Rep. Clay Higgins is one of those Republicans you might forget about for long stretches, but the moment you are reminded he exists, you know something particularly groan-worthy is coming. That is just what happened on Wednesday, when FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the House Homeland Security Committee. Higgins started grilling him about “ghost buses” supposedly “filled with FBI informants dressed as Trump supporters” on Jan. 6, 2021.
Higgins opened this line of questioning with a quote from an FBI informant who claimed that he had marched to the Capitol with “fellow Proud Boys members” while “communicating with his FBI handler while people were entering the U.S. Capitol. Can you confirm that the FBI had that sort of engagement with your own agents embedded within to the crowd on Jan. 6?”
“If you are asking whether the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was part of some operation orchestrated by FBI sources and/or agents, the answer is emphatically not,” Wray responded.
That’s when Higgins really got going, barking, “You’re saying no? You’re saying no?”
”Are you familiar with, with … you know what a ghost vehicle is? You’re the director of the FBI, you certainly should. You know what a ghost bus is?”
”A ghost bus?” Wray responded, a touch incredulously.
”I’m not sure I’ve used that term before,” Wray said, keeping a straight face.
”Okay,” Higgins said in a tone oozing with disbelief. “It’s pretty common in, in law enforcement. It’s a vehicle that’s, that’s used for secret purposes. It’s painted over.” He then brought up a photo of the backs of several buses, and indicated the ones in the middle.
“These two buses in the middle here, they were the first to arrive in Union Station on Jan. 6th, 0-500, I have all this evidence, I’m showing you the tip of this iceberg.” Higgins was then interrupted for a point of order, but he later resumed to claim, “These buses are nefarious in nature and were filled with FBI informants dressed as Trump supporters deployed unto our Capitol on Jan. 6. Your day is coming, Mr. Wray.”
Higgins was performing, and it was a pure conspiracy-theory performance that could have been taken straight from a particularly hacky suspense thriller. One where the FBI is so incompetent that it loads its informants onto dedicated buses that are easy to pick out because “[i]t’s painted over.”
Wray headed the criminal division of the Justice Department under President George W. Bush and has been the director of the FBI since 2017. Higgins spent a couple of years as a local patrol officer, then resigned before he could be disciplined for excessive use of force. But now that he’s in Congress, he’s play-acting the role of the hard-bitten, streetwise cop who has a thing or two to tell those pretty boys at the top about how the world really works. He wants to make it look like he is on the cusp of uncovering a conspiracy bigger than anyone could possibly have realized.
Higgins appears to be inventing a new conspiracy theory. While Republicans invested in denying that Trump supporters instigated the attack on the U.S. Capitol have long claimed that FBI informants spurred violence, the “ghost buses” thing seems new. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the former chair of the Jan. 6 select committee, told HuffPost, “In all our work, we never even came across that term,” or the specific allegation of a bus filled with informants.
But the way right-wing conspiracy theories work these days, it’s likely that we’ll be hearing a lot more about them—as Higgins intended. This is how toxic the Republican Party is these days: Members of Congress are actively promoting new conspiracy theories about events that already have plenty of conspiracy theories attached to them. How can we have a functioning democracy when Republicans use violence to try to overturn an election and then use official House hearings to spread conspiracy theories that their party’s base hadn’t even been talking about?