Madison Cawthorn, for the unacquainted, represents North Carolina’s 11th congressional district in the House of Representatives. At 25 years old, he’s the youngest member of Congress, and the youngest since the 1960s. He rides in a wheelchair, having been partially paralyzed in a 2014 auto wreck in which he was a passenger. He’s also a big-time phony.
Cawthorn’s deal is that he is a weasel who couches both his bogus résumé and his frequent expressions of extreme white-nationalist views in just enough coy, insincere deniability to cover a sneering retreat to aggrieved victimhood when anybody points out the plain facts of who he is and what he is saying. A tidy example of this: When he created a phony paper-only Potemkin real estate investment firm in 2019, for the purpose of being able to pretend that he is an entrepreneur and business-owner in the same field as Donald Trump, he gave it a name right-wing extremists and white nationalists would immediately recognize as a dogwhistle in their direction—but which, since it does not literally translate as “I, Madison Cawthorn, am a Nazi,” allowed him (and perhaps more importantly the people and media outlets who like to participate in this fascist line dance) to claim that he was being attacked unfairly by the biased liberal media merely for having expressed classically American anti-authoritarian views. That kind of thing.
That is a dismal and ordinary routine by the public faces of the modern right, and I don’t want to write about it. But not everybody who reads this website already has the kind of brain worms that would lead them to familiarity with a ghoul like Madison Cawthorn, and this is a blog about how Madison Cawthorn has been busted making phony claims about training for the Paralympic Games, and that’s just a lot more fun to laugh at if you go into it with some baseline awareness of Cawthorn being, in virtually all other respects, awful.
The Nation‘s Sara Luterman has the story about those Paralympics claims, and it’s delightful. For years, Cawthorn and his surrogates have pushed the story that he is a high-level para-athlete who intended to compete in the Tokyo Paralympic Games (originally scheduled for 2020 and postponed until at least later this year due to the pandemic). For example, he posts videos on social media, in which he claims to be training toward breaking wheelchair-racing speed records at the Tokyo Games.
But that is all a bunch of baloney! From Luterman’s article:
Cawthorn frequently said on social media that he was “training” for the Paralympic Games. Technically, such a statement could be true—but only in the sense that I could be training for the Olympic Games. “It’s like a kid saying they want to play in the NBA when they’re on their fourth-grade basketball team,” said Amanda McGrory, a three-time Paralympian who has earned seven medals in track and field. Cawthorn stated on the Christian inspirational podcast The Heal, “I had an opportunity for the Paralympics for track and field.” He did not have that opportunity, nor does it appear he took any meaningful steps that would have led him there.
It’s not just that competing in the Paralympics is an unrealistic goal for Cawthorn; plenty of people have unrealistic goals and draw motivation from them. (Personally, I aspire to become eight inches taller than I am.) It’s that by all the available evidence, Cawthorn is not actually pursuing that goal, so much as he’s just making bullshit claims about it for the sake of tricking people into thinking he’s a world-class para-athlete:
In addition to being on a team and establishing times at qualifying races, prospective Paralympians need to be internationally classified. “The International Paralympic Committee, the IPC, they have a registry of athletes. You have to be on it to even compete internationally,” McGrory explained. People on the list are evaluated for severity of disability and sorted accordingly, in an attempt to make athletic competitions between people with different disabilities fairer. The list is publicly available, and contains over 4,000 athletes from around the world. Cawthorn isn’t on it.
He just makes shit up!
For example, in one post from May 2019, Cawthorn uses the hashtag “qualifiers.” In another post from February 2019, Cawthorn mentions that he is going to the “US Open” in June. But McGrory told me, “There were no qualifying meets in 2019.” Both she and [two-time Paralympian Brian Siemann] had no idea what the “US Open” in Cawthorn’s post could possibly refer to.
What has allowed this line of bullshit to sustain as long as it has is the American public’s broad cluelessness and incuriosity about para-athletics; its preference for vaguely admiring para-athletes over actually knowing the least bit about their sports; and the broad assumption that para-athletics are inherently a less serious or demanding athletic pursuit than others—the sort of thing a congressperson could train for in their spare time. As Luterman puts it, “If Cawthorn had claimed to be preparing for the 400 meters in the Summer Olympics, the press would have ridiculed him, but no one in media questioned his claims of training for the Paralympics.”
That’s pretty bleak, as is the cynicism required for Cawthorn to exploit that gap, to assume he could just invent the profile of a hard-charging Paralympic athlete and his fans and voters would celebrate him for it. But it’s also a handy reminder, in case anybody still needed one after four years of the Donald Trump presidency, that absolutely no one holds a lower opinion of America’s conservative base than the people who campaign for its support.