Hi and welcome back! We’ve been tracking Madison Cawthorn since about October, when he popped up very suddenly in right-wing Republican politics as the second-youngest Congressperson ever. Afterward, he set about making a name for himself among the low-information, conspiracy-theory-addled Trumpist voters of the party. And now, we discover that he’s a sex abuser with a long history of preying upon young women. Who’s surprised? Well, nobody who’s ever spent more than a few minutes studying the guy. He uses the fundagelical abuser’s playbook perfectly. Today, let me show you the red flags I noticed in Madison Cawthorn before this week, and then let’s get into his playbook — and see why his preferred tactics are both cruel and devastating to evangelical women.
(This post reflects my opinion after reviewing the sources noted. Madison Cawthorn has not, to my knowledge, faced any trials for his alleged behavior. For the most part, the abuse accusations against him are just that: accusations.)
A Quick Rundown of Madison Cawthorn.
North Carolina residents elected handsome young Madison Cawthorn to be one of their Representatives in Congress last year. Born in 1995, he is the second-youngest person ever to win this office. As one likely expects of the state involved, Cawthorn professes an ultra-authoritarian flavor of Christianity as his faith.
He figured out exactly how to sell himself to the Christian Right after a serious car accident. A little doctoring of details here, a slight shift of facts there, and he burrowed right into their hearts. In fact, we discovered a bunch of problems with his testimony when we examined it.
More recently, evidence suggests that he played a role in inciting the crowds before the Capitol insurrection attempt on January 6. After authorities cobbled back some order afterward, he then voted against certifying the Electoral College results. Then, a week or so later, he began trying to play nice-nice with his enemies. He mailed winner Joe Biden a letter congratulating him on his inauguration and offering to work supportively rather than obstructively with him.
On January 24, he engaged in a “heated” interview with a journalist. In it, he gave an unimaginably mealy-mouthed sorta-concession that Joe Biden had, indeed, won the election and that the election was not, in fact, fraudulent.
Time printed shortly afterward that Cawthorn prefers to talk big rather than actually doing the work that North Carolina sent him to the Capitol to do. He freely conceded this fact.
And yes, a few people brought up his dishonesty about his past and — whoa, what was this?
Allegations of sexual predation and abuse?
A Parade of Red Flags.
In late November, we covered a writeup of Madison Cawthorn by David Harsanyi of National Review, a right-wing site. It was called “Convert Me If You Can.” It concerned Cawthorn’s constant attempts to convert Jews to his flavor of right-wing, authoritarian Christianity. Harsanyi, a Jew, happened not to be offended by these attempts, so nobody else was allowed to be. I figured he was already so close to Cawthorn in politics and authoritarian leanings that Cawthorn’s antics didn’t bother him at all.
In David Harsanyi’s imagination, Cawthorn’s weird recruitment priority represented nothing more than a nothingburger. But OH, watch out for those meaniepie college liberals! They’re the REAL danger here!
As it turns out, Harsanyi’s information came largely from a Jewish Insider interview. This interview accidentally revealed that Harsanyi had left out a lot of information that people might need to adequately judge the situation he was describing.
Among other stuff, Jewish Insider provided additional information that Harsanyi strangely omitted:
The North Carolina native experienced a tumultuous campaign as he struggled to fend off accusations of racism, antisemitism and white nationalism along with allegations of sexual impropriety. [. . .]
“The Lord and the Bible and the value systems I’ve gotten through Judeo-Christian values,” he added, “it affects every single decision I make.” [. . .]
“I cuss and drink. I probably shouldn’t, but, you know.”
Oh, ok. You know.
I’m not surprised that Harsanyi missed all those red flags.
But we sure caught them.
Madison Cawthorn: A Very Typical Hypocrite.
Well, I dunno about y’all. But I think it’s just great to know that Madison Cawthorn’s imaginary friend, his favorite fictional book that most of his tribe idolizes but has never actually read, and a broken system of fake values affects “every single decision” of his.
I’m even happier knowing that he also openly admits to doing two things his tribe considers very off-limits.
And of course he stands accused of the usual stuff fundagelical male leaders keep doing. Sign us up for his newsletter!
No no, Cawthorn can’t be a deeply compartmentalized hypocrite. He can’t possibly be hiding all kinds of scandalous skeletons in his closet.
Nope, not at all, no way!
He’s jus’ a good ole boy, never meanin’ no harm! With apologies to them Duke boys.
My goodness gracious, Cawthorn even insults and smears his tribal enemies in completely tribe-approved ways:
“Cry more, lib,” Cawthorn wrote at 9:24 p.m., just a few minutes after the election had been called.
