Last week, Madison Cawthorn, the MAGA congressman from North Carolina, attended a school board meeting in Henderson County, where he spoke against mask requirements for students. While he was there, an attendee snapped a photo of what appeared to be a knife stored underneath his wheelchair. By the following day, it was circulating on social media, and the school district had notified authorities and publicly committed to cooperate with their investigation in the interest of “the safety of our staff, students, and members of the public in our schools and on our properties.”
Bringing a knife onto public-school grounds is a Class 1 misdemeanor in North Carolina, but the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office announced that the congressman would not be charged. In a statement, the sheriff’s office said that the decision took into account the full circumstances of the incident: “Although unacceptable, occasionally a person inadvertently possesses a knife.”
Politics being what it is, Cawthorn’s adversaries are not content to let the issue die with the ruling from the sheriff’s office. On Sunday evening, American Muckrakers, a political action committee that opposes Cawthorn sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urging her “to investigate” the matter “and take appropriate action.” A draft of the letter was obtained by New York.
The letter includes further documentation about when and where Cawthorn carries the knife in the form of a photograph published in the January 18, 2021 issue of New York. The image, taken by photographer Gabriella Demczuk on the morning of January 6 as Cawthorn made his way to speak to the crowd that would go on to storm the Capitol, shows the congressman’s fist raised in the air. The letter notes that in the photo, below Cawthorn, there’s “an object bearing a knurled, rounded metallic-colored end with a black face, a large hole, and an apparent screw head, bearing a strong resemblance to the Microtech SBD Dagger.”
The letter claims that the photo published by New York is evidence that Cawthorn violated laws against the possession of dangerous weapons in the District of Columbia, and that the length of the blade of the knife they allege Cawthorn owns — 4.45 inches — is longer than the three-inch blade that the U.S. Capitol permits staff to carry. However, the Capitol Police Board regulations state that, at least with regards to firearms, members of Congress are within their rights to keep them, “within the confines of his office” and to transport their firearms through the Capitol, “unloaded and securely wrapped.”
Per the Capitol Police, knives fall under the related, “dangerous weapons” category, and it’s not clear if a similar exception is made for members of Congress who carry them. In his recent memoir, John Boehner tells a story about the time Don Young, a representative from Alaska, pushed him against the wall of the House chamber, “pulled a ten-inch knife from his pocket (he was known for carrying one or more knives everywhere he went), flipped the blade open, and held it up to my throat.” Boehner wrote that his response was to look Young in the eye and say, “Fuck you.” David Wheeler, the president of the PAC and its related, subtly named website, FireMadison.com, told New York that his group also plans to file an ethics complaint with the House.
When Cawthorn was asked on Tuesday about the allegation he had brought his knife to the school, he pleaded ignorance. “I don’t really know anything about that,” he said, according to the Raleigh News & Observer. “I’ll have to look into it, but I don’t know anything about it.”
Yet that’s not what Cawthorn told New York in January. During an interview in his office amid Donald Trump’s second impeachment, Cawthorn volunteered information about the knife he carries. The following exchange was part of a conversation about the day of the insurrection as he experienced it.
Representative Cawthorn: I rearmed — you can’t take guns onto the floor.
New York: Right …
Rep. Cawthorn: I usually only have my — my — my — a knife on me on the floor, but, you know, we came back to get our guns.
New York: Did you have a knife on you?
Rep. Cawthorn: Yeah, I’ve always got a hunting knife on me.
New York: Didn’t you tell the local press that you had a gun on you the day of the siege?
Rep. Cawthorn: We did, on — during the siege, we came back to get it.
Cawthorn did not respond to a request for comment from New York.