Campaigning for Congress in northwest Ohio, Republican JR Majewski presents himself as an Air Force combat veteran who was deployed to Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Military records tell a different story.
They indicate he was never deployed to Afghanistan but completed a six-month stint helping to load planes at an air base in Qatar, a former US ally, and at a safe distance from the fighting.
Majewski’s account of his time in the army is just one aspect of a biography that is suspect and includes a post-military life lived in a world of conspiracy theories, violent action against the US government and financial coercion.
Still, thanks to an unwavering allegiance to former President Donald Trump — Majewski once painted a massive Trump mural on his lawn — he also has a chance to defeat longtime Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur in a newly redesigned district to favor the republicans.
Majewski is among a group of Republican candidates, most of whom are running for the first time, whose unvarnished life stories and far-right politics could diminish the chances of a Republican “red wave” on Election Day in November.
“It bothers me when people trade their military service to get elected to public office when what they’re doing is deceiving people who want to vote for them,” Don Christensen, a retired Air Force colonel, said of Majewski. “When you claim to have done what your brothers and sisters in arms actually did to build your reputation, it’s a disservice.”
Majewski’s campaign refused to make him available for an interview. In a statement about its service, a spokeswoman did not respond to a follow-up message asking for additional comment.
“I am proud to have served my country,” Majewski said in the statement.
Majewski was not expected to advance from the August primaries to challenge Kaptur, who has represented the Toledo area since 1982. But two state lawmakers who were also on the ballot split the establishment vote. This paved the way for Majewski, who previously worked in the nuclear power industry and dabbled in politics as a pro-Trump hip-hop artist and promoter of the QAnon conspiracy theory. He was also at the US Capitol during the riot on January 6, 2021.
Throughout his campaign, Majewski offered his service in the Air Force as a valuable credential.
A campaign ad posted online on Tuesday displayed the words “Afghanistan War Veteran” on screen alongside a photo of a younger Majewski in full dress uniform. The slogan “Congress Veteran” appears on campaign merchandise. He posted an ad on Facebook promoting himself as a “combat veteran.” And in a campaign video this year, Majewski loots an empty factory with a rifle as he vows to restore an America that is “independent and strong like the country I fought for.”
“I don’t like to talk about my military experience,” he said in a 2021 interview on One American Podcast after volunteering to serve a mission in Afghanistan.
More recently, the House Republican campaign committee released a biography that describes Majewski as a veteran whose “squad was one of the first in Afghanistan after 9/11.”
But a review of its service records, which the AP obtained from the National Archives, and an accounting provided by the Air Force call that picture into question.
Instead of moving to Afghanistan, as he claimed, the records state that Majewski was based at Kadena Air Base in Japan for much of his active duty. He was later sent for six months to Qatar in May 2002, where he helped load and unload planes while serving as a “passenger operations specialist”, the records show.
While in Qatar, Majewski’s campaign said he would land at other air bases to transfer passengers and military supplies. They did not respond to a direct question about whether he has ever been to Afghanistan.
Experts argue that Majewski’s description of himself as a “combat veteran” is also misleading.
During the Persian Gulf War, countries used as combat support areas were first designated as combat zones, despite the low risk that the US military would face hostilities. Qatar was among the countries that received the designation.
Majewski’s campaign said he calls himself a combat veteran because the area he excelled in — Qatar — is a recognized combat zone.
There is also the matter of Majewski’s final rank and reenlistment code when he left active service after four years of service.
Most leave the service after four years, having earned several promotions that are usually awarded for length of service. Majewski came out with a rating that was a notch above where he started. His enlistment code also indicated that he could not enlist in the Air Force again.
Majewski’s campaign said he received what is called an extrajudicial punishment after a 2001 altercation in his dormitory that resulted in relegation.
Since gaining traction in his congressional campaign, he has denied he is a follower of the QAnon conspiracy theory while downplaying his role in the January 6 insurrection.
The baseless and apocalyptic belief QAnon posits that Trump is fighting entrenched enemies in the government and also involves Satanism and child sex trafficking.
“Let me be clear, I denounce QAnon. I don’t support Q and I don’t agree with his conspiracy theories,” Majewski said in his statement to the AP.
But in the past, Majewski has repeatedly posted QAnon references and memes on social media, donned a QAnon shirt during a TV interview, and described Zak Paine, a QAnon influencer, as a “good friend.”
Then there is Majewski’s participation in the January 6 insurrection. Majewski said he raised about $25,000 to help dozens of people attend the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol. He also traveled to the event with Paine.
Majewski acknowledged that he was outside the Capitol, but denies having entered the building. Still, he regretted the decision on a QAnon live stream a week after the attack, stating he was “upset with myself” for not getting in.
In his statement, Majewski said, “I deeply regret being on the Capitol that day” and “I did not break the law.
LaPorta reported from Wilmington, North Carolina. Associated Press investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report.