In the wake of last week’s insurrection, calls are emerging for newly elected Republican NC-11 Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s expulsion from Congress.
The calls aren’t just from the opposition party — even a prominent Republican in law enforcement who helped him get elected is expressing regrets.
Along with a change.org petition that has now received over 16,000 signatures calling for Cawthorn to he held accountable, several Western North Carolina Democratic leaders have sent a strongly worded letter to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requesting action to address what they termed as “seditious” behavior.
“We will not tolerate misinformation, conspiracy theories, and lies from our Representatives,” it reads. “Therefore, we respectfully request that the House of Representatives conduct an investigation for Ethics Violations regarding Mr. Cawthorn’s aforementioned Acts of Sedition. If the 2/3rds vote necessary for expulsion can not be secured, we request that the House of Representatives formally censure Mr. Cawthorn on behalf of his constituents in the 11th Congressional District.”
The riotous insurrection began shortly after President Donald Trump — and Cawthorn — addressed a large crowd of supporters at a “Stop the Steal” rally. After reiterating repeatedly debunked claims that president-elect Joe Biden’s win was fraudulent, Trump encouraged them to walk down to the Capitol.
Next, a calamitous scene unfolded where hundreds entered the Capitol itself. In the end, at least five people died, including a Capitol Police officer and a woman who was shot inside the building.
In his remarks to the crowd, Cawthorn said, “this crowd has some fight in it.”
The letter from the regional Democrats, addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, alleges that Cawthorn’s Twitter feed has been filled with “strong, violent language” that encouraged the attempted coup. Finally, it calls out Cawthorn’s alleged denial of his “culpability.”
“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.
“No Person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability,” it reads.
“This is more with the insurrection but it also is with the election information that there was a lot of misinformation that was spread,” Sinclair said.
Haywood County Democratic Party Chair Myrna Campbell said even though she believes Trump is a dangerous President, she never thought she’d see what she did last week.
“Watching the footage, it’s like something you’d see in a third-world country or something,” she said.
Campbell said she believes Cawthorn’s objection to Biden’s wins in five states was unconstitutional but added that Cawthorn’s words bothered her the most.
“His presence in front of who ended up being rioters, and the hostile remarks he made, singled him out as being more guilty of insurrection,” she said.
Shortly after Campbell’s interview with The Mountaineer, at about 1:50 p.m. on Jan. 11, the county party received a threat. Campbell recalled what was said.
“He said, ‘Are you the [expletive]s that are calling for Madison Cawthorn to resign? We’re coming after you,” she said.
Campbell initially reached out to Sheriff Greg Christopher, who recommended she speak with the Waynesville Police Department, considering the party headquarters is in its jurisdiction.
Lt. Tyler Trantham said the case is under investigation.
“In this situation, we will look to see if we can ID who the caller was,” Trantham said. “We don’t have a lot of information on that as of yet. We’ll follow up, and we’ve had an extra patrol in place the last couple of weeks near the Democratic headquarters, as well as other locations.”
“We take stuff like this, any threat to business or establishments, seriously,” he added.
In the meantime, Campbell said she is carrying on.
“I’m a little frightened, but I’m mostly mad. They’re not going to make me back down,” she said. “No threat should go unheeded right now, but we’re carrying on.”
GOP backers concerned
It isn’t just Democrats calling foul. Several members of Cawthorn’s own party have spoken out, including former Henderson County Sheriff George Erwin Jr. In a now widely-circulated Facebook post, Erwin said he was initially impressed with the charismatic 25-year-old and his compelling story.
“Yes, I did reach out to all of my Sheriff friends to endorse him as well as other law enforcement executives and county commissioners,” he wrote.
The same questions regarding age and maturity kept coming up, to which Erwin reiterated his faith in Cawthorn’s ability to surround himself with experience.
“That never happened,” Erwin wrote. “He 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 notes that Cawthorn asked him to be the district director, which he said he respectfully declined after seeing more and more of his behavior.
“I could see that Madison Cawthorn is all about Madison Cawthorn being a show horse,” he wrote. “I wanted a work horse.”
Erwin had strong words about Cawthorn and the tremendous regret he harbors over his endorsement.
“Adults admit failures and Lord knows I have had to admit mine,” he wrote. “That is not in his DNA. I apologize to all of my law enforcement friends, other politicians, family and friends — I was wrong. I misled you.”
Ultimately, Erwin talked about Cawthorn’s speech at the rally.
“Words mean things and when they leave your mouth you cannot bring them back,” he wrote. “Your words can incite or calm. I saw not calming words and people died and were injured. Our country is an embarrassment on the world stage.”
In one interview, Cawthorn admitted it was a mistake for Trump to lead the already-raucous crowd to the Capitol.
“A bad outcome was destined at that point,” he said without going as far as to accept any responsibility for his own language.
A press release sent out by his office takes a different tone.
“Unlike NC-11 Democrats, Madison Cawthorn condemns mob violence under any banner,” that statement reads. “NC-11 Democrats were silent when left-wing mobs attacked civilians, businesses, and law enforcement in Asheville. They have no moral authority to speak up now when they were silent then.”
“Cawthorn has condemned the abhorrent violence on January 6,” the statement continues. “He has criticized President Trump for directing protestors toward the Capitol and repeatedly told protestors that the legal pathway to address their concerns was through debate on the house floor, by their elected representatives, not violence in the streets of the Capital [sic]. Principled conservatives disagreed about the 2020 election. But debating whether Congress should accept or reject electoral votes in states that may have ignored their own laws was entirely appropriate and legal under our Constitution.”
