Calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug” has reportedly made right-wing firebrand Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) a star of Russian TV propaganda.
NBC News correspondent Raf Sanchez, who is back in the U.S. after three weeks working in Moscow, tweeted a clip from Russian state TV on Thursday showing Cawthorn attacking Zelenskyy as his country was being invaded and bombed by Russia.
“Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug,” Cawthorn, who is running for reelection in November, told supporters earlier this month in an appearance in Asheville, North Carolina. “Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”
Since then, Sanchez tweeted, Russian state TV has “jumped” on Cawthorn’s comments and played them “over and over.” The journalist said he was exposed to a heavy dose of televised propaganda in Moscow, where TVs in the NBC bureau are tuned to Russian state-controlled broadcasts.
In contrast, President Joe Biden said Thursday at a St. Patrick’s Day event on Capitol Hill that it was “murderous dictator” Russian President Vladimir Putin who was a “pure thug” for waging an “immoral war against the people of Ukraine.”
Another American darling of the Kremlin and Russian state TV has been Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has repeatedly bashed Ukraine and Zelenskyy and defended Putin. The Kremlin asked state-controlled Russian media to highlight Carlson’s broadcasts “as much as possible,” according to a leaked Russian government memo obtained by Mother Jones.
Sanchez noted that he saw “a lot of clips of Fox’s Tucker Carlson criticizing the U.S. or Ukraine. Like several times a day.”
Some of Russia’s misinformation broadly characterizes Ukrainians as neo-Nazis, according to Sanchez. He posted a video from Russian state TV “claiming to show a Nazi flag in a captured Ukrainian base.”
Other Russian media stories have emphasized that rising gas prices in the U.S. proved that sanctions against Russia weren’t working, showcased “heroic” Russian soldiers, or still hadn’t updated troop deaths since March 2, Sanchez noted.
After video of Cawthorn’s “thug” remark first surfaced, the congressman tweeted that he also thought Putin’s actions in Ukraine were disgusting. But he took another dig at Zelenskyy, saying he “should not push misinformation on America,” and did not elaborate any further.
In a statement Wednesday following Zelenskyy’s remarks to Congress, Cawthorn apparently changed his tune, saying that the “Ukrainian people’s resilience in the face of Russian aggression” has “inspired the world.”
Cawthorn did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment about appearing in Russian war propaganda.