Rep. Clay Higgins reprised his role as a tough-talking sheriff’s deputy nicknamed “Cajun John Wayne” this week condemning fires that engulfed three predominantly black Louisiana churches. But the Republican drew criticism for rebuking the violence without acknowledging his past inflammatory statements and endorsements of anti-government militia groups.
Fires at the Baptist churches in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, are prompting fears that they were the targets of arson in a racist hate crime. Investigators have been cautious in their public statements, but acknowledged Sunday that the blazes are connected.
Higgins filmed a “Crime Stoppers” video at the scene after speaking with the state fire marshal and meeting with church leaders, a spokesman said.
“There can be many reasons this might have happened. None of them are righteous. If you participated in this, you have succumbed to evil. Powers and principalities are controlling your life,” Higgins said in a video, steps away from the charred wood and brick remains of St. Mary Baptist Church. “I encourage you to look deep into your heart and step away from the darkness that has enveloped you.”
The Republican represents the 3rd District in Louisiana, which encompasses parts of St. Landry Parish.
“We will stand. We are one,” Higgins tweeted Sunday.
But his condemnation of the violence was met with criticism from some, including former Democratic candidate for the 3rd District Rob Anderson.
“This is your local parish, Congressman. This is the cost of dogwhistle politics,” Rob Anderson said in a tweet.
Since his election to Congress, Higgins wrote “kill them all” on Facebook in reference to Muslims suspected of violence motivated by extremism. He also spoke at a rally organized by the Oath Keepers, a far-right, anti-government militia group founded weeks after Obama’s election to the White House, according to the Bayou Brief.
Higgins launched his political career after making his reputation as the tough-talking “Cajun John Wayne in the “Crime Stoppers” videos on a local television station.
But the congressman’s videos have also provoked controversy.
Higgins resigned his position as appointed spokesman for the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office after facing scrutiny for monetizing the videos, selling merchandise based on his persona, including mugs, T-shirts and other trinkets.
A somber, dramatic video he filmed throughout the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum prompted a rebuke from the memorial for insensitivity.
Correction 11:34 a.m. | An earlier version of this story misstated the circumstances preceding Higgins’ departure from the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office. He resigned.