Featured image above: Rep. Clay Higgins addresses the Oath Keepers’s Rally for America on July 27th, 2017.
On June 25th, 2017, dozens of neo-facists and white supremacists gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. for an event they called the “Rally for Free Speech.”
The headliner of the rally was Richard Spencer, the virulent white supremacist who had become nationally infamous in the aftermath of the 2016 election. The musical act was a neo-Nazi named Tim Gionet, also known as Baked Alaska, who was best known among the alt-right for his song “MAGA Anthem,” a tribute to Donald Trump and his “Make America Great Again” campaign.
There was a third name on the official billing of the Rally for Free Speech: freshman U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, a Republican from Louisiana’s Third District.
“But before the event took place (Higgins) denied ever saying he would attend, claimed that he never even received an invitation to speak, and that he would never share a stage with white supremacists,” reported the publication One People’s Project.
Higgins’s spokesperson, Andrew David, issued a statement. “We were made aware on Monday,” he said. “We saw this graphic online. So we immediately reached out to the folks posting the graphic [DC Anti-Communist Action] and we were able to trace it back to this one individual who wasn’t really sure how Congressman Higgins was supposedly a speaker. He said someone had told him that our office was interested, which was completely false. We never had contact with these people. We never confirmed, and Congressman Higgins has made it very clear.”
Colton Merwin, one of the event’s organizers, offered a vague explanation about why Higgins’s name had been included, without revealing who, if anyone, from Higgins’s office told him that the congressman was “interested.”
Back in Louisiana, the bizarre and presumably “fake news” story went completely unnoticed and unreported, though, in hindsight, it is probably something that deserved attention.
There is a reason the event’s organizers thought it was plausible that Rep. Higgins had agreed to speak at their rally, particularly considering where he was a month later.
Founded in 2009 by Yale Law School graduate Stewart Rhodes, Oath Keepers is perhaps the country’s most well-known extremist, anti-government militia group.
It boasts a membership of around 35,000 people, primarily white men with a law enforcement or military background, and its mission is fairly simple: To employ violence or the threat of violence against the government whenever the government engages in what they consider to be wrongful action. They’re not simply vigilantes; they are agitators. And while they cloak themselves in the rhetoric of patriotism, the truth is that the group promotes a profound contempt for the rule of law.
“What’s beneath the surface here is that Obama is going to destroy Western civilization and that they’ve got to somehow help. But, in fact, we’re probably not at the brink of the world and the United States doesn’t need help from Stuart Rhodes,” Mark Potok, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told The Daily Beast in 2013. “These are big boys who like to play with guns and they like to justify that by saying they’re defending the constitution. They’re really just an anti-government group who believe in a wild set of conspiracy theories.”
This isn’t a noble organization. It’s dangerous and toxic.
No reasonable elected official, regardless of their political party, would even consider promoting or legitimizing a violent band of anti-government vigilantes. Yet that is exactly what U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins did on July 27th, 2017.
A month after he had been billed as a speaker at a white supremacist rally, Higgins was, instead, the star of another rally, the Rally for America, which was organized by the Oath Keepers.
“(P)lease join us for a great day in our Nation’s capitol, and please spread the word,” Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes urged his members. “You will be among thousands of like-minded American patriots from many groups and many states, with some excellent speakers, including Jan Morgan and Representative Clay Higgins (LA), the firebrand lawman.”
The rally’s promotional poster reminded participants that “this is definitely not a riot,” because, apparently, that needed to be clarified upfront.
Dressed in a red “We the People” t-shirt and a cowboy hat and clutching a Bible, Rep. Clay Higgins rambled on for nearly 15 minutes, at one point telling the audience, “If I go too long, brother, come kick me” and also claiming, bizarrely, that no one had health insurance in the 1970s, as if the country’s push to expand coverage was a liberal conspiracy.
No one in the Louisiana media covered the event. Like the story about Higgins being listed as a speaker at a white nationalist rally, this had also gone completely unnoticed back home.
But, fortunately, a member of the organization recorded his speech, which we have made available on The Bayou Brief‘s YouTube channel.
There is a moment of the video that, to me at least, particularly stood out, and it had nothing to do with Higgins’s speech. It was what was occurring behind him.
Toward the beginning, a white man dressed in a black t-shirt and a baseball cap stands behind Higgins waving a strange- almost cryptic- flag.
I had never seen this flag before; it faintly resembles hieroglyphics, but it is also reminiscent of Nazi iconography. Here’s a still image:
I couldn’t find any answers online, so I reached out to the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. Almost immediately, I got an answer.
“That is the brand used by rancher/extremist LaVoy Finicum, one of the ringleaders of the group of anti-government extremists who conducted an armed takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in January 2016, and who was shot and killed during an encounter with law enforcement during the standoff in an attempt to arrest most of the ringleaders,” the ADL’s Mark Pitcavage explained. “This made him a martyr, and his brand has become a symbol for anti-government extremists, who now use it on the Internet, as tattoos, and even on flags.”
I had only sent Pitcavage a picture of the flag, without any context at all. But there actually is definitive proof that Pitcavage is 100% correct. In addition to promoting Higgins’s participation in the rally, Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers’s founder, also mentioned another “celebrity” who would be in attendance.
“For me, one of the most important speakers at this rally will be Mrs. Jeanette Finicum, the wife of the late patriot cowboy LaVoy Finicum,” he wrote. “I will also be speaking at the rally, and one of my main purposes in doing so will be to support Mrs. Finicum and to help her bring pressure to bear on the Trump Administration to do the right thing by ending the still ongoing prosecutions of patriotic cowboys and veterans related to the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff….”
It’s worth noting: The Oath Keepers are not the only extremist anti-government militia group that Rep. Clay Higgins has openly and enthusiastically promoted. His participation in that rally was not the result of a scheduling error or a staff member failing to conduct due diligence.
Earlier this year, at a campaign event in Lafayette featuring Dog the Bounty Hunter, Higgins sold t-shirts that prominently featured the logo of the Three Percenters, as documented by The Advocate‘s Elizabeth Crisp.
Make no mistake: This was not an innocent reference to Louisiana’s Third District. It’s the logo used by The Three Percent movement.
The Hate Report‘s Will Carless and Aaron Sankin (who, by pure coincidence, was a friend of mine in college) document extremism and hate groups in America, and in March, they published a report on the Three Percenters.
“Founded in 2008, the Three Percent movement takes its name from the idea that only 3 percent of American colonists took up arms against the British. Members fashion themselves as today’s version of those rebels,” they explain. “On its website, the overarching Three Percent group insists it’s not a militia, nor is its aim to overthrow the government. Instead, the goal is, ‘to utilize the fail-safes put in place by our founders to reign in an overreaching government and push back against tyranny.’”
Perhaps more troubling, Carless and Sankin uncovered the connections between the Three Percenters and a mosque bombing in Minnesota. Quoting:
This week, three men were arrested in connection with the bombing of a Minnesota mosque. While the attack didn’t kill anyone, the reported goal was to “scare” Muslims away from living in the United States.
One of the three suspects, Michael B. Hari, is a former sheriff’s deputy who submitted a proposal to build Trump’s border wall.
JJ MacNab, an expert in the world of far-right extremism, uncovered that Hari ran a group called the White Rabbit Three Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia. The group’s website called Illinois a “failed state” and urged readers to take up “armed resistance” against the government.
Prior to publication, I reached out to Clay Higgins’s campaign spokesperson, and although he was professional and courteous, he declined comment.