SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) – It was a speech that shared the stage with then-President Donald Trump and the My Pillow guy that put North Carolina congressman Madison Cawthown in the national spotlight.

His rallying cry came just before the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Now he plans to join a different set of protestors some 300 miles from his own district.

“Clearly this isn’t about representing the 11th congressional district. This is about building Madison Cawthorn’s brand into a statewide and national brand,” said Chris Cooper, who teaches political science at Western Carolina University, which is in Cawthorn’s district.

Billed as a fight for parents’ choice on masks, vaccines, and critical race theory, he plans to march to next week’s Johnston County School Board Meeting and push that agenda. Johnston County first voted to make masks in schools optional, and then changed that decision to a requirement as the delta variant has caused statewide infections to skyrocket.

“Clearly, he is not somebody who is putting his time and his resources into policy. He’s bragged about the fact he’s built a staff around ‘comms,’ in his words, meaning communications over policy, and we’ve definitely seen that,” Cooper said.

Late-night parodies from shows like the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and headlines have helped Cawthorn build a bucket load of cash. More than a year away from the next election, he’s already raised around $2 million.



See the latest news from Johnston County

Allegations from his past haven’t stopped that. Neither has his support for the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Cooper believes the Johnston County appearance is about adding more of those dollars.

“For a freshman member of congress tucked away in the mountains of western North Carolina to have raised this much money, it’s staggering numbers, and I think he can do that because he can generate this kind of coverage whether it’s positive coverage or negative coverage,” Cooper said.

Johnston County Schools said it received no notification from Cawthorn’s office. Johnston County is in Rep. David Rouzer’s 7th district. The Republican has spoken in favor of vaccines. He did not respond to a request for comment. Cawthorn also did not respond to an interview request.