RALEIGH — A North Carolina school system contacted a sheriff’s office after a report that U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn brought a knife to a school board meeting that he attended to oppose the district’s COVID-19 mask mandate.
On Monday, Cawthorn, R-N.C., spoke to the school board in Henderson County. The next day, one of his political opponents released a photo that appears to show that he had a knife in a sheath attached to the bottom of his wheelchair. And a group opposing Cawthorn’s re-election to Congress reported him to local law enforcement.
Attended the Henderson County School Board meeting tonight to speak for continued mask mandates for schools. Meanwhile, @RepCawthorn must have feared for his life, seeing as he brought a knife to the meeting. #TogetherWeCan pic.twitter.com/bhTXYXu6uX— JayCareyforCongress (@jrcareyncdist11) September 14, 2021
“I don’t really know anything about that,” Cawthorn said when asked about the allegations after speaking at a school board meeting in Johnston County on Tuesday. “I’ll have to look into it, but I don’t know anything about it.”
Molly McGowan Gorsuch, a spokesperson for Henderson County Public Schools, said the district notified the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office.
“We are committed to the safety of our staff, students, and members of the public in our schools and on our properties, and will continue to fully cooperate with law enforcement,” McGowan Gorsuch said.
The American Muckrakers PAC, which aims to target ads against Cawthorn, released a press release with photos, along with a letter to the sheriff’s office calling for an investigation.
The sheriff’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
This isn’t the first time that Cawthorn, a conservative freshman, has been accused of bringing weapons to the wrong places.
In February, security personnel at the Asheville airport found a Glock 9 mm handgun in Cawthorn’s luggage while he was going through security. The officials asked Cawthorn to take it back to his car, but confiscated it because his flight was scheduled to leave in a few minutes.
Cawthorn’s spokesman Micah Bock said the gun was “secured, and unchambered” and that the congressman “endeavors to always follow TSA guidelines, and quickly rectified this situation before boarding his flight.”
Cawthorn has been speaking at different school board meetings to urge them to not require masks.
Cawthorn appeared to have a knife on him while leading an outdoor protest at the Johnston County school system’s headquarters on Tuesday. While inside the school board building on Tuesday, the knife sheath underneath his wheelchair appeared to be empty.
Visitors had to go through a security screening before being allowed into Tuesday’s board meeting.
Cawthorn is best known for his conservative and controversial rhetoric, and for being one of the youngest people ever elected to Congress.
He beat a Trump-endorsed Republican in the 2020 primary for North Carolina’s 11th District, which includes much of the western part of the state, and won the general election by more 12 percentage points.
Most recently, he made headlines for saying that “bloodshed” would follow another “stolen” presidential election. He also called the arrested Capitol rioters “political prisoners” and spoke of efforts to “try and bust them out,” according to video clips of the speech.
In a statement to The Washington Post, a spokesman for Cawthorn said he was “in no way supporting or advocating for any form of violence” and that “He fears others would erroneously choose that route and strongly states that election integrity issues should be resolved peacefully and never through violence.”
Speaking about Cawthorn’s comments at the time, Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, said incidents like that could prove politically beneficial for Cawthorn, who runs on the strategy “that all news is good news.”
The issue of masking school children has become one of the most heated discussions in American politics, including in North Carolina.
Last month, a group protesting mask mandates at a Buncombe County Board of Education meeting attempted to “overthrow” the board members while they were in recess, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times.
About 30 people signed loose-leaf paper saying they were “witnesses” of the new board, the newspaper reported, though the district’s attorney said the attempted overthrow “has no authority under the law.”
In other cases of protest across the country, anti-mask protesters have chanted and disrupted meetings. Cawthorn has called the schools’ mandates “psychological child abuse.”
Health leaders nationwide have said the return to in-person learning during the pandemic will be safest if students and staff wear masks indoors and take other precautions, like social distancing and proactive quarantines to quell potential outbreaks. Both CDC and North Carolina health leaders’ guidance for local governments urges the use of masks in schools.
As of Sept. 15, just five of North Carolina’s 115 school systems are not requiring masks. While many parents across the state have said they support the mandates, others have joined in protest or otherwise condemned them.
The number of children forced to stay home due to necessary quarantine in districts with strict mask mandates has proven to be far less than those without. In Union County, which does not have a mask mandate, about 17% of students were not in school this week because they contracted COVID-19 or had close contact with someone who was sick. But the school board has since disbanded the district’s internal contact tracing efforts and significantly curtailed quarantine requirements.