Cawthorn calls jailed Jan. 6 rioters 'political hostages'

Cawthorn calls jailed Jan. 6 rioters 'political hostages'
© Greg Nash

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) is describing those in law enforcement custody for allegedly storming the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying President BidenJoe BidenFighter jet escorts aircraft that entered restricted airspace during UN gathering Julian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp MORE's election victory as "political hostages" while repeating false claims that the 2020 election was "stolen."

Cawthorn made the remarks over the weekend during an event with supporters that was streamed on Facebook by the Macon County Republican Party.

During the event, which included a question-and-answer session with constituents, Cawthorn cast doubt on Biden's legitimate electoral victory over former President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE and warned of violence "if our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen."

ADVERTISEMENT

"I'll tell you, anybody who tells you that Joe Biden was dutifully elected is lying," Cawthorn said to jeers from the crowd.

An attendee later asked what Cawthorn was "doing to support the 535 Americans that were held — captured in — from Jan. 6," apparently referring to rioters in law enforcement custody.

Cawthorn described them as "political hostages" and "political prisoners."

"The big problem is we don't actually know where all the political prisoners are," Cawthorn said. "And 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, because they don't want to see the mass protests going on in Washington."

Another attendee then asked, "When are you going to call us to Washington again?"

"We are actively working on that one," Cawthorn said. "We have a few plans in motion I can't make public right now, but this is something that we're working on. There are a lot of Republicans who don't want to talk about this."

ADVERTISEMENT

Supporters of the Jan. 6 defendants are planning a rally on Sept. 18, which organizers are calling "Justice for J6," on the Capitol grounds. Local law enforcement is already making preparations for the event, which is occurring on a Saturday when neither chamber of Congress is scheduled to be in session.

It's not yet clear if any members of Congress will be in attendance at the Sept. 18 demonstration.

But some other far-right House members, including Cawthorn, have tried to cast people charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 insurrection as "political prisoners" and have expressed concerns about their treatment in custody amid broader efforts among some in the GOP to downplay the severity of the violent attack on the Capitol.

Republican Reps. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzBipartisan senators to hold hearing on 'toxic conservatorships' amid Britney Spears controversy Eric Trump lawyer in New York attorney general's fraud case quits Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally MORE (Fla.), Marjorie Taylor GreeneMarjorie Taylor GreeneGOP efforts to downplay danger of Capitol riot increase The Memo: What now for anti-Trump Republicans? Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene says she's meeting with Trump 'soon' in Florida MORE (Ga.) and Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertRepublicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally Security forces under pressure to prevent repeat of Jan. 6 Washington ramps up security ahead of Sept. 18 rally MORE (Texas) were turned away from the D.C. Department of Corrections in late July when they tried to visit people accused of crimes related to Jan. 6 who were in custody there.

Greene, Gaetz and Gohmert, along with Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarDomestic extremists return to the Capitol Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally Washington ramps up security ahead of Sept. 18 rally MORE (R-Ariz.), also tried to hold a news conference outside the Justice Department on the same day that police officers testified before the House select committee dedicated to investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection about their experiences defending the Capitol from the violent mob. But the GOP lawmakers ultimately cut their press conference due to interruptions from protesters.

Cawthorn later raised the threat of political violence if people continue to believe that elections are "stolen."

"If our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, it's gonna lead to one place, and it's bloodshed," said Cawthorn. "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."

Luke Ball, a spokesman for Cawthorn, sought to clarify that the first-term lawmaker “wants due process for the prisoners” and “was not advocating for any form of illegal action, only that they receive full due process.”

Ball also clarified that Cawthorn is “not actively working on any ‘protest’ or ‘plan’ to bring people to Washington.”

“Congressman Cawthorn was referring to actively working on getting answers about political prisoners following January 6th. Nothing else,” Ball said. 

The spokesman further stressed that the remarks warning of “bloodshed” were meant to call for restoring confidence in elections as a way to avoid violence. 

“In his comments, Congressman Cawthorn is 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,” Ball said.

CNN first reported Monday that the House select committee investigating Jan. 6 is asking telecommunications companies to preserve the phone records of Trump and Republican members of Congress who played a role in the "Stop the Steal" rally outside the White House that preceded the attack on the Capitol — a group that includes Cawthorn.

The day after Jan. 6, Cawthorn called the mob that stormed the Capitol a "disgusting and pathetic group of people" during an interview with the Smoky Mountain News.

"I have no problem calling that out, even though a lot of those people probably would've voted for me," Cawthorn said at the time. "I can't support that."

—Updated at 7:09 p.m.