- American Muckrakers PAC posted a sexually explicit video of a nude Madison Cawthorn with another man.
- Some saw the video as an appeal to homophobia, but the cofounder said that’s not true.
- “We could give a rat’s rear end about his sexuality. It was about the absolute hypocrisy,” the cofounder said.
The group that posted a sexually explicit video of a nude Madison Cawthorn with another man in bed is denying it tried to evoke homophobia to oust the North Carolina member of Congress.
Members of the American Muckrakers PAC, also known as FireMadison.com, sat on the recording for the better part of a week, taking time to consider whether they were being duped, whether any minors were in the video and whether they would break any North Carolina laws by posting it, its cofounder told Insider.
Whether the video would spark a homophobic response wasn’t part of their discussions, he said.
“It had nothing to do with his sexuality,” David Wheeler, a Democrat and the PAC’s co-founder told Insider. “We could give a rat’s rear end about his sexuality. It was about the absolute hypocrisy of somebody that holds himself to be above everybody and then has somebody film him in a hotel room.”
Some people didn’t take it that way.
Clay Aiken, the former American Idol star and North Carolina Democrat, told BuzzFeed News that he was “pissed” about the viral video, which showed a naked Cawthorn in bed thrusting his pelvis at the other man’s head. “The idea that anybody would gay-shame someone in order to try to embarrass him in that district and then call themselves a Democrat, I think is ridiculous,” said Aiken, whose bid to become the first openly-LGBTQ member of Congress from the South ended with his primary loss on Tuesday.
Fire Madison played a key role in exposing damaging information about Cawthorn, who lost his Republican primary in North Carolina to state Sen. Chuck Edwards on Tuesday. The group led by Wheeler and co-founder, retired Air Force Col. Moe Davis, who ran against Cawthorn in 2020, revealed Cawthorn’s attempt to take a gun through the Asheville Regional Airport last year. They also filed a complaint accusing Cawthorn of violating US House ethics rules by allegedly providing free housing and gifts to a staff member.
‘We just couldn’t sit on it’
“Fire Madison made it clear that they would put anything out and they did,” said Christopher Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University. The video “definitely caused a lot of people to think … that they were gay-baiting and that they were playing on tropes of homophobia. Whether they did that or not, I think people can decide for themselves but it was definitely that accusation.”
A Cawthorn spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Wheeler, a former state Senate candidate, and Davis both ran for office as Democrats and lost in 2020. Cawthorn defeated Davis in the general election by 12 percentage points, and Davis has since changed his registration to “unaffiliated,” Wheeler said. The group counts some Republicans among its advisors.
They have heard criticism of their decisions, Wheeler said, and they get “a little defensive” about it. He noted that they were both endorsed in their 2020 bids by Equality North Carolina, the country’s oldest statewide LGBTQ rights organization, and they have “no track record of homophobia.”
“It’s the antithesis of what we were trying to do,” he said. “I don’t know why people would see that versus the hypocrisy.”
Their April 27 ethics complaint highlighted a video of the Cawthorn staffer appearing to reach for Cawthorn’s crotch from the backseat of a car. It also includes a Venmo history of suggestive messages between the two men.
“That’s against House rules, to have a relationship with a member of the US House staff,” Wheeler said. “That’s all we were pointing out.”
Equality North Carolina declined to comment when Insider reached out.
Cawthorn came under fire for claiming he was invited to orgies in Washington and he attacked “radical expressions of sexuality” in a House floor speech about gender issues. He was called out for hypocrisy after POLITICO published photos of him in women’s lingerie.
“He looks down on gay and lesbian folks and criticizes their lifestyle, criticizes who they are, criticize who they love,” Wheeler said.
Cawthorn called the lingerie photos “goofy vacation photos” from a cruise game. He responded to the nude video released by the PAC, saying “I was being crass with a friend, trying to be funny. We were acting foolish, and joking. That’s it.”
Wheeler said he received the nude video from an anonymous source – a former supporter and donor of Cawthorn’s – but he said he would never reveal the person’s name.
The video had been shopped around to “dozens” of media organizations and he hoped someone else would have posted it, he said.
“In the public interest, we just couldn’t sit on it,” he said. “We just felt that this video and his hypocrisy needed to be pointed out.”
Fire Madison’s email host asked them to take it down, which they did. Wheeler said the ActBlue fundraising site removed the group from its website and he thinks the PAC may file a lawsuit.
Rather than the video, Wheeler said their more effective hit against Cawthorn was the Asheville airport gun incident.
“I think that put us on the map” as a credible source, he said.
With Cawthorn’s primary behind them, the group is turning next to an attempt to oust Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert in her June 28 primary. Wheeler said they already have information against her dealing with financial matters, though he declined to provide more details.
On Thursday, they launched fireboebert.com, seeking tips on information, pictures, videos, or documents on Boebert or her associates.
The first tweet by @FireBoebert reads, “Hi @RepBoebert – Ask @RepCawthorn about us. We look forwarding to getting to know you.”