At a local GOP political event in his home state on Sunday, Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) warned of “bloodshed” over the 2020 election and called people arrested and charged for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot “political hostages.”
During his speech, Cawthorn repeated former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was “rigged” and warned that it would result in violence.
“If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, it’s gonna lead to one place, and it’s bloodshed,” he said.
He then advocated for “election security,” saying, “And I will tell you, as much as I’m willing to defend our liberty at all costs, there’s 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, who spoke at Trump’s “Stop The Steal” rally preceding the Capitol violence on Jan. 6, referred to rioters in law enforcement custody as “political hostages” and “political prisoners” during his remarks. After an audience member asked Cawthorn what he was doing to “support the 535 Americans that were held captured from January 6?” he said his team was “seeking answers” from the federal government.
“The big problem is, we don’t actually know where all the political prisoners are,” he said. “So if we were to actually be able to go and try and bust them out ― and let me tell you, the reason why they’re taking these political prisoners is because they’re trying to make an example. ’Cause they don’t want to see the mass protests going on in Washington.”
More than 600 people have been charged in connection to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. They face various charges that include assaulting law enforcement and the media, stealing, and destroying federal property. A majority have been released, but some remain in jail, and those considered dangerous or flight risks have been in solitary confinement while they await trial, a fact that has prompted criticism on both sides of the aisle.
“When are you going to call us to Washington again?” the next attendee asked, prompting applause.
“We are actively working on that one,” Cawthorn answered, as can be seen in the footage below. “We have a few plans in motion I can’t make public right now, but this is something that we’re working on.”
In an email to HuffPost, Cawthorn’s communications director, Luke Ball, said Cawthorn “is not actively working on any ‘protest’ or ‘plan’ to bring people to Washington.” He maintained that Cawthorn’s response about “actively working on that one” was a reference to the earlier discussion about “political prisoners” and not to the question he’d just been asked, and that “to assert otherwise would completely take his remarks out of context.”
As for Cawthorn’s “bust them out” comment, Ball said the congressman was calling for “due process” for prisoners and “was not advocating for any form of illegal action.”
Explaining Cawthorn’s remarks about “bloodshed,” Ball said the lawmaker was “CLEARLY advocating for violence not to occur over election integrity questions.”
“He fears others would erroneously choose that route and strongly states that election integrity issues should be resolved peacefully and never through violence.”
Cawthorn’s comments come amid a rise in domestic extremism that federal security agencies warned in March could motivate more attacks in the U.S.
The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center warned in a joint assessment that political and social developments, including Trump’s rigged election rhetoric, the fallout from Jan. 6, conspiracy theories and COVID-19 controversy, would “almost certainly spur” some extremists to “try to engage in violence this year.”
CNN national security reporter Zachary Cohen tweeted that Cawthorn’s remarks were “exactly the kind of thing” these agencies were warning about, noting that Cawthorn is among a group of GOP lawmakers whose phone records are of interest to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.