We have been learning a lot about Rep. Madison Cawthorn, the MAGA congressman whose private life has become increasingly public over the past three months. Several leaks have shed light a range of his behavior, from alleged insider crypto trading to footage of Cawthorn in apparent congress with his cousin (find our recap here). Mostly, they have first appeared on the same source: a website called FireMadison.com — and yesterday, some of their most controversial links disappeared.
Several of the press releases now load to an error page. The URL for a release dropped earlier this week titled “REP. MADISON CAWTHORN DRY HUMPING SOMEONE'S HEAD AND MOANING LOUDLY,” now says only: “Requested Page was Not Found.” The homepage also leads to a “page suspension,” that says: “Be back soon! The website is under maintenance. Check back tomorrow!” According to David Wheeler, a former Democratic candidate for North Carolina State Senate and the founder of FireMadison.com, the site was hacked yesterday at around 3 p.m.
“Two things happened,” Wheeler told Gawker. “Number one, somebody reported it for the video and it was taken down, to be completely honest with you. And then somebody else hacked in there and put in some other nasty pictures which the hosting company thought we were trying to post.”
Wheeler claims someone reported the dry-humping video as revenge pornography, causing the website’s host, Bluehost, to suspend the website. The host wanted an explanation for the video, which Wheeler denied constituted revenge porn. “I have no reason to seek revenge against Cawthorn, other than the fact that he’s a terrible congressman,” Wheeler said. The site told Bluehost as much, but the company flagged the page again — claiming that someone had later flooded it with actual pornography. Wheeler described the pictures like this: “I would just characterize it as typical porn…people doing lewd acts and nudity.”
Bluehost conducted an investigation and determined the pictures had been posted by a different IP address. “It seemed like a coordinated effort by somebody,” Wheeler said. “The site — it's still propagating throughout the Internet, but it should be there.”
They don’t yet know who was behind the incident; Bluehost is supposed to send an update later today. (Bluehost did not immediately return our request for comment). But a person with the Twitter handle @Degraceful has taken credit for it online:
She did not immediately return our request for comment, but the account has disputed that the website’s suspension was a hack — tweeting, “lmao, you weren't hacked, your server shut you down for posting revenge porn,” alongside a picture of a hand flipping off the account.
The FireMadison website is run by American Muckrakers PAC, a political action committee Wheeler founded in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. It has been active for roughly the past year: its first statement filed with the FEC was dated April 7, 2021; its first press release came out two months later. In the latter, the group announced: “For the first time in Western North Carolina history, a federal Super PAC has been formed with the sole purpose of firing a member of Congress.” And much of their activity has been in service of that goal — putting out web advertisements and North Carolina billboards against the congressman, endorsing opponents in both party primaries, issuing “anti-endorsements'' from Cawthorn critics, and publishing leaked information about Cawthorn’s alleged misdeeds or private behavior.
Wheeler is the PAC’s president and co-founder. His colleagues on the advisory board include: North Carolina political consultant and former “Geocache expert” Graeme McGuffick; the journalist Paul Reid, a former Palm Beach Post writer and biographer of Winston Churchill, who claims to have run as a Republican candidate for the Massachusetts House of Representatives (we could not confirm this); and Cawthorn’s former opponent Colonel Moe Davis. Davis is best known as the former chief prosecutor of the Guantanamo military commissions and once wrote an op-ed in the New York Times claiming the widely-reviled institution was “a clean, safe and humane place for enemy combatants.”
Over the past few months, the team has received several tips about Cawthorn’s personal life, including but not limited to a video of Cawthorn with an aide’s hand on his crotch, which came out as part of an ethics complaint the group filed against him, and the dry-humping video — which shows a naked Cawthorn on top of a man he said was his cousin. The personal nature of the leaks have led some, like @DeGraceful, to claim American Muckrakers PAC is engaging in revenge porn.
Others have pointed out that the leaks follow Cawthorn’s controversial claim in March, that fellow Congress members have done cocaine in front of him and invited him to orgies. This has led many people, including this blog, to speculate that the leaks are coming from Cawthorn’s fellow Republicans, eager to see the 26-year-old out of office. Wheeler didn’t comment directly on this theory. But he did say this:
We haven't got anything from [Rep. Kevin] McCarthy or [Rep. Steve] Scalise or any of these folks in Washington, nor the, you know, the Republican Congressional Committee. But I do know for a fact that several of the more interesting pieces have come from his former Republican supporters, which we find interesting.
We find that interesting as well.
After this post first published, the Twitter account @Degraceful, or DeLancey Lane, got back to Gawker about her posts. She identified herself as a “proud Democrat” who works in North Carolina politics and does not support Cawthorn “in any way.” But Lane told Gawker that she had reported the page for revenge pornography, claiming it allegedly violated North Carolina laws on disclosure of private images. She had not heard about the subsequent porn hack, or seen any of the images on their site.
Delancey said she also alerted ActBlue, the Democratic fundraising platform where the PAC had been soliciting donations. The platform opened an investigation into the site, and subsequently removed the PAC. Their page is now inactive. The PAC is currently soliciting donations on Paypal, but Lane claims she has contacted them as well. “I think Madison Cawthorn is a shameful person and a bad politician,” Lane told Gawker. “But I don't think a homophobia-driven campaign to kick him out of office is consistent with our values.”