At least one local Republican, County Commission Chairman Kevin Ensley, expressed similar sentiments in a statement. While he did condemn the violence, he quickly pointed out what he considered a “dichotomy.”
“Suddenly liberal announcers did not have pleasant terms to describe the ‘mob’ and ‘rioters,’” he said. “They called them what they were.”
“Only a few months back the ‘mobs and rioters’ were ‘peaceful protesters’ even though small businesses were burned and looted,” he added. “The media has much to be responsible for in the times in which we live. While I believe our local media is fairly balanced, the national media is not. The Hunter Biden story, biased coverage of President Trump and ignoring valid election irregularities have added to the mistrust of the mainstream media from conservative Americans.”
Ensley said he believes his words mirror frustrations he hears from many citizens.
“The national media can help by giving all viewpoints equal coverage and descriptions,” he said. “That is why our Constitution gives us the First Amendment. The media need to look back, study and understand the role the Founders envisioned them to be doing.”
While there have been reports of more widespread “protests,” even at all 50 state capitols, it seems likely more demonstrations could even be more localized. Ensley, adding to the statement he sent The Mountaineer in an addition email, said he’s confident in local law enforcement’s ability to respond to any situation.
“Another thought as we consider where we are locally on this type of activity,” he said. “I spoke to the sheriff last summer when there was some BLM marches and opposing protests going on in the county,” he said. “He seemed to be well prepared and had received training after the Charlottesville unrest. I am confident our law enforcement will be able to keep the peace in any local matters that may arise.”
“Since I sent my response on Friday, I would hope both national parties and their leaders would tone down some of the rhetoric,” he added. “They should condemn any and all violence that may arise from any protests. I think we all agree there should be consistency from both sides on these issues.”
Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher also issued a brief statement.
“First, our thoughts and prayers have been and continue to be with the Capitol police officer’s family that was killed along with the others that lost their lives last Wednesday,” he said. In the statement. “I certainly hope that violent protests do not come to our towns or in the county. I do appreciate the partnership and great work relationship that our law-enforcement agency heads have here in Haywood County if called upon for assistance.”
Haywood County Republican Chairperson Kay Miller said she wants to wait to speak too strongly about Trump supporters’ role in the insurrection because “all the information isn’t in yet,” but she was still quick to defend the President.
“I don’t feel like the President was egging people on to commit violence,” she said. “He’s never done that, and why would he start now?”
Miller reiterated her support for the President and said the actions of those who committed violence came down to poor personal choices.
“I’m heartbroken for the lives that were lost but I don’t think that the President is the one that caused that,” she said. “People make their own decisions. Why does something like that happen? Well, because people can make their own choices and they chose to do evil.”
Miller said she didn’t believe the people who stormed the Capitol were Trump supporters. When told they’ve already arrested and identified numerous folks who took part in the insurrection, she argued that they weren’t likely the ones who led it.
“I just don’t think they started it, but I do think when you get people riled up there will be some who want to go up the stairs, go into the building,” she said.
Miller characterized the calls for Cawthorn to be expelled as “ridiculous” and said she didn’t think his political career would be hamstrung long-term once all is said and done.
“It’s just another attempt to censor a voice that is different than yours,” she said.
The one thing Miller and Campbell ultimately agreed on is that there likely wouldn’t be the votes in Congress to expel Cawthorn.
“I think it’s not probable but it could happen,” Campbell said. “Cawthorn just keeps saying things that are not appropriate. I would think at some point his own party will look at him with some scrutiny. What we’ve asked for in the letter is if he can’t be expelled that he be censured.”
Western Carolina political science professor Chris Cooper, who heads up that department, said he can’t recall a time where he’s seen these kinds of calls so early in a representatives freshman term.
“We’re not even a month into his first term, and there are already those calls,” Cooper said. “Have there been calls like this before? Probably for folks that have broken the law. For this soon out of the gate, less than three months after he won handily, this is extraordinary.”
Cooper attributed many of Cawthorn’s current problems to his looseness with language, which he considered indicative of inexperience.
“This story of sloppiness has been evident from the beginning,” he said. “Like his erroneous fact when he said James Madison signed the Declaration of Independence during his Republican National Convention speech.”
One element of this story that has gone relatively unnoticed is Cawthorn’s strong language toward senior members of his own party, including Senators Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney, the Senate Majority Leader and the party’s 2012 Presidential Nominee.
“I believe Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney are spineless cowards who don’t represent the kind of Republican party that I represent,” Cawthorn told WLOS’ Kimberly King.
“That was stunning,” Cooper said. “I cannot recall a sitting member of congress outside of an election levying such heavy criticism against their own leadership. I think it reinforces that Cawthorn speaks before thinking. I thought that really could be a national story.”
Although Cooper shared Campbell’s opinion that Cawthorn isn’t likely to be expelled, he said Republicans like Erwin coming forward and sharing their regret may change things.
“For it to mean something, there are going to have to be a lot of Republicans involved,” he said. There needs to be a way it can’t be dismissed as more partisan bickering. The more Republicans that are involved the more this will gain steam.”
In the event Cawthorn resigned or was expelled, it would be on Gov. Roy Cooper to call a special election to fill the vacancy.