WASHINGTON — Campaigning for Congress in northwestern Ohio, Republican J.R. Majewski presents himself as an Air Force combat veteran who deployed to Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Military records tell a different story.
They indicate he 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 and a safe distance from the fighting.
Majewski's account of his time in the military is just one aspect of a biography that is suspect and includes a post-military life has been lived in a world of conspiracy theories, violent action against the U.S. government as well as 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 newly redrawn to favor Republicans.
Majewski is among a cluster of Republican 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.
“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 . “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. In a statement about his service, a spokeswoman did not respond to a follow-up message seeking additional comment.
“I am proud to have served my country,” Majewski said in the statement.
Majewski was not expected to advance from the August primary to challenge Kaptur, who has represented the Toledo area since 1982. But two state legislators who were also on the ballot 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 riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
Throughout his campaign Majewski has offered his Air Force service as a valuable credential.
A campaign ad posted online Tuesday flashed the words “Afghanistan War Veteran” across the screen alongside a picture of a younger Majewski in his dress uniform. The tagline “veteran for Congress” appears on campaign merchandise. He ran a Facebook ad promoting himself as “combat veteran.” And in a campaign video 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.”
“I don’t like talking about my military experience,” he said in a 2021 interview on the One American Podcast after volunteering that he served one tour of duty in Afghanistan.
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.”
But a review of his service records, which the AP obtained from the National Archives, and an accounting provided by the Air Force draw that picture into question.
Rather than deploying to Afghanistan, as he has claimed, the records state that Majewski was based at Kadena Air Base in Japan for much of his active-duty service. He later deployed 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 based in Qatar, Majewski’s campaign said he would land at other air bases to transfer military passengers and supplies. They did not respond to a direct question about whether he was ever in Afghanistan.
Experts argue Majewski’s description of himself as a “combat veteran” is also misleading.
During the Persian Gulf War, countries used as combat support areas were designated for the first time as combat zones despite the low-risk of American service members ever facing hostilities. Qatar was among the countries that received the designation.
Majewski’s campaign said that he calls himself a combat veteran because the area he deployed to — Qatar — is a recognized combat zone.
There’s also the matter of Majewski’s final rank and reenlistment code when he left active duty after four years of service.
Most leave the service after four years having notched several promotions that are generally awarded for time served. Majewski exited with at a rank that was one notch above where he started. His enlistment code also indicated that he could not sign up with the Air Force again.
Majewski’s campaign said that he received what is called a nonjudicial punishment after a 2001 brawl in his a dormitory, which resulted in the demotion.
Since gaining traction in his campaign for Congress, he has denied he is a follower of the QAnon conspiracy theory while playing down his participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
The baseless and apocalyptic QAnon belief 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 do not support Q, and I do not subscribe to their conspiracy theories,” Majewski said in his statement to the AP.
But in the past Majewski he repeatedly posted QAnon references and memes to social media, wore a QAnon shirt during a TV interview and has described Zak Paine, a QAnon influencer, as a “good friend.”
Then there’s Majewski’s participation in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Majewski has 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 he was outside the Capitol, but denies entering the building. Still, he lamented the decision on a QAnon livestream a week after the attack, stating that he was “pissed off at myself” for not going in.
In his statement, Majewski said, “I deeply regret being at the Capitol that day” and “did not break the law.
LaPorta reported from Wilmington, North Carolina. Associated Press investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report.