Rich Higgins, the former Pentagon official and director for strategic planning at the National Security Council, was fired last month after circulating a memo claiming that enemies of the president were “globalists,” “Islamists,” and “cultural Marxists” working to subvert President Donald Trump’s agenda. This memo wasn’t the first time Higgins had made inflammatory and conspiratorial remarks.
One year ago, in an interview on Sean Hannity’s radio program, Higgins also made unsubstantiated statements about Muslim Americans, spread falsehoods about one of Trump’s most high-profile Muslim-American critics, and said that “more Muslim Americans have been killed fighting for ISIS than have been killed fighting for the United States since 9/11.”
On August 2, The Atlantic reported that Higgins’s firing marked “the latest victory by National Security Adviser H.R. McCMaster in the ongoing war within Trump’s White House between those who believe that the president is under threat from dark forces plotting to undermine him, and those like McMaster who dismiss this as conspiratorial thinking.”
The memo wasn’t the first time his conspiratorial views were made public.
In an appearance on Sean Hannity’s radio show on August 3, 2016, Higgins attacked Khizr Khan, the Pakistani American father of U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in the 2004 Iraq War Khan criticized Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration during a speech at the Democratic National Convention. Higgins came out swinging, launching a series of unsubstantiated attacks at Khan as well as all Muslim Americans.
This guy Khan was a hanging curveball for folks that are working in the terrorism community who are knowledgeable on this. He is a hijrah enabler. He is [Muslim Brotherhood affiliated]. He is a sharia supplicant. He is a registered agent of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And he has ties to the Clinton Foundation through his law firm. This was a hanging curveball that we need to hit it out of the park when it comes out and keep tying him back to Hillary.
“Hijrah,” “Shariah supplicant,” and affiliating political enemies with the Muslim Brotherhood are all buzzwords and well-worn strategies of anti-Muslim advocates at the Center for Security Policy and other groups seeking to demonize Muslims, a religious group that comprises only 1% of the U.S. population. Higgins claims of Khan’s ties to Saudi Arabia and the Clinton foundation are factually inaccurate and have been thoroughly debunked.
But Higgins didn’t stop with attacks on Khan. He went on to claim that “More Muslim Americans have been killed fighting for ISIS than have been killed fighting for the United States since 9/11.”
The available facts don’t support Higgin’s claim. In March 2016, NBC News “identified at least 15 American citizens or residents who have joined ISIS overseas” and noted that:
They fit no particular pattern. Some are from poor Muslim immigrant families. Others had what can be described as privileged backgrounds. Three have Somali backgrounds. One was a Latino convert to Islam. They lived in small towns and cities in New York, Texas, California and places in between.
NBC reported that “American law enforcement officials estimate that roughly 250 Americans have tried to join ISIS.”
A New York Times article on Muslims in the military, published one day before Higgins radio appearance, said that “3,939 troops currently list their faith as Islam, according to Pentagon.” The article stated, “The Pentagon does not track how many Muslim troops have died in combat since 2001, but they have served in all branches—as officers, combat troops, interpreters and intelligence gatherers.”
The fact that there were 250 Americans who had tried to join the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), and only 15 succeeded, while there were 3,939 Muslim soldiers at the time of Higgins’s comments makes his claim that more Muslim-Americans have died fighting for IS than in the U.S. military appear factually impossible—unless all 15 American citizens who joined IS were killed in combat and fewer than 15 Muslim American soldiers have died since 9/11,
Higgins went on to take even further liberties with facts, suggesting that Muslim Americans side more often with terrorist groups than the U.S. military, saying:
Almost three times as many Muslim Americans have been killed fighting for foreign terrorist organizations in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, since 9/11 than fighting for the USA.
Two-hundred more Muslims Americans have tried to fight for ISIS.
Higgins never cites any data and Hannity doesn’t challenge his claim that Muslim-Americans fight more often with terrorist groups than the U.S. military.
Higgins wound up his interview by attacking Khan again, suggesting that he was part of a subversive movement and cryptically referring to the “wider mission of the Islamic movement.” He said:
What you saw was Khan executing a sophisticated form of information warfare. All respect to his son but there are a lot of questions about Mr. Khan and his affiliations that tie right into the wider mission of the Islamic movement.
Higgins’s memo on globalists, bankers, the “deep state,” and Islamists may have been the document that ultimately got him fired, but his conspiratorial and anti-Muslim views were in plain sight nearly a year before he was kicked off the NSC.
Listen to his interview here (Higgins starts at 1:23:40):