Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Pretty Nice Package For Such A Toxic Product-- Meet The Future Of The North Carolina GOP


A month ago we took a quick look at a GOP super-star in the making, Madison Cawthorn, the 25 year old right-wing, certifiably insane person who beat Trump's candidate for the deep red seat Mark Meadows gave up to become Trump's 20th Chief of Staff. It's the reddest district in North Carolina-- R+14-- and Trump won it in 2016 with 57.2%.

Cawthorn will face retired Air Force Col. Moe Davis in November. Carefully gerrymandered, the 11th district includes the whole of the western part of the state except Asheville, which was considered too dangerously blue for the far right haven the legislature was creating. Even the part of Buncombe County that was left in the 11th performed as a D+10 in the 2018 election (with the Asheville part of the district in NC-10, while swamped by the extreme right wing lunatics who live in Gaston, Catawba and Cleveland counties, performed at a D+39 in the same 2018 midterm.) In 2016, Buncombe County was all about Bernie. He beat Hillary 30,913 (62.1%) to 17,604 (35.4%) and he also beat all 10 Republican candidates that day combined. Trump came in second in Buncombe with just 8,403 votes. In the general election Bernie voters mustered what enthusiasm they could for the corporate Democrat, and Hillary managed to beat Trump countywide-- 55.7% to 41.1%.

Now we hear that since winning his primary, and needing to win independent votes, not just Republican votes, young Mr. Cawthorn-- a Nazi-sympathizer-- has deleted nine Instagram photos in which he was celebrating a trip visit the Berchtesgaden retreat of his idol, Adolph Hitler. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency published 3 of the pictures with Cawthorn's caption (click to blow up the image and make it legible

click on the image to read the caption

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, referring to Cawthorn as "a right-wing Republican congressional candidate in North Carolina" and reported that he "has taken down pictures he posted to Instagram from a 2017 vacation to the Eagle’s Nest, the Nazi retreat in Germany that Hitler visited more than a dozen times."
Madison Cawthorn’s pictures were removed Monday, the same day that a report in Jezebel made the case that he is "following the playbook of other, more successful far-right Republicans in recent years, attempting to rebrand his extreme views … as squarely in the mainstream of the Republican Party."

In addition to calling Hitler Führer, a term of reverence, Cawthorn also named his real estate company SPQR, a term popular among white nationalists, and displays in his home an early American flag that the Anti-Defamation League says has been appropriated by far-right extremists, according to the Jezebel report.

Cawthorn defeated a Republican who had been endorsed by President Donald Trump in June’s primary. Since the primary, however, the 25-year-old candidate has worked to convey his support for Trump, according to a report by AVL Watchdog, a nonprofit news organization covering the portion of North Carolina that Cawthorn is seeking to represent in the House of Representatives.

The AVL Watchdog report published over the weekend includes many of the same details as the Jezebel report, as it spells out the far-right vision that Cawthorn, who would be one of the youngest-ever congressmen if elected, is offering local voters. But it did not include the Eagle’s Nest vacation photos, in which Cawthorn said a trip to Hitler’s retreat had been on his “bucket list.”

After the Jezebel report was published, the pictures began circulating on social media before they were deleted. Among those who shared the photos on Twitter was Moe Davis, the Democrat opposing Cawthorn in North Carolina’s 11th District, a traditional Republican district in the western part of the state.

The two men are competing to fill the spot in Congress vacated by Mark Meadows after he became the Trump White House chief of staff earlier this year. Davis is a retired Air Force colonel who resigned as Guantanamo Bay’s chief prosecutor to protest a policy allowing evidence obtained through torture to be used in trials. While he is considered a long shot to win in November, population shifts mean the district may not be as safely Republican as it once was. “Hitler’s vacation retreat is not on my bucket list,” Davis tweeted Monday.
Esther Wang wrote the Cawthorn story for Jezebel, noting that "Cawthorn often talks about the need for Republicans to have a fresh young face, and to wrap conservative ideas in 'better packaging' and 'better messaging' that is less 'abrasive.' But 'better packaging' is just that--packaging. Cawthorn is following the playbook of other, more successful far-right Republicans in recent years, attempting to rebrand his extreme views-- which include what I would describe as white supremacist-adjacent nationalism-- as squarely in the mainstream of the Republican Party. In doing so, he’s co-signing those ideas for a new generation of voters who may be turned off by Old White Men but who might embrace them from a fellow millennial."

