A newly leaked video shows far right Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-North Carolina) calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug” and deriding the Ukrainian government as “evil” and “woke.”
In a short video obtained by WRAL, Cawthorn says, “Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug. Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies, and really there’s a new woke ruling.” The video was likely taken at a town hall in Asheville, North Carolina, over the weekend.
It’s unclear what Cawthorn is referring to when he says that the Ukrainian government is pushing “woke ideologies,” but the actual meaning is likely inconsequential, as the right often lies and bends the truth to propagandize.
However, Cawthorn’s rhetoric seems to tie the invasion to the American political right’s battle against “woke” agendas, a concerning statement as conservatives openly embrace fascism while scapegoating “woke” progressives and Democrats – or essentially, anyone who opposes them – for any and all problems that the right claims are plaguing the country.
About an hour after the video was leaked, Cawthorn appeared to double down on his comments on Twitter. He denounced Vladimir Putin, but said that Ukrainian “[p]ropaganda is being used to entice America into another war,” and that “leaders, including Zelensky, should NOT push misinformation on America.”
Cawthorn linked an article about “Ukrainian misinformation” that is supposedly goading the U.S. into entering into war with Russia. The linked article relied on multiple stories about the Russian invasion that have since been debunked.
The article was written by Pedro L. Gonzalez, who is listed as an editor at the Charlemagne Institute on LinkedIn. The mission of the Charlemagne Institute, which has ties to the Koch family network, is to “defend and advance Western civilization,” a white supremacist dogwhistle. Its logo bears a resemblance to that of far right nationalists.
“Zelenskyy is a thug. Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”
— The Republican Accountability Project (@AccountableGOP) March 10, 2022
In response to the video, Republican state Sen. Chuck Edwards wrote on Twitter that the real “thug is Vladimir Putin” and that anything other than support for Zelenskyy and Ukraine is “counter to everything we stand for in America.” Former George W. Bush deputy chief of staff Karl Rove wrote in the Wall Street Journal, where Cawthorn’s speech was first reported, that Cawthorn’s words “[don’t] reflect Republican opinion.”
It’s unclear why Cawthorn made these claims. It’s true that Zelenskyy has asked the U.S. for aid, specifically requesting that the U.S impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which would be an act of war with likely devastating consequences. There’s no evidence that Zelenskyy is pushing disinformation in his pleas as Cawthorn claims, however.
While it has been popular amongst Republicans in recent weeks to denounce war with Russia, this stance is an odd flip for the party that typically jumps at the chance to enter war or otherwise lift up militarism. It’s possible that Republicans are hedging their bets that President Joe Biden will enter war with Russia, in which case they can claim that they were right all along, similarly to how they flipped on exiting Afghanistan when Biden did it instead of Donald Trump.
In recent social media posts, Cawthorn appears to be saying that he thinks that Biden is somehow at fault for injuries in Ukraine. Meanwhile, supporters of QAnon, which Cawthorn has denounced but spouted conspiracy theories from, have begun repeating Russian conspiracy theories that the U.S. is developing bioweapons in Ukraine.