As a sheriff’s department spokesman in rural Louisiana, Clay Higgins’ rare candor precipitated his downfall but not before it catapulted him to online fame and more recently a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Like another Republican politician who rode a populist wave to Washington, D.C., this year — also with a penchant for making controversial statements off the cuff — the newly elected congressman finds himself under fire for making controversial statements about Muslims.
“Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter,” the Louisiana Republican posted on Facebook on Sunday. “Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”
Higgins’ statement — which has been shared more than 2,200 times and spawned 1,300 comments — was released hours after three men using knives and a vehicle killed seven people during a bloody rampage in central London.
Saturday night’s attack wounded dozens, including four police officers. Eighteen people remain in critical condition.
Attempts to reach Higgins were not immediately successful, but the congressman’s press secretary emailed The Washington Post a statement explaining his remarks over the weekend:
“We are a world at war. The enemy is radicalized Islamic jihadists. The terrorists certainly take advantage of the politically correct madness that consumes the West. They revel, that many in the western world are frightened to speak freely. I’ve never been accused of being politically correct. I call things the way I see them. The meaning of candid speech is frequently mischaracterized or misunderstood.
“This is about prioritizing national security and protecting American lives. Every measure must be taken to eliminate radical Islamic terrorism and the threat it poses to the free world. My only concern is protecting the people that live in my district, my state, and my country. We must stand strong against radical Islamic terror. The fate of the free world will be determined by the courageous, not by the intimidated.”
Higgins’ willingness to speak his mind brought him notoriety in the historic heart of Cajun country, where Higgins was a spokesman for the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office in Opelousas from December 2014 until he resigned in March 2016.
A muscled Army veteran and hardened street cop who rarely cracked a smile, Higgins’ intimidating on-camera appearances on weekly “Crime Stoppers” segments quickly garnered a cult following. His stern demeanor, backcountry drawl and made-for-TV one-liners explain why, in towns across southern Louisiana, he became known as the “Cajun John Wayne.”
Higgins had a habit of looking into the camera and speaking directly to suspects, such as Ladarious Young, a fugitive who Higgins instructed to turn himself in to “start to make things right” in a 2015 video.
“You can’t run from your own guilt, son,” Higgins said into the camera while discussing Young, a local fugitive who was accused of assaulting a woman with a beer bottle. Young was also linked to a casino heist. “You can’t hide from what you’ve done, and you’ll never escape … the long arm of the law,” Higgins added on KATC, the ABC affiliate that delivers Crime Stoppers to eight parishes (counties) across southern Louisiana.
Higgins resigned after he appeared in a viral video calling a group of predominantly black gang members “thugs,” “heathens” and “animals.”
“We have felony warrants for your arrest,” Higgins said directly into the camera in the video, holding a semiautomatic assault rifle. “You will be hunted. You will be trapped. And if you raise your weapon to a man like me, we’ll return fire with superior fire.”
Higgins’ tough talk led to criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union and Higgin’s own boss — St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz — who called on his spokesman to “tone down” his unprofessional comments.
Higgins said he couldn’t follow Guidroz’s orders and resigned instead.
“We live in a system of laws, and there are legal rights that apply to everyone,” the ACLU said in a statement sent to KATC. “It is the job of law enforcement to protect those rights while also keeping our communities safe. Nothing that Mr. Higgins said will make his community safer, but there is much to suggest violations of fundamental rights of all. … In doing so he must honor the laws of this country, or he is unfit to serve.”
After resigning from law enforcement, the Advertiser reported that a Republican campaign staffer recognized Higgins’ political potential and recruited the outspoken Louisiana native to run for office in the state’s 3rd Congressional District. After finishing second in the primary, he arrived in Congress the victor of a hard-fought runoff election in which he captured 56.1 percent of the vote, the paper reported.
He replaced six-term Rep. Charles Boustany, R, who unsuccessfully ran for a Senate seat.
“Higgins presented himself as a blunt-speaking everyman,” the Acadiana Advocate reported after his December election. “He benefited from the surge of angry voters energized by Donald Trump to go the polls in November.
“The question going into Saturday night was whether those occasional voters who cast ballots for Trump would return for Higgins or whether the supporters who have backed Angelle over the years could outnumber the angry voters backing Higgins.”
In recent months, Higgins has become a vocal supporter of President Trump’s travel ban.
In January, he delivered a speech on the House floor in support of the ban, according to ABC affiliate KATC. The statement cited his experience in law enforcement and blamed the “liberal media” for “irresponsible rhetoric” surrounding the ban.
“President Trump’s order is not a betrayal of American values,” he said at the time. “His actions inspire hope to the millions of Americans who have watched our nation decline over the past decade, watched helplessly as Radical Islamic horror has gripped the world and … unbelievably … been allowed into our own nation with wanton disregard.”