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Madison Cawthorne is a Republican member of Congress from North Carolina. He was elected last fall when he was only 24, the youngest person ever elected to Congress. He spoke at the Trump rally that preceded the violent siege of Congress on January 6. He is to the very far-right of the Republican Party. He uses a wheelchair due to an automobile accident that almost took his life. He is considered a rising star in the Republican Party, due to his good looks and his rightwing bona fides.
Here are a few things you should know about him, drawn from a profile in Salon.
He was home-schooled. “According to his own claims in a sworn deposition, his work experience as recently as two years before his congressional run was limited to a job at Chick-fil-A, along with a part-time gig in a district office of former Rep. Mark Meadows.” He claimed that he planned to enter the Naval Academy but that he lost his chance because of the accident that almost killed him, but he was rejected by the Naval Academy before his accident. He enrolled in Patrick Henry College but dropped out after a semester. He was a protege of Mark Meadows, but ran against Mark Meadows’ hand-picked successor and beat her.
Cawthorn’s relationship with Mark Meadows and the Meadows family has shaped some of the most formative moments of the young conservative’s life, including the 2014 car accident that left him partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Indeed, in the four years between 2013 and 2017, Meadows recommended Cawthorn for the U.S. Naval Academy; had his son, Blake Meadows, find a Florida attorney to handle Cawthorn’s insurance case; hired Cawthorn in his congressional office; and apparently played a role in helping Cawthorn gain admission to Patrick Henry College, which he attended for just one semester, before dropping out with a self-reported D average.
Cawthorne entered Patrick Henry College in the fall of 2016, where he quickly managed to get a bad reputation for preying on young women. “Last October, weeks before the general election, more than 150 of Cawthorn’s former fellow students at Patrick Henry — roughly half the school’s total student body — wrote a letter alleging that his during his brief stint there he had engaged in “sexually predatory behavior,” lied habitually and committed vandalism.“
Cawthorne apparently has altered his resume to make claims about his achievements that don’t stand up to scrutiny. In an article in The Nation, Sarah Luterman wrote about his habit of inflating his role in the Paralympics. Cawthorne has said that he was training for the 2020 Paralympics Games, now delayed until 2021, but Luterman interviewed several accomplished paralympians, and they threw cold water on Cawthorne’s boasts.
Cawthorn frequently said on social media that he was “training” for the Paralympic Games. Technically, such a statement could be true—but only in the sense that I could be training for the Olympic Games. “It’s like a kid saying they want to play in the NBA when they’re on their fourth-grade basketball team,” said Amanda McGrory, a three-time Paralympian who has earned seven medals in track and field. Cawthorn stated on the Christian inspirational podcast The Heal, “I had an opportunity for the Paralympics for track and field.” He did not have that opportunity, nor does it appear he took any meaningful steps that would have led him there.
Paralympians are the best at what they do. Qualifying is a long, complicated process. In addition to being a Paralympian, McGrory is the archivist and collections curator for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. She told me: “You have to be involved in a team, usually your college or a local club. And then from there, you establish times at qualifying races, and then from there you get scouted.” Patrick Henry College, which Cawthorn attended for a semester before dropping out, doesn’t have a disabled sports program.
In addition to not being on a team, Cawthorn does not appear to have competed in any qualifying races. Robert Kozarek, a former elite wheelchair marathoner, said he would have met Cawthorn at some point if he had been serious competition. Kozarek himself never qualified for the Paralympic Games. “The community itself is small. There’s probably 50 [elite wheelchair racers] in the entire country, and we see each other four, five, six times a year, at least.”
Cawthorne is a worthy addition to the Republican Party’s growing number of extremists, who feel they can say anything and get away with it. Unfortunately, the Republican leadership appointed him to the House Education and Labor Committee, despite his lack of formal education and character.