Sheriff Who Supported GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn Now Says Lawmaker Helped 'Incite' Riots

Virginia Chamlee
·5-min read

Zuma/SplashNews.com Madison Cawthorn

Newly-elected Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn, of North Carolina, is facing backlash from a former member of law enforcement following last Wednesday's deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters.

Former Henderson County Sheriff George Erwin Jr., who previously endorsed Cawthorn in his race for Congress, has now rescinded his support, saying Cawthorn helped stoke the violence that played out that day.

Cawthorn, a vocal Trump supporter himself who has parroted many of the president's false claims about election fraud, spoke to the crowd gathered at last week's "Stop the Steal" rally, an event that turned deadly after many in the crowd breached the U.S. Capitol building.

"This crowd has some fight in it," Cawthorne said at the rally. "The Republicans hiding and not fighting, they are trying to silence your voice."

"My friends, I encourage you, continue to make your voice heard, because, do we love Donald Trump?" Cawthorn continued.

In a speech given shortly after Cawthorn's, the president told supporters at the rally to march to the Capitol and "fight like hell." He encouraged them to march on the U.S. Capitol building, saying, "Because you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong."

Roughly one hour later, a large group breached the building, forcing the evacuation of lawmakers and the vice president.

Five fatalities, including the death of a Capitol Police Officer, have since been reported in connection to the resulting riots.

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"You can't talk about [how] you support Blue Lives Matter and support the blue when you are firing up people who are harming law enforcement officers," Erwin said in response to Cawthorn's speech, in an interview with Blue Ridge Public Radio.

"Once a word leaves your mouth you can't take it back in. And you can either incite or you can calm with the words you use. And I have seen no calming words," Erwin continued.

Though he said that there were people who attended the rally "for the right reasons," Erwin added that words like Trump's and Cawthorn's helped incite those who weren't.

"There were a lot of good, great people that were up there for the right reasons, but you can get a few people in a massive crowd like that and your words can incite them," Erwin said. "And then you have what we call a mob mentality and other people can get caught up in it."

Erwin told the radio station the congressman no longer has his support.

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The youngest person to be elected to Congress, Cawthorn has worked to cast himself as an avid supporter of President Donald Trump, delivering a speech in support of the president's re-election at the Republican National Convention in August.

Cawthorn has also supported Trump's attempts to overthrow the results of the November presidential election, which he lost to former Vice President Joe Biden. He is one of many Republican lawmakers who have parroted Trump's baseless claims about election fraud.

"I will be contesting the election. And not only that, I have a message for all other Republicans across the country. If you are not on the record calling for fair, free, and just elections now and in the future, I will come to your district, and I will fund a primary opponent against you," Cawthorn said at a conservative summit in December.

After voting to overturn the presidential election results last week, Cawthorn is now working to distance himself from Trump and his claims about the election.

Calling the actions of the pro-Trump mob "sickening," Cawthorn told North Carolina's WTVD-TV news that the Republican Party "should have been much more wise about their choice of words."

"Once you start floating this idea of election fraud and people outright stealing an election and cheating, that has only one outcome," Cawthorn said.

RELATED: Colleague of Police Officer Killed in Riots Is 'Sick' Over His Death: 'This Was His Mission'

His speech prior to the riot, Cawthorn said, was meant to be an assurance that he would "fight" for Trump's supporters.

"I was telling that crowd, 'I'm going to fight for you. Your voice is being heard. I'm going to affect change on your behalf,' " Cawthorn said.

Though he hasn't said whether he believes his own words may have incited violence at the Capitol, Cawthorn has acknowledged that Trump's rhetoric did.

"I think when the president said we're going to march down to the Capitol and I'm going to march with you that was a major mistake. He never should've directed that crowd toward the Capitol," Cawthorn said. "The bad outcome was destined at that point."

Asked whether he still stands by his speech at last week's rally, a spokesman for Cawthorn sent PEOPLE a statement that read, in part: "[Rep. Cawthorn] has criticized President Trump for directing protestors toward the Capitol and repeatedly told protestors that the legal pathway to address their concerns was through debate on the house floor, by their elected representatives, not violence in the streets of the Capital."

The spokesman added that "debating whether Congress should accept or reject electoral votes in states that may have ignored their own laws was entirely appropriate and legal under our Constitution."