The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rep. Madison Cawthorn falsely suggests elections are ‘rigged,’ says there will be ‘bloodshed’ if system continues on its path

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) speaks in Dallas on July 9. (Emil Lippe for The Washington Post)

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) on Sunday falsely suggested that elections in the United States are “rigged” and said there will be “bloodshed” if the country’s electoral system continues on its current path.

Cawthorn, a freshman lawmaker and pro-Trump star of the far right, made the remarks during an event at the Macon County Republican Party headquarters in Franklin, N.C., on Sunday night.

“The things that we are wanting to fight for, it doesn’t matter if our votes don’t count,” Cawthorn told the crowd, according to a video of the event posted by the county party on its Facebook page and circulated on Twitter by a Democratic congressional staffer. “Because, you know, if our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place — and it’s bloodshed.”

The video has been taken offline as of Tuesday morning.

Cawthorn suggested that he was prepared to take up arms against his fellow Americans if necessary to combat voter fraud. There is no evidence that widespread fraud took place in the 2020 election.

“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 pick up arms against a fellow American. And the way that we can have recourse against that is if we all passionately demand that we have election security in all 50 states,” Cawthorn said, to applause from the crowd.

About a minute earlier in his remarks, Cawthorn was holding a shotgun that he signed as part of a raffle conducted by the county Republican Party.

Luke Ball, a spokesman for Cawthorn, said in a statement Monday that the lawmaker was “in no way supporting or advocating for any form of violence.”

“In his comments, Congressman Cawthorn is CLEARLY advocating for violence not to occur over election integrity questions,” Ball said. “He fears others would erroneously choose that route and strongly states that election integrity issues should be resolved peacefully and never through violence.”

Since his election in November, Cawthorn has emerged as one of the most visible figures among new Republicans who have promoted baseless assertions and pushed a radicalized ideology that has become a driving force within the party.

The North Carolina Republican has repeatedly pushed false allegations of voting fraud in the 2020 presidential race, prompting a tweet of gratitude from former president Donald Trump.

Cawthorn also spoke at the Jan. 6 Trump rally before a mob of the president’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, again baselessly alleging fraud and extolling the crowd’s courage in comparison with the “cowards” in Congress. He returned to the Capitol, where he falsely claimed that insurrectionists had been “paid by the Democratic machine.”

Democrats on Tuesday criticized House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for not publicly condemning Cawthorn’s remarks.

“In any other world, Madison Cawthorn’s abhorrent remarks would be unanimously condemned and a party leader with an actual spine would hold Cawthorn accountable for suggesting bloodshed,” Democratic National Committee spokesperson Adonna Biel said in a statement. “Madison Cawthorn keeps proving he’s an embarrassment to North Carolinians and it raises the question of how long Kevin McCarthy will continue to let his caucus be run by extremists.”

At Sunday’s event in North Carolina, Cawthorn made a number of other eyebrow-raising remarks.

He repeated his call for President Biden’s Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Biden from office and said that Vice President Harris should be removed, as well.

Cawthorn told the crowd, “I will remove Joe Biden from office, and then, when Kamala Harris inevitably screws up, we will take them down, one at a time.”

Asked about Cawthorn’s use of the phrase “take them down,” Ball said the lawmaker was referring to the 25th Amendment process.

“Congressman Cawthorn was referring to using Constitutional mechanisms to remove Kamala Harris from office if she violates her oath,” Ball said.

Cawthorn also used the terms “political prisoners” and “political hostages” to describe those who arrested in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

At one point, a member of the crowd asked Cawthorn, “When are you going to call us to Washington again?”

In response, Cawthorn appeared to suggest that plans for a gathering were in the works, although he did not provide details.

“That — we are actively working on that one,” he said. “I don’t have an answer to that one right yet. But we are actively working on this. We have a few plans in motion that I can’t make public right now.”

Michael Kranish contributed to this report.