A news conference hosted by conservative legislators outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday was interrupted by a blue-shirted protester, who buzzed around the podium with his phone out, peppering lawmakers like Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) with questions.
As the protester filmed Gosar, a bald man in a dark suit approached him and calmly introduced himself. “Clay Higgins, I represent south Louisiana,” the man says in the activist’s footage. “All I’m asking you to do is just peacefully stand by with your camera and I promise you—look at me—I’ll come talk to you straight up and answer all your questions. Fair enough?”
But when the protester swooped back in as Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) was speaking, he barely had time to get out his question—about whether her recent divorce was linked to her restaurant’s tainted pork sliders—before Higgins was back.
In video captured both by the protester, Jake Burdett, and other people at the scene, Higgins can be heard saying, “Uh-uh. Uh-uh. No. You’re out. You’re out.” He then puts his hands on Burdett and starts physically propelling him backwards, bundling him away from the event.
“Aren’t you a congressperson, touching me?” Burdett asks. “Get off me! You’re hurting me!”
Burdett wasn’t injured in the incident, he told The Daily Beast. But he felt “scared, intimidated, powerless, defenseless.” He couldn’t exactly push back, he added later in an interview. “Like, who do I think the cops are going to crack down on: me, or the congressperson?”
Higgins didn’t let go until the U.S. Capitol Police stepped in, according to Burdett. Officers took him across the street and questioned him, and the 25-year-old spent what he estimated to be about half an hour unsure if he was being detained. Someone eventually confirmed he was free to leave.
“It’s one thing for anybody to do that,” he said of Higgins’ behavior. “But for a sitting U.S. congressperson to think that that’s OK—it just shows an extra level of entitlement, that they feel they’re untouchable and the law doesn’t apply to them.”
A spokesperson for Higgins did not immediately respond to an after-hours request for comment from The Daily Beast.
In a statement to KATC earlier on Wednesday, Higgins said, “Activist was a 103M,” an apparent reference to the police code for “disturbance by mental person.”
“Threatening,” the statement continued. “He was escorted out and turned over to Capitol Police. Textbook.”
A 25-year-old grassroots organizer with some time on his hands between the end of his first year of law school and the start of his summer job, Burdett had gone to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to attend a Medicare For All rally with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
After the rally, Burdett was surprised to see another press conference being set up in the same spot immediately after. Spotting Gosar and Boebert, he decided to stick around. “I figured I’d ask them some tough questions,” he said. “Bird-dog them, whatever you want to call it.”
When Higgins pushed him back, he didn’t know how to react. “I’ve never been in any situation like that, you know, I’ve had some interesting run-ins with my activism, but nothing like this,” Burdett said. (In 2019, he was charged with wiretapping after allegedly live-streaming a meeting at a Maryland congressman’s offices on Facebook. He agreed to a plea deal, and received probation before judgment and community service.)
Sitting on the sidewalk while speaking to the police on Wednesday, Burdett said, he wondered if he would end up in jail. Instead, hours later, he was back home in Maryland, and is currently weighing his next move.
“I’m absolutely evaluating my options here, and if it looks like there is a strong case for assault and [there is] an attorney willing to take on the case, I am absolutely prepared to press charges,” he said.
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