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When Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn was asked about what he’s doing to help the hundreds in jail awaiting trial for their roles in the violent January 6 riots, he called them “political prisoners”—and said he wanted to “bust them out.”
“The big problem is we don’t actually know who all the political prisoners are, and so if we were actually to go and try to bust them out—and let me tell you, the reason why they have taken these political prisoners is they’re trying to make an example, because they don’t want to see the mass protest going on in Washington,” he said at a Macon County Republican Party event on Sunday.
Someone in the audience then asked, “When will you call us to Washington again?”
“We are actively working on this,” Cawthorn responded. “We have a few plans in motion I can’t make public right now,” he said, before calling those facing charges for their role in the January 6 insurrection “political hostages”—for the second time.
The speech was streamed live on Facebook by the Macon County Republican Party on Sunday. His comments were first noticed by a local anti-Cawthorn activist:
A Cawthorn staffer insisted that he wasn’t suggesting another massive protest in Washington like the one that turned into a violent riot on January 6 as Congress met to certify President Joe Biden’s election.
“Congressman Cawthorn was referring to actively working on getting answers about political prisoners following January 6,” Cawthorn spokesman Luke Ball told VICE News in an email. “Nothing else. He is not actively working on any ‘protest’—to assert otherwise would completely take his remarks out of context.”
When asked about Cawthorn’s comments about busting out prisoners, Ball said his boss “wants due process for the prisoners and does not believe that is what they are currently receiving.”
“He was not advocating for any form of illegal action, only that they receive full due process,” he continued.
Cawthorn’s remarks came during a question-and-answer period after his speech, where he claimed that “Trump obviously won” and repeated false claims that voter fraud had stolen the 2020 election for Democrats.
“Can we actually trust our voting system? Because I’ll tell you, anybody who tells you that Joe Biden was duly elected is lying to you,” he said to cheers. “We all saw the fraud. It was on full display in front of us, we all know it was a stolen election.”
Cawthorn even claimed issues with his own state and suggested that North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper had won because of voter fraud too, even though Trump and the GOP won nearly all of the statewide races.
During the rest of his remarks, Cawthorn asserted that Democrats are “planning to destroy everything we believe in,” “want to take the bulletproof vests off the men who are in uniform,” and “want to take our children away and put them in indoctrination camps—I don’t even call them public schools anymore.”
He also said Biden is “In such clear mental cognitive decline that he is incapable of carrying out the duties of his office,” and called to remove Biden via the 25th Amendment while warning that Republicans couldn’t wait until 2024 to remove Biden from office.
“We need to fix what happened with 2020,” he added later, complaining of Republicans who talked about the next presidential election.
Cawthorn has been one of the loudest voices echoing Trump’s 2020 election lies before the and since the riots, while downplaying the January 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol, suggesting supporters “lightly threaten” their congressmen if they didn’t support Trump’s challenge to the election.
“Say: ‘If you don’t support election integrity, I’m coming after you. Madison Cawthorn’s coming after you. Everybody’s coming after you,’” Cawthorn said in December.
On January 6, he spoke at the Stop the Steal rally that presaged the riots, telling the crowd he thought it had “some fight in it.”