From early on, Mr. Hawley harbored a deep fascination with politics. At 12, he wrote about the 1992 presidential election for his school paper, breaking down how many moderators there would be at the debates; three years later, in writings recently unearthed by The Kansas City Star, he expressed sympathy for militia movements in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. (“Many of the people populating these movements are not radical, right-wing, pro-assault weapons freaks as they were originally stereotyped,” he wrote.)
Later in middle school, he dragged friends to movies like “Nixon.” He also signed their eighth grade yearbooks with variations of “Josh Hawley 2024,” according to Ms. Ruehter-Thompson and another classmate, Andrea Randle, as well as Tim Crosson, the vocal music teacher at the school. (“Sounds like revisionist history,” a Hawley spokeswoman said. “How about they produce a hard copy.”)
Mr. Crosson said he and Mr. Hawley would spar about politics. “He would come into my room and announce the number of days left in Bill Clinton’s term, and I would fire back, ‘Four more years,’” Mr. Crosson recalled.
Ms. Randle, a Black classmate, was frustrated that Mr. Hawley didn’t do enough to respond to the police killing of George Floyd last May. After initially expressing sympathy, he later accused an alliance of Democrats and the “woke mob” of dividing the country.
“We played around after school, and I remember him pulling my hair after history class, that’s what I remember, so it’s so bizarre,” she said. “Me and my friends have talked about it, even over Christmas. Was he always like this and we didn’t know?”
At Rockhurst, an all-boys school, a populist ideology began to evolve that didn’t align neatly with either political party. Mr. Hawley seemed most disturbed by the veneration of individual liberty and pluralism in American society. In a “Young Voices” column for The Springfield News-Leader, he called the “rights of the individual vs. the rights of the community” a “fierce debate that so dominates our age.” “The philosophy of radical individualism,” he wrote, was both “cause and symptom of the continuing decline of America’s shared civic life.”
The world according to Hawley
College is often one’s first exposure to knotty questions of identity, politics and faith, but Mr. Hawley moved through Stanford University with unusual conviction. Writing for The News-Leader the summer after his freshman year, in 1999, he invoked a recent speech by his school’s provost, Condoleezza Rice, to argue for a “fresh discussion of first principles and a fundamental rethinking of the role of government and the aims of freedom.” He was 19.