WASHINGTON (AP) — Campaigning for a northwestern Ohio congressional seat, Republican J.R. Majewski presents himself as an Air Force combat veteran who deployed to Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, once describing “tough” conditions including a lack of running water that forced him to go more than 40 days without a shower.
Military documents obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request tell a different story.
They indicate Majewski never deployed to Afghanistan but instead completed a six-month stint helping to load planes at an air base in Qatar, a longtime U.S. ally that is a safe distance from the fighting.
Majewski's account of his time in the military is just one aspect of his biography that is suspect. His post-military career has been defined by exaggerations, conspiracy theories, talk of violent action against the U.S. government and occasional financial duress.
Still, thanks to an unflinching allegiance to former President Donald Trump — Majewski once painted a massive Trump mural on his lawn — he also stands a chance of defeating longtime Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur in a district recently redrawn to favor Republicans.
Majewski is among a cluster of GOP candidates, most running for office for the first time, whose unvarnished life stories and hard-right politics could diminish the chances of a Republican “red wave” on Election Day in November. He is also a vivid representation of a new breed of politicians who reject facts as they try to emulate Trump.
“It bothers me when people trade on their military service to get elected to office when what they are doing is misleading the people they want to vote for them,” Don Christensen, a retired Air Force colonel, said of Majewski. “Veterans have done so much for this country and when you claim to have done what your brothers and sisters in arms actually did to build up your reputation, it is a disservice.”
Majewski's campaign declined to make him available for an interview and, in a lengthy statement issued to the AP, did not directly address questions about his claim of deploying to Afghanistan. A spokeswoman declined to provide additional comment when the AP followed up with additional questions.
“I am proud to have served my country,” Majewski said in the statement. “My accomplishments and record are under attack, meanwhile, career politician Marcy Kaptur has a forty-year record of failure for my Toledo community, which is why I’m running for Congress.”
With no previous political experience, Majewski is perhaps an unlikely person to be the Republican nominee taking on Kaptur, who has represented the Toledo area since 1983. But two state legislators who were also on the ballot in the August GOP primary split the establishment vote. That cleared a path for Majewski, who previously worked in the nuclear power industry and dabbled in politics as a pro-Trump hip-hop performer and promoter of the QAnon conspiracy theory. He was also at the U.S. Capitol during the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.
Throughout his campaign Majewski has offered his Air Force service as a valuable credential. The tagline “veteran for Congress” appears on campaign merchandise. He ran a Facebook ad promoting himself as “combat veteran.” And in a campaign video released this year, Majewski marauds through a vacant factory with a rifle while pledging to restore an America that is “independent and strong like the country I fought for.”
More recently, the House Republican campaign committee released a biography that describes Majewski as a veteran whose “squadron was one of the first on the ground in Afghanistan after 9/11.” A campaign ad posted online Tuesday by Majewski supporters flashed the words “Afghanistan War Veteran” across the screen alongside a picture of a younger Majewski in his dress uniform. A biography posted on his campaign website does not mention Afghanistan.