In August, Katrina Krulikas wrote in an Instagram post that Madison Cawthorn, the 25-year-old rising Republican star and candidate for Congress in western North Carolina, had forcibly kissed her without her consent. She was 17 and he was 19. As she described it, their first (and only) date had been an uncomfortable experience for Krulikas, who met Cawthorn through the tightknit homeschooling community they were both part of. She recalled that Cawthorn had taken her to a secluded location, had asked her numerous questions about her sexual history, and pressured her to sit on his lap before kissing her against her will. “[T]he conversation was halted when Madison quickly and forcefully plunged forward in an attempt to make me kiss him. He was much stronger than me,” she wrote. “I recall being so startled, that as he tried to grab me and I attempted to pull away, my hair was pulled instead and I got stuck in his chair. I had to yank out some of my own hair just to free myself.”
Krulikas added, “While the media portrays Madison as a role model for Christian, family values, my experience with him leads me to believe otherwise.”
Cawthorn and his campaign have attempted to paint Krulikas’s allegations as “very normal” behavior that was merely “flirtatious,” subsequently wielded as a “Kavanaugh-like character assassination.” In an interview Cawthorn gave shortly after Krulikas detailed the alleged assault, Cawthorn said that he has “respect for every single woman” and believes “in the necessity of consent.” He addressed the incident directly, adding, “I did try and kiss her just very normal, just in a flirtatious way.” He continued, painting the encounter as a typical date: “As soon as I realized that she didn’t want to—I think she pulled back a little bit—the date was over and we continued to sit around the fire for quite a while. I drove her back to her car and everything was normal. I realized she didn’t want to pursue a romantic relationship and so I don’t think I talked to her very much after that.”
But after Krulikas shared her account of the date, more stories emerged alleging Cawthorn had engaged in sexual misconduct. WORLD Magazine, an evangelical Christian publication based in Asheville, North Carolina, reported that other women had similar encounters with the now-Congressional candidate. In addition to Krulikas, WORLD spoke with Francesca McDaniel, whose brother was friends with Cawthorn roughly during the period that Krulikas also knew Cawthorn. McDaniel told the magazine that one night when Cawthorn was driving her to a friend’s house, he began asking inappropriate questions about her sexual history and commented “about his genitalia and said he could still have fun” after the car accident that partially paralyzed him. Cawthorn then stopped his car on the side of the road and without warning or consent, McDaniel said he kissed her despite knowing she was in a relationship; after she resisted, she said, he kissed her again. As McDaniel recounted to WORLD, she then gave up resisting. “I felt, like, pressured to give in to it because he started being aggressive, and he is a strong guy,” she said.
What Krulikas and McDaniel described, and which WORLD reported was corroborated by friends of the two women, appeared to fit into a pattern of allegedly predatory behavior by Cawthorn. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, Krulikas had spoken with friends who also knew Cawthorn during that time period and who shared similar stories. “My situation wasn’t isolated,” Krulikas said.
And that behavior allegedly continued into his brief time at Patrick Henry College, the small private Christian university that Cawthorn attended in the fall of 2016 before dropping out. Last Friday, 10 of Cawthorn’s former classmates and PHC alumni released an open letter detailing what they described as his “gross misconduct towards our female peers,” as well as his “public misrepresentation of his past, disorderly conduct that was against the school’s student honor code, and self-admitted academic failings.” They were opposed to his campaign for Congress, they wrote, “based on our knowledge of Cawthorn’s character and our experience with him as a classmate at PHC.”
Some of what they detailed—his poor academic record at PHC and his misrepresentations about his rejection from the Naval Academy—has been widely reported, including by Jezebel.
But Cawthorn’s short tenure at Patrick Henry College has gone largely unaddressed during his Congressional campaign, as well as his alleged behavior towards his women classmates. (WORLD had spoken with an unnamed former PHC student who alleged that Cawthorn had, as she put it, touched her and then “moved his hand up [her] skirt” while they were having a conversation about whether one of her friends would go out with him, of all topics.) “During his brief time at the college, Cawthorn established a reputation for predatory behavior,” the 10 former students wrote in their open letter, behavior that occurred at least in part during a time when he was engaged to a fellow PHC classmate, who later broke off their engagement. They continued:
His modus operandi was to invite unsuspecting women on “joy rides” in his white Dodge Challenger. Cawthorn would take young women to secluded areas, lock the doors, and proceed to make unwanted sexual advances. It became a regular warning in the female dorms not to be caught alone with Madison Cawthorn. Additionally, he referred to female students as “bitches” and “sluts”, both in private amongst his friends and often publicly. He also called our female peers these derogatory names when they refused to go for a ride in his car.
They added, “We remember how deeply he hurt our community. We remember that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing who made our small, close-knit community his personal playground of debauchery.” On Sunday, one of the signers of the open letter, Caitlin Coulter, wrote in a public Facebook post, “I personally experienced Cawthorn’s predatory behavior and sexual harassment, which is why I signed this letter with other alum. Let’s elect candidates who are respectable and conscientious, unlike Madison Cawthorn. NC District 11 can do better.”
