The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn told a crowd before Capitol riots it had ‘fight in it.’ Now he says, ‘I don’t regret it.’

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) speaks to supporters of President Donald Trump at the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, which occurred before a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)
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On Jan. 6, about two hours before a violent mob breached the U.S. Capitol in a deadly riot, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) took to the stage before a fiery crowd of Trump supporters and falsely claimed that the presidential election was fraudulent.

“This crowd has some fight in it,” Cawthorn said. “The Democrats, with all the fraud they have done in this election, the Republicans hiding and not fighting, they are trying to silence your voice. Make no mistake about it, they do not want you to be heard.”

One month later, former president Donald Trump faces impeachment over his role in inciting the riot, hundreds of rioters face criminal charges, and Cawthorn faces calls for his resignation and an ethics investigation.

Cawthorn, though, said in an interview that aired Thursday that he would offer no apologies for speaking at the rally or for urging the crowd to fight.

“I don’t regret it, actually,” Cawthorn said in a clip of an interview with Ozy Media founder Carlos Watson for his YouTube program, “The Carlos Watson Show.” “Obviously, I think what happened on Jan. 6 was despicable. I thought it was conducted by weak-minded men and women who are unable to check their worst impulses and had very little self-control.”

Cawthorn, who after the riot still voted to contest the electoral college votes for Wisconsin, has since said that he accepts Joe Biden’s victory. In an interview with CNN’s Pamela Brown on Jan. 23, Cawthorn acknowledged that the election “was not fraudulent.”

The North Carolina lawmaker, who at 25 years old is the youngest member of Congress, is not the only Republican rally speaker to skirt an apology for their role in the attempted insurrection. Others, including GOP Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Mo Brooks (Ala.), also have not publicly expressed remorse. Trump plans to fight his impeachment charges by denying responsibility and claiming that the First Amendment allowed him to cast doubt on the election.

Democrats, though, said that if the GOP members who attended the rally played a role in the attempted insurrection, they should be prosecuted.

“If in fact it is found that members of Congress were accomplices to this insurrection, if they aided and abetted the crimes, there have to be actions taken beyond the Congress, in terms of prosecution for that,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a news conference on Jan. 15.

On Jan. 5, the day before the rally outside the Capitol, Cawthorn tweeted his support for the event and announced he would be one of the speakers. “The fate of a nation comes down to the events of tomorrow,” he wrote. “The New Republican Party will not back down.”

His speech the next day focused on undermining the election and promoting Trump’s false claims of mass voter fraud.

“We’re not doing this just for Donald Trump, we are doing this for the Constitution,” he said. “When I look out into this crowd, I can confidently say this crowd has the voice of lions.”

But on Jan. 7, after the attempted insurrection that left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer, Cawthorn distanced himself from the crowd of people he preached to hours before the riot. In a tweet, he condemned the violence as unpatriotic.

Several Democratic lawmakers on Feb. 4 described their experiences during the violent siege of the U.S. Capitol in an effort to personalize the trauma. (Video: The Washington Post)

“Last night, I spoke out in defense of our Constitution and a fair electoral process,” he wrote. “I also unequivocally denounced the violence that took place in our nation’s capitol, it wasn’t patriotism it was thuggery. We are all Americans. What unites us is greater than what divides us.”

Since then, Cawthorn has faced calls to resign. A group of local North Carolina Democrats signed a letter to Pelosi last month calling for an investigation into Cawthorn, claiming he incited the violence at the Capitol. Cawthorn is also facing an ethics probe from a government watchdog group, which could lead to his expulsion.

“Mr. Cawthorn needs to be held accountable for his seditious behavior and for the consequences resulting from said behavior,” said the letter from five Democratic leaders in District 11, which Cawthorn represents. “We will not tolerate misinformation, conspiracy theories, and lies from our Representatives.”

In his interview with Watson, which will air in its entirety on Monday, Cawthorn defended his speech at the rally, saying that he didn’t repeat specific, unfounded claims spread by Trump allies such as false allegations that the voting machines of Dominion Voting Systems were rigged or that “there were U-Haul trucks being backed up with tons of ballots in there that were fraudulently marked.”

“I couldn’t personally prove that,” he said. “I definitely didn’t try to and feed into that narrative.”

Instead, Cawthorn said, he was there to reassure the crowd that he was in Congress to represent them and “speak on your behalf,” he told Watson.

“I feel like a lot of frustration from Americans comes from when they don’t feel like they’re being represented in politics,” Cawthorn continued. “If anything, I hope that my words brought peace into the hearts of more people than violence.”

But Cawthorn has been accused of encouraging violence before. In December, before a crowd of young Republicans at a Turning Point USA conference, Cawthorn encouraged them to “lightly threaten” elected officials.

“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,” Cawthorn said.