Controversial House Republican gains national attention after filming Auschwitz video

Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) has only been in Congress for six months, but he’s already establishing himself as a provocateur.
 
His latest controversy: filming a video inside a former gas chamber in the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp. The video first appeared online over the weekend.
 
The backlash grew enough that the freshman lawmaker, who is 55, issued a statement apologizing for the video by the end of the day on Wednesday.
 
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“I filmed the Auschwitz message with great humility. My intent was to offer a reverent homage to those who were murdered in Auschwitz and to remind the world that evil exists, that free nations must remember, and stand strong,” Higgins said.
 
In the video posted over the weekend, Higgins explains how the gas chambers worked and says they’re an example of why the U.S. military "must be invincible."
 
“However, my message has caused pain to some whom I love and respect," Higgins continued in the statement retracting the video. "For that, my own heart feels sorrow. Out of respect to any who may feel that my video posting was wrong or caused pain, I have retracted my video.”
 
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum and the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect had condemned Higgins’s video on Wednesday as disrespectful and insensitive toward Holocaust victims.
 
“Congressman Higgins, Auschwitz is not a television studio," Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, said in a statement.
 
The Auschwitz Memorial pointedly posted a photo on Twitter showing a sign at the entrance of the gas chambers that asks visitors to “please maintain silence” to “remember [the victims’] suffering and show respect for their memory.”
 
Higgins concluded the video at Auschwitz by saying: “It’s hard to walk away from gas chambers and ovens without a very sober feeling of commitment, unwavering commitment, to make damn sure that the United States of America is protected from the evils of the world.”
 
Higgins’s pin designating him as a member of Congress is visible on his lapel, along with a dual American-Polish flag pin.
 
It’s unclear if Higgins toured the former concentration camp as part of official business. A spokesman did not respond to an inquiry asking precisely when and why Higgins was visiting Poland.
 
Higgins also drew national headlines a month ago for harsh comments on threats from radicalized Islamic terrorists. 
 
Higgins wrote in a Facebook post in June that “the free world” and “all of Christendom” is “at war with Islamic horror.”
 
He referred to radicalized Islamic suspects as “heathen animals” and concluded with a call to “hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”
 
The post came a day after terrorist attacks in London, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility.
 
Three days later, Higgins posted again on Facebook asking his supporters to sign up for his campaign emails.
 
“I need your help. The ultra-liberal media is attacking me for speaking the truth and standing up for America,” Higgins wrote. 
 
Higgins has long had a knack for going viral. 
 
Before running for the House last year, Higgins served as captain for the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office.
 
Higgins created a series of “Crime Stoppers” videos in which he displayed a tough persona commenting on suspects and promising redemption if they admitted to their crimes. 
 
“Most of the featured crimes were solved and what was most significant was that many of the suspects responded to ‘Uncle Clay’s’ message of redemption and turned themselves in,” Higgins’s official biography on his House website says. 
 
Higgins’s videos drew millions of views on YouTube and even attracted the attention of late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon in 2015.
 
In the video featured on Fallon’s “Tonight Show,” Higgins taunts a suspect who robbed a local supermarket. 
 
“I’m going to have a cheeseburger here with fries and a Coke, and leave a nice tip for the waitress,” Higgins says outside of Stelly’s Supermarket. “Meanwhile, your next meal will be served through a small hole in a cell door.”
 
But last year, Higgins proved to be too controversial in one video that ultimately led to his resignation from the sheriff’s office.
 
The video was not made on behalf of the Crime Stoppers series, but Higgins was shown describing members of a wanted street gang as “animals,” “thugs” and “heathens” while holding a gun.
 
"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 said.
 
 
According to the Daily Advertiser, a GOP political operative recruited Higgins to run for the House after his resignation from the sheriff’s office.
 
Higgins defeated former Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Scott Angelle for the deep-red, safe GOP seat last year.
 
Fallon joked while playing a clip from Higgins’s “Crime Stoppers” segment that the then-captain should consider a higher profile.
 
“Can that guy run for president?” Fallon joked.
 
Little did Fallon know Higgins would be serving in the House two years later. Higgins's attention-getting yet controversial actions have gained a national stage, where the consequences could be greater.
 
Olivia Beavers contributed.