When Madison Cawthorn was elected to Congress from North Carolina for the first time in 2020 at the age of 26, he was hailed as a future leader of the Republican party. But during his first term he has been involved in all manner of things that have generated negative publicity.
Those included intra-party blowback over his cocaine-orgy podcast comments, twice carrying a firearm while going through airport security, driving with a revoked license, and the various news reports featuring sexually-suggestive photos and videos of Cawthorn.
That claim that senior members of the Republican party were engaged in drug-fueled sex orgies was a bridge too far for the party establishment and they pulled out all the stops in favor of his opponent so that Cawthorn lost his primary race on Tuesday.
If the party leaders thought that they had got rid of a troublesome nuisance and that Cawthorn would simply go away, they were mistaken. He seems to be hopping mad at what he sees as a betrayal by the party and is vowing vengeance on those whom he feels stabbed him in the back, saying that he is going to unleash the ‘Dark MAGA’ on them.
In a Thursday Instagram post, the outgoing 26-year-old congressman previewed his plans after this Congress session concludes in January, with the North Carolina Republican suggesting he’s prepared to target the GOP establishment. He’s not yet naming names.
“I am on a mission now to expose those who say and promise one thing yet legislate and work towards another, self-profiteering, globalist goal. The time for gentile politics as usual has come to an end. It’s time for the rise of the new right, it’s time for Dark MAGA to truly take command. We have an enemy to defeat, but we will never be able to defeat them until we defeat the cowardly and weak members of our own party. Their days are numbered.”
— Rep. Madison Cawthorn in an Instagram post
Huh? If you’re confused what Dark MAGA means, you aren’t alone. The simple answer is it seems to be an “edgier” version of the Trump-supporting MAGA-verse.
It is not clear who Cawthorn plans to go after, but he appears to be talking about members of the so-called establishment – which could include some of those who were publicly critical of him or those who actively sought to unseat him.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and others in the North Carolina GOP sought to rally behind Chuck Edwards, a state senator, to unseat Cawthorn as he faced blowback for various scandals
(Note the amusing typo of the term ‘gentile politics’ in Cawthorn’s Instagram post.)
So what is this Dark MAGA whereof he speaks? Newsweek describes it as a fringe subset of MAGA.
A small fringe of Donald Trump’s supporters is calling for the former president to get back on the highest stage of U.S. politics with a vengeance with the motto: #DarkMAGA.
More of a meme than a political slogan, Dark MAGA is a post-alt-right aesthetic that promotes an authoritarian version of Trump in dystopian, Terminator-like images. In some, the Trump Tower is painted entirely in black and the former president is seen piercing through the screen with blue laser eyes.
The aesthetics of the movement are easily recognizable: images edited in red and black or red and blue, featuring people with blue laser eyes often holding weapons or standing in front of neo-Nazi symbols.
“#DarkMAGA is the aesthetic demand that Trump embrace a harder and more focused approach to the role only he can fill. He was too kindhearted, too forgiving. Dark MAGA demands he learn from his mistakes,” writes another Twitter user.
“It’s the realization that there is no political solution beyond vengeance,” tweets another user.
Dark MAGA, according to Alice E. Marwick, associate professor of communication at the University of North Carolina and principal researcher at the Center for Information, Technology and Public Life, is an evolution of the feeling of disappointment and disenfranchisement many Trump supporters have felt after the 2020 election.
“I spend a lot of time in far-right groups online and there’s an increased sense of persecution there. There’s an increased sense of urgency,” she adds.
According to Marwick, the result of this is a “heavy victim mentality” among some Trump supporters.
“The general messaging that the Democrats are evil, that children are under threat, that people may need to take extreme acts, even political violence to protect their children and their values, I think is consistent across the (far-right) spectrum,” says Marwick.
Marwick believe there’s an overlap between Dark MAGA and QAnon, with both groups believing that “an evil Democratic cabal of elites” are kidnapping, sex trafficking, and murdering children.
Dark MAGA was born from the alt-right’s feeling of having lost power, and seeking to regain that power, at any cost.
Dark MAGA posts are far from receiving the same kind of attention that brought similar sorts of political memes to become so relevant in the 2016 election. But in the next two years, things might change.
Like the white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, this movement seeks to use irony to deflect criticism by saying that they are only doing it for the ‘lulz’ and thus recruit young people to their cause.
“The whole point of something like Dark MAGA is that it’s over the top. It’s melodramatic, it’s a bit ridiculous. It’s Trump highlighted in red with blue laser eyes, and the bit that they are doing is to create that ridiculous aesthetic as a way of attracting attention.
It looks like once the right-wing extremist ball gets rolling, it rapidly speeds up. No sooner than one fringe extremist movement and ideology gets mainstreamed by the Republican party and Fox News, an even more extreme one appears. There seems to be no end to this rightward shift within the Republican party. It is only a matter of time before nutcases like Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar and Matt Gaetz become become seen as ‘moderates’ as even nuttier people come along and become prominent.
This is what happens when you decide that facts don’t matter and that any claim about one’s political opponents can be made whether it has any basis in reality or not as long as it feeds your sense of grievance. Others can use it against you. The Republican party risks eating its own.