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Report: Former classmates say Rep. Madison Cawthorn sexually harassed women in college

Cawthorn has denied the allegations; more than three dozen people told BuzzFeed News they are true.

Cawthorn sits in a wheelchair, wearing a navy suit and tie and brown shoes, speaking with a red-and-blue backdrop behind him.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 26, 2021, in Orlando, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Several women who are former college classmates of Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against the representative, dating back to their days together at Patrick Henry College, according to a BuzzFeed News report.

The report describes incidences of Cawthorn inappropriately touching and kissing women at the small Virginia school, and taking them for “terrifying” rides alone in his car on the backroads around campus. The report also recounts Cawthorn verbally harassing many of his female classmates, calling them derogatory slurs, and asking sexual questions which embarrassed the Christian, conservative women.

Caitlin Coulter, a former classmate of Cawthorn’s, described to BuzzFeed a harrowing ride in Cawthorn’s Dodge Challenger, saying that he made “insinuations” and asked her about her purity ring, which Coulter interpreted as an attempt to talk about sex. Coulter told BuzzFeed she evaded his questioning until he snapped and barreled back to campus recklessly, with Coulter clinging to her seat for safety.

“It was really scary,” she told BuzzFeed. “And just I remember just being very happy to make it back home safely.”

The experience was common enough on campus that resident assistants at the school began warning young women on campus not to be alone with Cawthorn in his car, BuzzFeed reports, though he spent little more than one full semester at the school.

Cawthorn was elected to Congress in North Carolina’s 14th District at age 25 last November, becoming the youngest-ever member of Congress, which puts his history at Patrick Henry at just four years ago. Cawthorn quickly made a name for himself as so many modern conservatives have done, through trolling; tweeting, for instance, “Cry more, lib,” upon being projected the winner of his race. He upset then-President Donald Trump’s preferred candidate in the primary and went on to win a seat in Congress.

Throughout his political career, the veracity of Cawthorn’s statements has been called into question. While campaigning, he often told of how he had been accepted to the US Naval Academy before a car accident which left him paralyzed from the waist down, a claim which turned out to be false. Cawthorn also used to speak of training for the Paralympics on his Instagram page, which the Nation’s Sara Luterman reported last month was also false.

Cawthorn has said the claims brought to light in BuzzFeed’s report are false, referring to previous denials made during his campaign that he had ever done “anything sexually inappropriate.”

“These questions were repeatedly asked and answered during the course of the campaign. The voters of Western North Carolina responded to these allegations by giving Madison Cawthorn a 12-point victory over his opponent,” Cawthorn’s communications director and college friend, Micah Bock, told BuzzFeed.

Despite Cawthorn’s denial, BuzzFeed corroborated their sources’ stories through interviews with over 20 of the congressman’s former classmates with knowledge of the allegations.

Despite these allegations — which, as Bock has noted, have been around for some time — the representative is one of the Republican Party’s rising stars in the post-Trump era. And it appears unlikely that credible reports of sexual harassment will alter his standing within the party.

The post-Trump Republican identity crisis

Mere minutes after BuzzFeed’s report hit the internet, Cawthorn appeared on Fox News claiming that the Republican Party has a “great moral foundation to stand upon.”

Cawthorn went on to say that he’s hoping his presence in Congress can help the party get through to a younger generation of voters who have a conception of the GOP as racist and bigoted. “We are the big tent party,” he said in an interview with the conservative news network from the floor of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

But several recent incidents reveal just what a large task changing the minds of people with negative perceptions of Republicans may be.

Two Republicans — Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Sen. Rand Paul — were criticized this week for making hateful, anti-trans statements, with Paul’s comments coming during a Cabinet nomination hearing.

On Saturday, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) spoke at CPAC, criticizing “white racism,” by saying, “I want to tell you, I denounce ... white racism,” during a panel. “That’s not appropriate.” Gosar made the comments in an attempt to distance himself from a Friday appearance at a different event organized by white supremacist and Capitol insurrectionist Nick Fuentes.

Cawthorn himself spoke at the January 6 Trump rally that proceeded the insurrection, telling the crowd it looked like it had “some fight in it.” He later said the rioters’ actions were “despicable,” but defended his remarks at the rally.

Some Democrats have accused Republicans of inviting the support of white supremacists, and others have said they believe some of their GOP colleagues are white supremacists themselves. A number of Republican leaders have warned of the danger of embracing white supremacy, and other GOP lawmakers have spoken out about allowing fringe views to become central in the party. But despite these warnings, others have aligned themselves with figures like white supremacists — and in so doing, make it difficult for the GOP to become the big-tent party Cawthorn described.

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