to start any form of a protest or anything in Washington. When I said I was actively working on it, I meant I was actually working on getting answers about the political prisoners following Jan. 6,” he said. “By no means is anyone actively that I know of trying to plan some political protest going on in Washington. My office has no plans of that at all.”
Cawthorn’s next scheduled public appearance is at a Johnston County School Board meeting on Sept. 14.