Wang wrote the definitive piece on Cawthorn, one that will be a reference point when he eventually runs for the Senate, clearly his goal. She pointed out that "Much of Cawthorn’s professional background has been accepted at face value, with news articles about him... running with the persona he has cultivated: that of a young, successful businessman who, inspired by personal tragedy and a quagmire of medical debt, is on a mission to stop the horrific spread of socialism. But look even slightly beyond the surface and that story begins to look more like a padded resumé, one composed of what seems like half-truths and lies by omission." And Wang looked more than just slightly beyond the surface:
Cawthorn paints himself as a promising young man with plans to become a Marine until the 2014 car accident that left him partially paralyzed. “He planned on serving his country in the Navy with a nomination to the U.S. Naval Academy,” one of his campaign ads states, until “tragedy struck.” Almost every single news article about Cawthorn mentions that he was nominated to the Naval Academy by his former boss Mark Meadows, now White House Chief of Staff; it’s easy to then assume that he was accepted by the Naval Academy. But it turns out, according to a 2017 deposition Cawthorn gave as part of his unsuccessful lawsuit seeking $30 million from the auto insurance company that had already paid him $3 million, he was actually rejected by the Naval Academy, and was informed of his rejection before his car accident.

Cawthorn’s biography also neglects to highlight his actual time in college, which seemingly consisted of one semester at Patrick Henry College in Virginia, a small conservative Christian university described as “God’s Harvard” that operates as a sort of feeder school for those who want to enter right-wing politics. According to that same 2017 deposition, Cawthorn said he attended Patrick Henry College starting in the fall of 2016 and studied political science, but dropped out. The reason he gave? “Heartbreak,” he told the attorney, saying that his first fiancée (he was engaged to another woman before Bayardelle) “ran off with my best friend.” But he also admitted his grades were terrible. “I would think probably my average grade in most classes was a D,” he recalled, pinning the cause partly on the injuries stemming from his accident.

So Cawthorn was never admitted to the Naval Academy, and is by his own admission a college dropout-- details that on their own are inconsequential. But when combined and coupled with the lawsuit, they paint a clearer, and more complete, picture of Cawthorn that differs from the image he has presented to date.

This includes his assertion that he is a real estate investor. In 2019, according to a scan of Cawthorne’s Instagram page, he appeared to do a lot of relaxing for someone who is supposedly a busy entrepreneur-- in between working out, claiming to train for the Olympics (a goal which he gave up that July), giving a few motivational speeches here and there, and proposing to Bayardelle-- Cawthorn traveled to the Bahamas, Mexico, and traipsed around Europe. Of course, it’s not disqualifying for a potential member of Congress to be a dick who loves to go on vacation and work out-- so many of them do! I myself enjoy vacations, though I personally try to avoid making offensive jokes. But it does raise the question of how the 25-year-old Cawthorn-- who appears to have no consistent source of income other than his real estate business and the occasional paid speeches to churches and businesses-- supports himself.

So I took a look at his financial disclosure form, where he’s supposed to list out all of his assets and income sources. According to the form Cawthorn submitted, he, as he put it himself, “made most of my money in the New York Stock Exchange,” which is helpfully characterized as “unearned” income. Under the section for “earned” income, i.e. where one would include income one made from, say, a job? It was blank.

Which isn’t surprising, because, according to public records, Cawthorn didn’t spend much of 2019 investing in real estate. To be fair, he’s only a budding real estate investor-- Cawthorn registered his real estate company, SPQR Holdings LLC, in August of 2019, using his home address (SPQR Holdings has no other office, as far as I can tell based on the registered address for his LLC, and the company appears to have no other employees other than Cawthorn himself). SPQR Holdings seems to have only been involved in one real estate transaction in its admittedly brief existence. In October of last year, Cawthorn bought a six-acre property in Genoia, Georgia, at a tax foreclosure auction, for $20,000. (My attempts to reach the previous owner of the property and have a conversation with him about how he felt about losing his land through foreclosure, and to a potential future member of Congress to boot, were sadly unsuccessful.)

