GOP candidate repeatedly 'liked' photos of underage girls and joked about choking women
Alek Skarlatos, left, smiles after quipping about a man whose girlfriend suffocated during sex. Skarlatos, now running for Congress, appeared on a podcast hosted by Ross Patterson, right, in 2018. (Screenshot)

Alek Skarlatos, a Republican candidate for Congress in a competitive Oregon district, repeatedly “liked” photos of underage girls in bikinis on Instagram and joked about strangling women on a podcast shortly before beginning his political career four years ago.

Skarlatos, 29, is a former Oregon National Guardsman who parlayed his recognition for helping stop a terrorist on an Paris-bound train in 2015 into multiple reality show appearances and two previous unsuccessful campaigns for Congress and the Douglas County Commission.

He faces Democrat Val Hoyle, the current commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries, in a race for Oregon’s 4th Congressional District, currently represented by Democrat Peter DeFazio. The district, which includes Eugene and most of southwest Oregon, is one of three targeted by both national political parties.

Skarlatos’ comments about choking women were on a podcast in 2018 to promote a Clint Eastwood movie dramatization of the thwarted train attack. Skarlatos appeared as himself in the film.

In March 2018, two months before Skarlatos launched his campaign for Douglas County Commission, he and film co-star Spencer Stone, a former Air Force staff sergeant who also helped stop the terrorist attack, appeared on the podcast “Drinkin’ Bros.” For 45 minutes, the pair and two podcast hosts discussed the film and speculated about celebrities’ sex lives, and Skarlatos read aloud some of his messages from the dating app Tinder.

Then, the conversation turned to choking in the bedroom.

“You ever thought if you choked someone and killed them in bed what would happen?” podcast host Ross Patterson asked.

“Oh yeah,” Skarlatos responded, laughing. “Oh yeah.”

The conversation about women dying during sex continued, with Stone saying he had plans to sit in on a trial of a man charged with choking his girlfriend to death during what the defendant described as a consensual encounter. Skarlatos then referred to a 2017 Florida case in which a man argued that his girlfriend accidentally suffocated while performing oral sex, saying that the man wasn’t convicted and “got off, in more ways than one.”

Around the time of Skarlatos’s podcast appearance, the Oregon Legislature upgraded strangulation during domestic violence to a felony. Strangulation was also made a federal felony in the 2013 reauthorization of the federal Violence Against Women Act.

Academic studies have found that more than half of female college students have been choked by partners during sex and have linked an increase in strangulation attempts to depictions of choking in pornographic videos that don’t show how dangerous it is.

Earlier in the episode, Skarlatos also complained about the physical appearances of women in Roseburg, and how he had to travel elsewhere to date.

“There’s literally two attractive women in my town,” Skarlatos said.

Following a request for comment from the Capital Chronicle, Skarlatos apologized in a statement shared by his campaign.

“Looking back at the comments I made as a 24-year-old who just left the Army, I’m disappointed,” he said. “I apologize if I offended anyone.”

Within the past few months, Skarlatos has also “liked” photos of underage girls wearing bikinis and other skimpy outfits on Instagram. One such photo, posted by a then-17-year-old girl this past March, shows her in a string bikini bottom and a sweatshirt raised to display her midriff.

Since 2020, Skarlatos liked dozens of photos of teenage girls, including several in which the girls are wearing two-piece bathing suits or midriff-baring crop tops. The two youngest girls were 15 at the time Skarlatos liked their pictures, according to Instagram posts they made on their birthdays.

The Capital Chronicle reviewed screenshots of the posts and found them on Instagram to verify that Skarlatos liked them. He defended his Instagram likes in a statement.

“To imply that a ‘follow’ or a ‘like’ of social media influencers on Instagram with over 100,000 followers is inappropriate is absurd,” Skarlatos said.

Separately, the Associated Press reported Friday that Skarlatos was cleared by the Federal Election Commission of an alleged campaign finance violation relating to a nonprofit he created. Skarlatos used $93,000 left over from his 2020 campaign for Congress to create a nonprofit to advocate for veterans, then transferred $65,000 from the nonprofit to his current campaign after he decided to run again in 2021. The AP, citing a filing from the commission that’s not yet public, reported that the Federal Election Commission approved the transfer to his campaign as a refund.

As of the end of the third fundraising quarter on June 30, Skarlatos had raised more than twice as much as Hoyle, $2.57 million to her $1.12 million. District demographics and voting history favors Hoyle, and national forecasters at the Cook Political Report rate the district as “leans Democratic.”

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.