Nope, he’ll definitely turn out to be the only really decent fundagelical mascot the tribe can find.
And the Red Flags Madison Cawthorn Waved Around Women.
At the time of the Harsanyi post, I didn’t yet know about a 2017 deposition Cawthorn gave to a car insurance company regarding his big car accident in 2014. It is bad, too. He comes off as a sleazy, money-grubbing skeever who thinks he’s found his ANGLE at last.
That said, I didn’t expect a car-accident deposition to contain disturbing hints of Cawthorn’s behavior around women.
In the middle of describing his unsafe driving and passengering habits, on page 44 suddenly everyone leaps onto the topic of his girlfriend at the time of the accident and then the young woman Cawthorn dated right after her.
He sounds so typically fundagelical. He professes having noooooooooooo ideeeeeeeeea why the first ex broke up with him. To hear him talking, both breakups came out of the clear blue sky. Neither young woman gave him any pressing reasons for her decision that he remembers, he says, though his second ex mentioned friction with his mother. Then, he says this of that second ex (p. 45):
She’s more reserved and she likes to take her time with things, think things through a lot. And I’m much more passionate and I like to do things quickly. [. . .] I guess she realized that we just wouldn’t work out in the long run, I believe.
He makes it sound so innocuous. But knowing what I do of evangelical men, my skin crawled at the implications.
And then recently, Buzzfeed knocked a story out of the park that confirmed my suspicions and then some.
The Implications and the Playbook.
The Buzzfeed story concerns Madison Cawthorn’s creepy and hypocritical behavior on the campus of Patrick Henry College (PHC). Cawthorn briefly attended there for about a semester, then quit due to terrible grades. He spoke of this time during his deposition as well, but he doesn’t really mention any of this stuff.
(NOTE: I’ve heard that the deposition also contains Cawthorn’s attempt to blame his failure at PHC on that first ex-girlfriend for breaking up with him. However, I didn’t notice this specific accusation myself. That said, the document is long and unsearchable. If I ever get a page source, I’ll gladly update this space. Until then, I don’t feel comfortable discussing it.)
Also, Buzzfeed’s story really shines quite a perspective on a comment Cawthorn made last year during a pre-election debate. In this debate, Cawthorn said that knowing the rules of enthusiastic consent would have “made [his] high school experience less awkward.” Then he came out with this:
“If I had a son, I want him to be able to grow up in a world where he would not be called a sexual predator for trying to kiss someone.”
Republicans like to make mischaracterizations of consent, but this was downright distasteful. He clearly refers here to an accusation from 2014. And he plays it off like it was one of those photos of formally-dressed toddlers kissing each other’s cheeks. In reality, his victim accuses him of trying to restrain her against her will and very forcibly trying to kiss her. In the struggle, she caught some of her hair in his wheelchair — and then tore it out by the roots in her escape.
This incident sounds a lot less innocent than he tried to make it seem.
“Awkward?” Really? His victim appears to have a very different view of the incident.
But this strategy turned out to be Madison Cawthorn’s alleged go-to.
Madison Cawthorn and His Pattern of Abuse.
Back in October, 170 of his previous classmates at Patrick Henry College wrote an open letter describing what they saw during his time there. They were hoping it’d turn voters off to Cawthorn’s performative piety. Unfortunately, it did not.
Buzzfeed included this letter in their writeup. In it, Madison Cawthorn’s onetime peers wrote:
Cawthorn’s time at PHC was marked by gross misconduct towards our female peers, public misrepresentation of his past, disorderly conduct that was against the school’s honor code, and self-admitted academic failings.
During his brief time at the college, Cawthorn established a reputation for predatory behavior.
Dude apparently had a pattern. According to sources, he sought to restrain his victims through social obligation, locked doors, or sheer force, then abused them. His “modus operandi,” according to this letter, involved inviting young women on car rides. Once he had driven them far enough away, he locked the doors so they couldn’t just leave the car and then made unwanted advances upon them. His behavior alarmed his peers enough that he became part of the whisper network at the school, with people urgently warning young women not to go anywhere with him.
And his earlier quote returned to me:
“I’m much more passionate… I like to do things quickly.”
I bet he is.
And oh yes, I bet he does.
In fact, this letter indicates that he likes to do things way more quickly than his victims do. After all, any speed he might name is faster than not wanting to engage with him at all.
Worse, everything he’s said about his past indicates that he considers his behavior simply a sign of his greater level of “passion,” rather than what it actually is:
A pattern of sexual predation.
Objectification and Transactional Thinking, Again.
