Rep. Clay Higgins' manhandling of an activist revives his past dirty laundry

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Rep. Clay Higgins is fending off widespread criticism after he was recorded physically removing a progressive activist from a news conference on Wednesday.

The activist, Jake Burdett, posted videos of his exchanges with Higgins, a Louisiana Republican, in which the congressman tries to stop Burdett from asking questions of GOP Reps. Lauren Boebert and Paul Gosar.

In one video, Burdett can be heard asking Gosar about his ties to a far-right extremist. In another, the activist asks Boebert about her recent divorce.

Republicans make a habit of calling liberals “snowflakes” to suggest they’re too thin-skinned, but conservative officials have established a track record of alarming outbursts toward people who dare question them.

Higgins, a former police officer who — according to his congressional website — maintains an “active commission” in law enforcement, released what appears to be a heavily edited video (featuring ominous music) that included multiple angles of him confronting Higgins. He also issued a statement using police terminology to baselessly claim Burdett was exhibiting mental health problems, suggesting that was his justification for grabbing him.

“Activist was a 103M. Threatening,” Higgins posted. The police code 103m refers to a disturbance by someone undergoing a mental health crisis. “He was escorted out and turned over to Capitol Police. Textbook,” Higgins added. The video includes a frame that labels Burdett an “agitator activist protester” who “became very disruptive and threatening, in violation of the law.” Notably, Burdett hasn’t been charged with any crimes.

But Higgins’ manhandling of an activist has revived criticism of his dark past as a cop. He quietly resigned from one police department in 2007 before he could face disciplinary action for alleged misconduct, including using unnecessary force against a Black man he encountered on the job. (Higgins initially lied about the incident to internal affairs before later admitting to slapping the man.) He later gained notoriety through viral videos he posted while working at another police department in which he wore his police uniform and threatened purported criminals with extrajudicial punishment.

The videos of Higgins, portraying him as a harsh overseer, disgusted many people. Although, apparently not Washington Post writer Peter Holly, who in 2015 wrote that Higgins “may be the most irresistibly intimidating man in America.” (Sounding a little thirsty there, Peter.)

I find Higgins neither irresistible nor intimidating. But his apparent, open disdain for people who question him and his party is inexcusable and shouldn’t be ignored.

His actions signal the Republican Party’s plunge toward political violence. It’s of the same cloth as the conservative movement’s support for Daniel Penny, the white man charged with manslaughter for the choking death of Jordan Neely, a Black man, on a New York City subway. (Penny has pleaded not guilty in the case.)

In both the case of Higgins, a former cop, and Penny, a former Marine, we see conservatives deputizing themselves to forcibly vanquish whomever they want — regardless of whether their targets pose any actual threat.

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