I suppose registering an LLC and buying a single property technically qualifies someone to call themselves a real estate investor, but it definitely reads as more akin to playing with the idea of being a real estate investor, perhaps so one could describe oneself as a “real estate investor” when mounting a run for Congress instead of someone who supports himself largely through his stock market investments. Cawthorn has in interviews pitched himself as a sort of folksy everyman, a “fighter” who didn’t even need to get a college degree before running for Congress. (He does not mention his brief time at Patrick Henry in the interviews I’ve read, and in a recent interview he offhandedly described colleges as “indoctrination camps.”)

“I think we need more people who put on steel-toed boots every single morning rather than a tie, shaping our public policy,” he proclaimed during a July 20 interview with Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, heavily implying that he was part of the former group, which is odd given that he’s pitched himself as a “real estate investor.” I guess calling oneself a “real estate investor,” if one takes the Trump sons as a model, conjures up images of working at construction sites, a hard hat jammed on one’s head. But unfortunately for Cawthorn, even the Trump sons seem to have more actual real estate experience than he does.

And then there’s the matter of the name of his LLC-- SPQR, the acronym of the Latin phrase “Senatus Populusque Romanus,” which means “the Senate and the Roman people,” from the time of the Roman republic. Cawthorn may just be a big fan of Mary Beard, but unfortunately for him, the acronym SPQR has lately become quite popular among white nationalists. Given his previous goal of becoming a U.S. Marine, and the popularity of the debate over whether a Marine unit could take on the Roman legions, I initially waved off the name of his company as some strange holdover from the days when he dreamed of being in the Corps.

But in many of his television interviews filmed from home during the pandemic and as he ran for office, Cawthorn can be seen speaking in front of a version of the U.S. flag that’s commonly called the Betsy Ross flag. During the hours I spent watching both Cawthorn’s and his fiancée’s videos on Instagram, I spied a second Betsy Ross flag in their home, one clearly displayed in their garage, which seemed odd to me—I haven’t spent that much time in the homes of white people who live in the South, but according to my colleague Kelly Faircloth of Georgia (which, along with North Carolina, was one of the original 13 colonies), it’s not exactly common to see the Betsy Ross flag proudly displayed. The Betsy Ross flag, which features a circle of 13 stars instead of the more common 50 stars in the upper left-hand corner, has, like the phrase SPQR, been similarly appropriated by some extremist movements.

According to Rolling Stone, the flag has “been associated with the Patriot Movement, an anti-government, extremist right-wing movement that encompasses smaller fringe movements such as the militia movement, the sovereign citizen movement, and the tax protest movement.” Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League told Rolling Stone that the militia movement “has been using the Betsy Ross flag, among other Revolutionary War-era symbols, since its inception.” He explained that these movements use “old flags from that era” because “they view themselves as analogous to American revolutionaries.” And Robert Evans, a journalist who covers far-right groups in the U.S., told Rolling Stone that he has “definitely seen the original U.S. flag appropriated by white nationalist groups.”

...I reached out to Ben Lorber, an analyst who studies anti-Semitism and white nationalist movements at Political Research Associates, to ask him what he made of Cawthorn’s use of SPQR and his display of the Betsy Ross flag prominently in his home. Lorber noted that the Betsy Ross flag had been seen at the Unite the Right rally in 2017, and most recently at some pro-police rallies, though he said the usage of the flag by extremist groups “is not prominent.” More striking, he told me, was Cawthorn’s decision to use SPQR in the name of his business. As Lorber told me via email, the term SPQR has been “adapted as a symbol by many white nationalists, who falsely glorify the ancient Roman Empire, much as they view the present-day U.S., as a proud white civilization that collapsed due to multiculturalism and immigration of non-white foreigners,” and has been used “to assert a similarly specious equivalence between an idealized Greco-Roman past and contemporary Western civilization, which they view as under attack by sinister forces of progressivism.” Cawthorn, Lorber wrote, “should clarify to the public why he used the acronym for his company name, and whether he holds these disturbing views.”

I agreed with Lorber, and I had a lot of questions for Cawthorn. He hasn’t exactly had to answer that many difficult questions during his run for Congress, so I wanted to know, why SPQR? Why his love for the Betsy Ross flag? What did he think of the Black Lives Matter protests, and what were his views on immigration beyond, as he states on his website, that “our immigration system is in crisis,” that “we need to secure our borders and we need the rule of law,” and that he opposes “the continued allowance of sanctuary cities?” In a softball interview with the New York Times, Cawthorn claimed to “love legal immigration” and to “love how the diversity adds to our country”-- did that love extend to DACA recipients, whom Trump is continuing to threaten? To international students in the U.S. on student visas?

