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Skarlatos continues to face questions about his 2018 podcast comments

In this screenshot from YouTube, Alek Skarlatos (left) reads messages sent to him on a dating app to the host of the "Drinkin' Bros" podcast.
screenshot from YouTube
In this screenshot from YouTube, Alek Skarlatos (left) reads messages sent to him on a dating app to the host of the "Drinkin' Bros" podcast.

Republican congressional candidate Alek Skarlatos continues to face questions on the campaign trail about comments he made about sexual violence during a 2018 podcast.

Skarlatos is the Republican nominee in Oregon’s Fourth Congressional District, but he’s best known for his role in helping to stop a terrorist attack on a European train in 2015 while in the Army National Guard. That incident was turned into a movie directed by Clint Eastwood, in which Skarlatos played himself.

As part of the movie’s publicity tour, Skarlatos and a co-star appeared on a podcast called Drinkin’ Bros. The conversation was frequently raunchy with discussions of sex, as well as the physical attributes of women in Skarlatos' hometown of Roseburg.

At one point, the host of the podcast asked Skarlatos his thoughts about a violent sex act.

“You ever thought, if you choked someone and killed them in bed, what would happen?” the host said.

“Oh yeah," responded Skarlatos, laughing.

The entire podcast is posted online, but its existence was first reported by the Oregon Capital Chronicle in September. The exchange was quickly turned into an attack ad by Skarlatos’ Democratic opponent, Val Hoyle.

“Dangerous and degrading comments about women," says the announcer. "That’s Alek Skarlatos. Laughing about choking women to death during sex.”

Skarlatos quickly apologized, and started running his own ad to explain the comments.

“When I got out of the Army, I said some immature and hurtful things that I deeply regret," Skarlatos says in the ad, as soft music plays in the background. "It’s not the man I am today.”

But the incident still comes up, even at events that might be considered friendly turf for the conservative candidate.

When he spoke at a Springfield, Oregon, church this month, one of the first questions from the audience was about the 2018 podcast, with the questioner calling it "the big elephant in the room."

"Why were you really laughing about the choking of women during sex?” said the woman who posed the question.

And so, in front of a congregation of Sunday church-goers, Skarlatos started talking about his sex life.

“Basically, I don’t want to get too deep into it, but I had an ex-girlfriend who liked to be choked during sex," he said.

"I resent that I even have to talk to you about this in a church,” he continued, interspersing his comments with nervous laughter.

Skarlatos went on to call the incident a product of his age and immaturity.

"[You say] a lot of crass and politically incorrect things while you’re in the military, and I still hadn’t grown out of that at the time, and so the guy that was running the podcast made a joke about it, and I basically laughed and agreed with him, and I apologize," he said. "And I understand that that’s not a good look.”

The lead pastor of Crossfire World Outreach Ministries, Aaron Taylor, responded by telling the audience that one of his relatives had formerly dated Skarlatos, and that the woman’s father had called Skarlatos a “young man of character.”

Taylor went on to praise Skarlatos for apologizing for his laughter about sexual violence.

“All of us have done and said things we sure wish we wouldn’t have said, especially as a young person,” said Taylor.

But while Skarlatos said his comments were made as a young man just out of the Army, they came just months before he launched his political career with a bid for the Douglas County Commission. He lost, and less than a year after that, he announced his first run for Congress, an unsuccessful attempt to unseat then-incumbent Peter DeFazio.

When the video of the church service was posted online, Democratic strategists jumped on Skarlatos' remarks.

Teddy Lake, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, blasted Skarlatos' insinuation that joking about choking women to death during sex was merely "politically incorrect."

"Is this really someone who deserves to hold public office?" Lake rhetorically asked on Twitter.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
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