It’s been less than two weeks since the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and Rep. Madison Cawthorn has already taken heat on several fronts as people continue to question whether a speech he gave a crowd at a Stop the Steal rally earlier that day incited violence.
In addition, the 25-year-old congressman, who has served less than three weeks, is putting out fires over numerous stories that mention the fact he carries a firearm in the Capitol building.
In the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, new measures have been taken by Capitol Police to ensure compliance with a law that mandates representatives can’t have a firearm while in the House chamber. A memo sent by House Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett outlined the new requirements, which include getting screened for weapons.
“Failure to complete screening or the carrying of prohibited items could result in denial of access to the chamber,” the memo reads.
In a Monday morning interview with The Mountaineer, Cawthorn said he understands the importance of the memo and the requirement to leave firearms in congressional offices.
“I’m someone who believes we need to be able to have firearms to defend ourselves, but when we go into the house floor, when we practice democracy, this is our nonviolent way of changing culture,” he said.
In an interview with The Mountaineer on Jan. 7, the day after the insurrection, Cawthorn noted he was armed during his evacuation amid the insurrection.
“When we had to separate from the Capitol Police escorts, if we had been caught in a dangerous situation, not only me but also the congressmen and congresswomen we were with, it would have been a terrible outcome,” he said during that interview. “I’m glad I was protected by the Second Amendment.”
When asked then if he carries a firearm regularly in the Capitol, he said he carries everywhere he can.
“I think it’s a patriotic duty,” he said.
“There are several members that did carry, and we were very thankful we had those firearms yesterday,” he added. “I think it goes to show that members having firearms didn’t make the Capitol less safe. I actually believe it made it more safe.”
Cawthorn never said during that interview specifically whether or not he carries on the floor. In Monday’s interview, he claimed he got his weapon while evacuating and didn’t have it on the floor.
“I always abide by Capitol Police guidelines,” he said. “I believe they just sent that memo out, but the rule actually has not changed. As a member of congress, you’re allowed to transport firearms through the building, if it’s safely secured and unloaded. You can have one in your office, which I always do. I believe in practicing the Second Amendment, but it’s always been forbidden to have a firearm on the House floor.”
To ensure compliance, there are also now magnetometers — metal detectors — at the entrances to the House floor that representatives must pass through before entering the House chamber.
“I obviously don’t like it,” Cawthorn said. “I think I represent about 730,000 people in Western North Carolina, and so for them to treat their representative as a criminal, yeah, it’s sad that members of congress are having to do this, but for the time being I’m more than happy to do so. It’s not a fight worth having. I don’t think of myself as some kind of royalty or some kind of elite who needs to bypass anything, just a normal guy.”
Another element of Blodgett’s memo included wearing masks on the House floor.
“Members are reminded that they are required to wear masks when entering and while in the chamber,” the memo reads. “Members not wearing a mask will not be admitted to the floor and members who fail to wear a mask will be removed from the floor.”
The memo comes in the wake of at least three House members testing positive for COVID-19 following the insurrection, which forced representatives — many unmasked — to huddle in close contact.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi began requiring masks on the floor in July after Rep. Louie Gohmert tested positive for COVID-19 after refusing to wear one, but as time has gone on, more representatives have appeared on the floor, and even speaking, unmasked. Now, fines can be levied against those who refuse to mask up.
Cawthorn, who has been photographed during numerous public appearances without a mask, said he intends to comply and wear a mask.
“I respect the office of the speaker just like I respect the office of the president,” he said. “Just because I don’t like the policies of the people who is the speaker of the house, I’ll still abide by her rules because I believe in practicing democracy.”
Cawthorn also discussed recent calls for his expulsion from Congress, which requires a two-thirds majority vote from other members, something experts have called unlikely.
Along with a change.org petition that had received 33,500 signatures by 10:15 a.m. Monday, Democratic leaders from around Western North Carolina signed a letter requesting that the House of Representatives conduct an ethics investigation regarding Cawthorn’s “acts of Sedition.”
“Since January 6 … he has repeatedly denied any culpability in the resulting mob action of illegally breaching the Security of the Capitol Building, of illegally taking over the US Senate and House of Representatives chambers, of the disruption of Congress’s carrying out its official Constitutional duties, of destruction of federal property, and of inciting mob action resulting in the deaths of five people. Mr. Cawthorn needs to be held accountable for his seditious behavior and for the consequences resulting from said behavior,” the letter reads.
Kathy Sinclair, who chairs the NC-11 Democratic Party, said Cawthorn’s expulsion is warranted and even required under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.
“This is more with the insurrection but it also is with the election information that there was a lot of misinformation that was spread,” she said.
Since then, even more criticisms of Cawthorn’s language have emerged, for example, words he had for a crowd of young Republicans in December.
“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 during that event, as first reported in a story by the Charlotte Observer.
However, Cawthorn remains defiant amid increasing criticism.
“That’s just a Democratic tactic,” he said. “It seems like they’re trying to bring cancel culture to the government. That’s definitely not going to happen; they need a two-thirds majority for that to happen. I just don’t think socialists like having someone in congress who’s going to speak up and fight against them.”
Cawthorn described his brief, hectic time as a Congressman as an experience that required him to “learn the dance very quickly.” But he also said he welcomes the turmoil in a sense, paraphrasing a Thomas Paine quote to elaborate on his feelings.
“If there has to be trouble, let it be in my lifetime so that my children can know peace,” he said. “That’s something I take close to heart. If trouble has to happen and we have to be in tumultuous times, I pray that we can get it handled right now in this generation so the next generation can inherit a better country.”
Cawthorn had these words for any supporters who may be planning violent acts in the coming days.
“I want to state very clearly that if there is anybody who listens to me who is trying to plan some kind of violence on Wednesday or after that, you do not represent my wishes,” he said. “You do not represent anything I believe in, and I condemn that in the harshest terms.”