Coulter did not respond to a request for comment, but Jezebel spoke with Philip Bunn, who overlapped with Cawthorn during the latter’s short time at the small Christian college and was one of the original signers of the letter. Bunn described Cawthorn as an acquaintance, their interactions largely consisting of conversations at the school’s dining hall and on Facebook. Bunn recalled that Cawthorn quickly developed a reputation that “he wasn’t kind to women, and doesn’t treat women well.”
Kara Brown, another former classmate, shared her recollections of Cawthorn. Brown, who after graduating from PHC went on to an internship with the Heritage Foundation, was in a class with Cawthorn in 2016, and as she put it, “He would just say off-the-wall wild stuff, particularly about women.” Brown recalled that he would casually make sexist comments towards other women in their class and direct unwanted attention towards them. One day, a friend of hers came into their classroom wearing a red dress, and, as Brown remembered it, he made comments along the lines of, “Oh, you look so good” and “I think if you wear that dress, you can get any guy in school that you want.” Her friend, Brown said, was extremely uncomfortable with the attention, particularly given the setting in front of other students.
But beyond making sexist comments that made women uncomfortable, stories circulated on campus that Cawthorn would take women on dates and engage in nonconsensual sexual behavior. According to Brown and Bunn, and as the open letter stated, there was a whisper network about Cawthorn among PHC’s women students. “Girls were warning other girls not to go on rides with him,” Bunn told Jezebel. Brown shared a similar recollection. “It was generally well-known among the girls there, and there were always stories coming up,” Brown said. Several women told her at the time that after they would rebuff Cawthorn, he would continue to pursue them. “They’d be like, no, I don’t want to go out with you, but he would just follow them around and continually ask them out over and over again, and just wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Brown said. She added, “I think most people knew he was kind of misogynistic and kind of a flirt. But there were a decent number of girls who were like, he’s more than just a flirty guy.”
When Brown read the experiences of both Krulikas and McDaniel, she said she had an immediate reaction based on her personal interactions with Cawthorn. “I was definitely like, this one hundred percent tracks with the way that he was at school,” Brown said.
Cawthorn and his campaign have attempted to characterize the allegations of sexual misconduct as part of a Democratic smear campaign. “If she had any problem with this, I don’t see why it wouldn’t have been brought up right away. It just seems like now that the politics are involved, she’s being used as a pawn for the Democratic Party, which is unfortunate,” Cawthorn said of Krulikas. But it certainly seems that Cawthorn recognized the danger Krulikas’s allegations posed for his election campaign—mere months before Krulikas went public, according to Krulikas’s Instagram post and verified by WORLD Magazine, he texted her what she described in her Instagram post as an “insincere apology,” writing that at the time he “thought [she] was playing coy.” “I can see in hindsight how that was over the line,” he wrote, according to Krulikas.
After McDaniel shared her story, John Hart, a public relations consultant and campaign spokesperson, also tried to paint the allegations as typical teenage behavior. In a statement he sent to the Asheville Citizen-Times, Hart wrote, “There’s a big difference between a failed teenage romantic advance and being forceful, to the extent that’s possible when you’re a paraplegic,” adding that “[w]hen attempts to portray Madison as a white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer failed, national Democrats turned to their new favorite pastime of Kavanaugh-like character assassination.” When Jezebel reached out to Cawthorn’s campaign for this story, Hart painted the open letter by PHC alumni as part of a campaign directed by Moe Davis, Cawthorn’s Democratic opponent, and shared a video of Cawthorn’s fiancee, who he wrote was “the person most qualified to speak to Madison’s character.” After Jezebel pressed Hart about the specific allegations in the open letter, he wrote that Cawthorn “has repeatedly denied behaving inappropriately.”
While Cawthorn himself has yet to publicly address the open letter and the allegations in the letter, on Sunday, he posted what he described as an endorsement from former Patrick Henry College students on his Facebook page, signed by six people, including Blake Harp, his campaign manager, and Micah Bock, a campaign spokesperson. “Attacks from liberal sources, as well as discontented PHC alumni, who never knew or interacted with Madison, do not accurately reflect Madison’s true character, but rather serve to highlight just how far jealousy and vitriol can penetrate the minds of those who never even knew Madison during his time at Patrick Henry College,” the letter reads in part.
Brown, who describes herself as fairly liberal—her internship at the Heritage Foundation notwithstanding—brushed off his claims that the allegations surfacing against Cawthorn were part of a campaign by his opponents. “It’s just women supporting women, and being like, I don’t want my friend working in his office and being sexually harassed or possibly sexually assaulted by him,” she said. “I don’t want to see that happen, and it’s just the right thing to do.”
For Bunn, who describes himself as a conservative and has written articles for the Federalist, he signed the open letter because he believes Cawthorn’s character isn’t suited for Congress. “This isn’t just some liberal plot, some partisan plot,” he said. Bunn added, “I hold on to some kind of maybe naive optimism that the people who are elected to represent us should be people of good character. I think we’re all pretty unanimous that someone who has a pattern of not respecting the wishes of vulnerable people he’s around doesn’t have the type of character that would be well reflected in lawmaking.”
And Krulikas, whom Cawthorn’s campaign has attempted to paint as a Democratic Party operative, similarly brushed off those claims when she spoke with the Citizen-Times. “Republican, Democrat, Independent, it doesn’t matter what his party affiliation is—I expect him to be held accountable for his actions,” she said, adding, “I wanted to begin a narrative about how consent is extremely important.”