A week after the violent insurrection in Washington, D.C., North Carolina Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn says he is sticking by his speech at the pro-Trump rally prior to the storming of the U.S. Capitol.
Cawthorn, who just started his first term representing western North Carolina, said in an interview with Spectrum News 1 that he didn’t think the president or members of congress who objected to certifying the vote were “complicit” in the attack.
“I wouldn't say we were complicit in anyone storming the Capitol. Actually, I think we were, in many ways, trying to stop it. You know, I went and spoke at the rally outside of the White House. And I literally said, I'm about to go to the Capitol to fight this fight for all of you, you have a voice in me, I'm here to fight on your behalf,” Cawthorn said Monday.
Five people died in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters, including a Capitol Police officer. A mob left the pro-Trump rally and invaded the Capitol building. Video from the attack shows people attacking police officers, forcing their way into the Senate chamber and vandalizing the building.
Cawthorn was elected last year to take over the western North Carolina seat after Mark Meadows resigned to join the Trump administration. At 25, Cawthorn is the youngest member of Congress.
He spoke at the rally about two hours before the attack.
“This crowd has some fight in it,” Cawthorn told the crowd. “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.”
In an interview with Spectrum News 1, Cawthorn defended his speech at the rally and his votes later that night objecting to certifying Joe Biden’s win in the presidential election.
Cawthorn said he didn’t think President Donald Trump was responsible for the violence at the Capitol, but he did criticize him for telling supporters to march down to where Congress was meeting.
“I think that encouraging the people to march down to the Capitol Building, I think that was unwise, obviously. Seeing the turmoil and the frustration that people had. It probably wasn't a wise move to put them in a situation where they would have the ability to storm the Capitol building,” he said. "I think specifically when President Trump said he was going on march with them to the Capitol, you know, that made everybody feel pretty invincible."
"I don't think that means that he was complicit in inciting violence," he said.
He also criticized Trump for calling on Vice President Mike Pence to not certify the electors that would make Joe Biden the next president.
But he stood by his vote against certifying the election.
“I would not say that members of the congress who were also contesting the election were at all complicit in this, if anything, I think they were people who probably were stopping a lot of rage and outrage that happened,” Cawthorn said.
Since the attack on the U.S. Capitol, there have been calls for the freshman congressman to resign and at least one key supporter said he regrets backing Cawthorn.
“Once a word leaves your mouth you can’t take it back in. And you can either incite or you can calm with the words you use. And I have seen no calming words,” former Henderson County Sheriff George Erwin Jr. said in an interview on Blue Ridge Public Radio.
Erwin was a staunch supporter of Cawthorn during the election and was set to become his district director in western North Carolina, according to BRP.
“You can’t talk about, you support blue lives matter and support the blue when you are firing up people who are harming law enforcement officers,” Erwin told the public radio station.
An op-ed in the Asheville Citizen-Times from Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara went further, calling for the Cawthorn to resign barely a week into his first term.
“It is shocking to write these words: Madison Cawthorn, the Congressman representing Western NC, helped to incite a violent siege on the federal government,” writes Beach-Ferrara, who is also a minister at the United Church of Christ.
“It’s time for Congressman Cawthorn to resign. If he does not resign, he should be removed from office because he has violated his oath of office,” the op-ed reads. The column criticizes Cawthorn for repeating unfounded claims of voter fraud and calling on people to join the Jan. 6 rally.
On the national stage, the conservative National Review called Cawthorn a “disappointment.”
“Cawthorn’s behavior in public office so far has been quite worthy of concern. Unless he changes course quickly, his time in office won’t deserve to be very long. If he can’t do better, then surely the voters of North Carolina can do better than him,” the National Review column reads.
For his part, Cawthorn condemned threats of violence at Biden and Kamala Harris’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
“I don't think there's any reason to have violence or to try and come in on Inauguration Day and stop this process from happening,” Cawthorn said Monday.
“So anybody who's planning any kind of violence, or an assassination attempt, or whatever anybody’s planning, I condemn that, I condemn you. I think that is awful. I think you're trying to subvert our democracy and you should be ashamed of yourself,” he said.
Kevin Frey contributed reporting from Washington D.C.