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Congressman Retracts Auschwitz Video And Apologizes, After Criticism

Updated at 5:15 p.m. ET

As President Trump visited Poland on Wednesday, a U.S. congressman stirred up controversy with a video recorded at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. The five-minute video was originally posted Saturday to the YouTube channel for Lee Johnson Media, described as a "conservative podcast looking at America of today."

However, on Wednesday afternoon, Louisiana Republican Clay Higgins was apologizing for the video.

In an email to NPR, a spokesman for Rep. Clay Higgins sent this statement:

"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.

"However, my message has caused pain to some whom I love and respect. 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 atrocities that happened at Auschwitz were truly despicable, and we must never let history repeat itself in such a way. I have always stood with Israel and all Jewish people, and I always will. We live in a dangerous world, and massive forces of evil do indeed yet exist. We must all stand united against those evils. My Auschwitz video has been removed, and my sincere apology for any unintended pain is extended."

The macabre YouTube post, which at times showed Higgins donning dark glasses, took viewers on a tour of the former Nazi concentration camp where more than 1 million people were killed during World War II in German-occupied Poland. Higgins is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee and appeared to be using the Auschwitz video to make the case for a stronger military and homeland resolve.

"A great sense of dread comes over you in this place," he said in what appeared to be a shaky selfie video from inside the gas chamber. Somber music — a violin dirge — is heard in the background as he narrates.

"It's hard to walk away from gas chambers and ovens without a 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 said.

The Auschwitz Memorial official Twitter account responded by posting a photo of a plaque that asks people to maintain silence there in respect.

"Everyone has the right to personal reflections," the post said. "However, inside a former gas chamber there should be mournful silence. It's not a stage."

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect called the video "disgusting beyond description."

"[Higgins] must get sensitivity training or get a new job," Executive Director Steve Goldstein said in a statement.

After the retraction, Goldstein released a second statement saying he would not accept the apology: "Though forgiveness is a cherished value in both public and everyday life, Congressman Clay Higgins created his own astounding circumstances that make it impossible to accept his apology for his Auschwitz video — an apology that has come, by the way, only after a day of worldwide criticism."

Higgins is a political newcomer who took office in January after a winning a runoff to represent Louisiana's 3rd Congressional District, which includes Lafayette and Lake Charles.

He is a former law enforcement officer known as the "Cajun John Wayne" for making viral anti-crime videos that called out suspected gang members by name and said they were "thugs" and "animals" who would be hunted.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: July 4, 2017 at 9:00 PM PDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Louisiana's 3rd Congressional District includes St. Charles. It is actually Lake Charles that is part of that district.
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.