“Looks like an assault”: MAGA Republican manhandles protester at press conference

"Get off me! You're hurting me!" the activist was heard shouting after being grabbed by Rep. Clay Higgins

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published May 18, 2023 12:13PM (EDT)

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) speaks during a news conference at the Capitol on May 15, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) speaks during a news conference at the Capitol on May 15, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., shoved a protester away from a news conference hosted by Republican lawmakers outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday after the activist, who was recording, interrupted the event to ask lawmakers questions.

As protester Jake Burdett filmed Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., Higgins calmly approached him and introduced himself. 

"Clay Higgins, I represent south Louisiana," Burdett's footage shows the congressman saying. "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 Burdett went to ask Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., whose recent filing for divorce made headlines this week, if her martial split was connected to her restaurant's tainted food, Higgins came back.

In video from Burdett and other bystanders, Higgins is seen approaching Burdett and pushing him away from the conference.

"Uh-uh. Uh-uh. No. You're out. You're out," he is heard saying.

"Aren't you a congressperson, touching me?" Burdett asks in the video. "Get off me! You're hurting me!"

Burdett told The Daily Beast that Higgins didn't release him from his grasp until Capitol Police interjected. They questioned him across the street for what the 25-year-old said was a half hour with someone eventually confirming that he was not being detained.

The Maryland activist said that he wasn't injured in the incident but felt "scared, intimidated, powerless, defenseless."

He said later in the interview that he couldn't push back, citing concerns over who the police would side with.

"Like, who do I think the cops are going to crack down on: me, or the congressperson?" he said.

"It's one thing for anybody to do that," Burdett 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."

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In a brief statement to KATC, Higgins reportedly defended his actions, saying that "Activist was a 103M," referencing a police code for "disturbance by mental person."

"Threatening. He was escorted out and turned over to Capitol Police. Textbook," the statement continued.

Burdett had initially gone to D.C. to attend Sen. Bernie Sanders', I-Vt., Medicare For All rally and decided to stay when he saw another press conference with Gosar and Boebert being set up in the same spot immediately afterward.

"I figured I'd ask them some tough questions," he said. "Bird-dog them, whatever you want to call it."

The progressive activist, who was charged with wiretapping in 2019 for allegedly live-streaming a meeting at a Maryland congressperson's office but agreed to a plea deal, returned home Wednesday evening after wondering if he'd be detained, and is determining what he'll do next.

"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.

Burdett has also taken his concern to Twitter where he has asked attorneys online to weigh in amidst support from other users.

"This is me in this video," he wrote in a quote tweet. "Do any attorneys feel that this was assault, and would be willing to help me pursue legal action?

Andrew Laufer, aNew York civil rights attorney, responded in the affirmative and advised Burdett to file a police report.

"Looks like an assault to me," tweeted former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance.

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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Brief Clay Higgins Lauren Boebert Politics