But his campaign, as I mentioned, never responded to my numerous requests for comment. He was too busy hanging out with Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, I guess!

I didn’t need to hear back from his campaign to know where Cawthorn truly stands, though. Read or watch interviews that he’s given to conservative outlets, and it becomes clear that he seems himself squarely in the Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton wing of the Republican party. During his lengthy interview with Charlie Kirk, Cawthorn spoke freely about what he believes. Feminists, whom he mistakenly seems to believe have achieved pay parity with men, are now going too far. “You have this third wave feminism that comes in that says, ‘No, we don’t want to be equal to men, we want to be greater than men at this point, we want to put them down.’” The Black Lives Matter movement, he told Kirk, has been “hijacked by Marxists.” The LGBT movement, he asserted, used to be “just two people who want to be able to get married.” But trans rights are a step too far for Cawthorn. “Now it’s saying we need to be able to have gender reassignment surgery for 12-year-olds,” he warned.

And that was just in the first 15 minutes. On every issue from abortion to immigration to civil rights, Cawthorn picked the most far-right position one could feasibly take without being labeled an obvious white supremacist. He called Roe v. Wade an “archaic ruling,” and described abortion as “murder” and “genocide.” When the conversation turned to reparations, Cawthorn proclaimed that the example of Asheville, North Carolina-- whose city council recently approved a program to invest in community businesses and homeownership that the council described somewhat confusingly as “reparations”-- “sets a dangerous precedent,” because it leads to a “victimhood mentality.”

“On another part,” he added,” it’s saying that they’re owed something. Did we not pay enough when 600,000 Americans died to free slaves?” He called the New York Times’ 1619 Project the “Project 1692,” because, he said, “it’s more like the Salem witch trials.” And one of the “biggest problems” in “minority communities,” Cawthorn asserted, isn’t systemic discrimination and racism, but “fatherless homes.” He explained further, apparently without any knowledge of how welfare reform has reduced already minimal benefits to practically nothing: “We subsidize fatherlessness because there are so many financial benefits to these young women to not get married and have more children, because then they can get more subsidies for those children. And then you have a woman who has seven kids from three different fathers, but none of those dads are around.” As for immigration? He told Kirk he believes in a merit-based immigration system, and that due to the pandemic, sounding thisssss close to Stephen Miller, “We should not be accepting new people into our country right now.”

“I do not believe that it’s my job as an American to be the caretaker of the rest of the world,” Cawthorn said. “Because one, we’ll lose our national identity, and two, we can’t support it.”

Cawthorn has proven that he’s learned a valuable lesson, one that’s been gleaned from watching a generation of Republicans: If you craft the right story, as riddled with holes as it may be, you can sell people anything.

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At 9:36 AM, Anonymous Val said...

Hard to know what to make of Cawthorn's trip to visit sites associated with Hitler. The Eagle's Nest is a historical landmark, so people with many different sorts of interests could be interested in visiting there. He refers to Hitler as Supreme Evil in his post. Do you think that was to disguise his true feelings for political cover?

Whether he is a crypto-neo-Nazi or not, the rest of his background sounds bad enough as it is.

At 9:48 AM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

Well, it was something more than just a vacation trip to the Eagle's Nest. He said it had long been on his bucket list. I lived in Europe for 4 years when I was his age, including a few months very near Berchtesgaden. On the most boring of days I never once thought of going up there to see it. You can judge where Cawthorn is on the political spectrum from his own stances on issues. I'd say he's extremely dangerous to America and to democracy and I hope he never gets any furthered than a congressional seat drawn purposely to be backward and extreme.

At 3:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only a Nazi would be thrilled to make the pilgrimage to the various sites connected with the failed Viennese artist.

How long before he goes to see the Wolf's Lair near Gierloz in Poland to celebrate the miraculous survival of the Fuhrer from a powerful bomb? Much of it remains despite efforts to destroy it.

Maybe he will want to visit Wannsee first so he can fully understand the magnificence of the Final Solution at Auschwitz.

He'd have been remiss to not go see where the Bürgerbräukeller once stood. After all, in America we still hang on to Faneuil Hall where our revolution was ignited!

Of course, American history wouldn't appeal to him would it? Far too much popular democracy for his tastes - and that our industrial base made it possible for the Allies to destroy the Third Reich well before that thousand years came about would still leave a vile taste in his mouth.



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