Captain Clay and His Homeboy Dave

If you were to ask him whether he had ever attended a Black Lives Matter protest, I imagine Clay Higgins would tell you that as a matter of fact, he went to one all the way back in 2014. A group of African American community leaders had organized an event in Opelousas, in response to the turmoil unfolding in the wake of the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Sheriff Guidroz had agreed to attend and participate. But Guidroz came down with something right before the event, and so he asked his department’s Public Information Officer to go in his place. Higgins did what he was told, but notably, he didn’t make any statement or make himself available to answer any questions from the attendees or the assembled media.

I did not ask Congressman Higgins this question because, well, for one, I already knew the answer, but primarily because this is largely a work of commentary and not a news report. I’d tried in the past to reach out to his office for comments about previous stories, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I never heard back. However, if his office were to comment on this story, I imagine it would be nearly identical to what they told The Advocate‘s Bryn Stole a couple of weeks ago.

In advance of Stole’s report about Higgins hiring the former officer who covered for him in the investigation into Higgins’s assault of an unarmed Black man, his spokesperson told Stole, “Congressman Higgins answered these questions in depth in 2016 only to be misquoted, quoted out of context, and unrighteously attacked by unscrupulous journalists in league with establishment career politicians. His record as a street cop stands. We’re not going to participate in the liberal fake news Advocate’s attempt to tear down law enforcement and demonize police officers. …The Congressman advises that if you want to know what it is to be a street cop, then put on a badge.”

Clay Higgins did not, in fact, provide any “in-depth” answers in 2016, but he did prattle on about the dangers of being a “street cop,” which most reasonable people understood to be a way of minimizing the only unrighteous attack at issue: Higgins’s assault of Red Richard.

And when Stole asked for comment about a follow-up piece he was writing a couple of days later, Higgins’s spokesman said, “We’re not going to participate in the liberal fake news Advocate’s attempt to tear down law enforcement and demonize police officers.”

Last year, the paper, which is owned by a conservative businessman whose daughter works in the Trump White House and led by a veteran editor whose politics skew more right than left, won a Pulitzer Prize in Local Reporting. Of course, in this Brave New World of “alternative facts,” the term “fake news” should be defined as “any factual report that contains negative information about the President of the United States or a powerful person who supports the President of the United States.”

That said, I should mention as a preface that Clay Higgins does not believe himself to be a racist—and not merely because he once had to attend a Black Lives Matter rally or because he has Black friends. But because his opinions about the ways in which systemic racism pervades nearly every aspect and institution in American life actually function were informed decades ago and reinforced at another political event that he attended because he wanted to be there, not because it was a work assignment.

Higgins came of age politically at a time in which white opposition to the civil rights movement began repackaging itself in the language of law and order and sought to redefine racism as any policy or action that was aware of race. It was, in some respects, a more sophisticated iteration of the Southern Strategy, but at its core, there were the same set of talking points and white grievances that animated the conservative opposition to school integration—or, for that matter, anything that provided African Americans with political or economic power.

We don’t have to guess about how it influenced Higgins’s politics. He was acknowledging it at the time.

In 1992, he agreed to an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for an article about the Republican Presidential Primary. It was the first time his name appeared in a major publication, and the subject, specifically, was about what Louisiana conservatives thought about the battle between Pat Buchanan and David Duke, the former KKK grand wizard who decided to launch a campaign for the White House after losing, in a landslide, to Edwin W. Edwards in the 1991 Louisiana governor’s race.

“Duke won’t get the vote. Pat will. Pat represents much of the same positions,” Higgins, then 30, told reporter Ben Smith III, while attending a campaign rally for Buchanan in Baton Rouge.

He acknowledged that he’d voted for David Duke in the previous year’s election. “Regardless of the fact that David’s a homeboy and all that, the boy’s a Nazi, and that’s a real problem.”

While a slim majority of white voters in Louisiana, like Higgins, had been willing to overlook Duke’s association with white supremacy and the klan, when they learned of his sympathetic remarks about Adolph Hitler, they had a much more difficult time justifying their support, similar to the challenges of defending a five-minute campaign commercial filmed inside of the gas chambers at Auschwitz that somehow doesn’t mention Jews or the Holocaust.

Of course, it’s telling that Higgins considered Duke to be a “homeboy,” which was likely the first time anyone had ever used that particular word to describe him, but it’s also telling that he supported Buchanan against the incumbent Republican President at the time, George H.W. Bush.

Perhaps it should go without saying that someone in law enforcement who refers to himself as a “street cop” has a profoundly different conception of good policing than someone who prefers the term “community police officer.” But remember, Clay Higgins claimed that he joined the Opelousas Police Department when his plans of going into armed combat in a war zone in either Afghanistan or Iraq (or both!) were dashed due to his hearing. He was clearly jonesing for action, preferably action that involved violence and badassery, which is why one of the first things he did after joining the police force was to get himself certified to join the SWAT team.

Clay Higgins would get to fight in a war, after all, because in a small town like Opelousas, the SWAT team was deployed most frequently to fight the War on Drugs. Well, sorta. In a small town like Opelousas, it mainly meant using military-style raids to arrest Black people for low-level drug possession.

Take, for example, this story from 2006, which featured both Higgins and Chautin. Higgins and his team spent weeks surveilling the home of someone they suspected to be trafficking cocaine, and once they finally secured a search warrant, they swept in on a Monday afternoon, turned the entire place upside down, traumatized a 4-year-old girl, and terrified the suspect’s wife—due with a second child in only two days—so much that she had to request emergency medical care.

In the end, all of this was done so that the police could arrest two Black teenagers for possessing $100 worth of crack cocaine.

Oh, and Higgins and company’s heroics were also chronicled in the local newspaper in a front page story written by a reporter who just so happened to be on the scene right in time to snap a photo of the police arresting the two teenagers. Higgins is the man with the bandana and the short-sleeves, hovering in the background.

Was this really necessary? Of course not. But it would pale in comparison to the operation the same SWAT team and the same guy with the green bandana carried out only a few months later.

Next page: Red’s Badge of Courage

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Lamar White, Jr.
Lamar writes about the people, the politics, and the magic of Louisiana. He is the founder and publisher of the Bayou Brief and a contributing writer for the Daily Beast. Lamar is best known for his investigative reporting on public corruption, racism, and civil rights. He has appeared as a guest on CNN, MSNBC, and the BBC, and he's been the subject of profiles in The Washington Post, The Advocate, and Huffington Post. Before launching the Bayou Brief, he published CenLamar, a popular blog that initially covered the drama of City Hall in his hometown of Alexandria. Lamar is a graduate of Rice University in Houston and the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Today he lives in New Orleans and is currently writing a book about the life of reputed New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello. Support Lamar's work on Patreon.