It’s almost an afterthought that the PHC letter describes Madison Cawthorn’s lies about his accident, his lies about his future at the Naval Academy, his alleged vandalism and thefts around campus, and his apparently-frequent habit of publicly using gender-based slurs for women.
That last bit is an extremely important red flag in evangelical men. Gender-based slurs indicate extreme disrespect for women — and a tendency toward objectification and transactional thinking.
The letter writers also note that after Cawthorn left PHC, the students learned about a lot more alleged assaults of his. The newer victims’ accounts mesh with Cawthorn’s noted alleged pattern of isolation, restraint, and then predation.
Buzzfeed noted, as well, that the response Cawthorn made to the PHC letter was pathetic. He could only find six people to support his reputation. Two were campaign staffers. A third was a staffer’s family member. Ouch.
All this stuff makes me feel an extremely high level of concern regarding the safety of any woman who spends time around Madison Cawthorn. And it sure doesn’t persuade me of the good virtues of evangelical men generally, since the tribe seems singularly disinterested in doing anything about this story.
Consent Has Not Entered Evangelicals’ Chat.
Evangelical women get taught from earliest childhood that TRUE CHRISTIAN™ men are pure as driven snow. TRUE CHRISTIAN™ men wouldn’t ever harm good Christian girls like that. They’re trustworthy. They respect women — at least, women who behave as they demand.
And Madison Cawthorn clearly learned very quickly and early on how to perform the role of a pious single Christian man, as many Christian predators do. While he was preying upon and harassing women at PHC, he’d speak movingly at chapel about how amazing his imaginary friend Jesus was. (Remember, he was a first-semester freshman! He must have dazzled whoever handled those invitations.)
The women in his chapel audience knew he was a stone-cold hypocrite, but they felt they couldn’t reveal the truth about this campus golden boy. I sure know that feel!
It sounds like Cawthorn’s good looks, charm, and pious behavior guaranteed him a steady drip of victims, one after the next, from a field full of young women who hadn’t yet heard warnings about him.
The Sheer Cruelty of These Tactics.
But once abuse inevitably occurs in evangelical groups in general, young women discover that it is they who bear the blame for their victimization, not the men who victimized them. So shame can overwhelm them to the point where they fear telling any authorities about what happened.
Many of these young women didn’t even understand that Cawthorn’s behavior was sex abuse and harassment. After all, evangelical parents often don’t teach their daughters about sex abuse and consent. They obviously didn’t feel they could safely go to their school administrators for help, either. (Evangelical colleges have a bad reputation regarding sex assault and abuse on their campuses.) So it fell to their largely-poorly-equipped friends to console and comfort them — and spread the word quietly about the abuser in their midst. If Cawthorn hadn’t washed out due to grades, I wonder how much longer he’d have lasted before his behavior caught up with him. The answer does not make me feel good.
Even if an abuser’s victims do eventually talk about what happened, there’s no indication that their abusers will ever experience justice for their actions. For a lot of unsavory reasons, evangelicals can be counted upon to believe male abusers over female victims.
Indeed, Buzzfeed noted this reluctance in a number of Cawthorn’s victims even now.
The System Works As It Has Been Calibrated to Work.
If I were to try to deliberately craft a social system for a group that all but guaranteed sex abusers unfettered access to victims and next to no repercussions for their behavior, I couldn’t possibly improve on what evangelical men have done with their end of Christianity. This system may not have been deliberately created to do that, only calibrated bit by bit till it served its masters’ purpose.
And it does.
Authoritarian leaders like to strip power from one group (women). Then, they like to give all of that power to another (themselves — men) just on the basis of demographics. Thus, the weakest link in the powerful demographic outranks the strongest link in the powerless one.
The powerful group insists they will play nicely with their power and not abuse it. This self-directed finger-wagging is expected to be sufficient to protect the powerless. (In evangelical men’s case, they sprinkle the magic pixie dust of prayer over their fingers first. It doesn’t help.)
In inevitable cases of abuse, though, the abuser’s fellow power-holders can be counted upon to close ranks to protect him. Their first and main and overriding focus is on keeping all of their power to themselves, not taking care of the people they’ve rendered powerless. They don’t see the power itself as the problem. Well, yes, of course they don’t.
So as it turns out, authoritarian groups just lend themselves well to sex abuse.
At this point, I am never surprised, ever, when any evangelical man turns out to be a sex abuser. Their authoritarian social system all but invites predators in to abuse victims, then protects them to the hilt afterward. And so it goes with Madison Cawthorn.
NEXT UP: LSP! See you tomorrow. <3
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