Higbie draws fire over planned Town Hall panel discussion
GREENWICH — A former Navy SEAL who resigned from a post in the Trump administration a year ago because of past controversial comments is now drawing fire as he organizes a panel discussion for Greenwich Town Hall that he said is designed to create a dialogue on the issues of the day.
Carl Higbie, a town resident who served two tours of duty in Iraq, put together the event through America’s Voice Network, where he works as a news show host.
The event, which will begin at 7 p.m. Jan. 30, is billed as a “conversation about current events with panelists from the left and the right” on topics such as immigration, gun control, taxes and foreign policy.
Though he is a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, Higbie said the event for everyone.
“We hope to debate key issues,” Higbie said. “But more importantly, it is a chance for the two sides to come together and debate topics on the merits of them and not be able to hide behind talking points we so regularly see in a three-minute TV segment.”
He promised all viewpoints would be heard.
“I know I don’t have all the answers,” Higbie said. “If two opposing sides can have a civil conversation about issues and reach a solution that works for everyone, we are all better off. Now, that is not to say there won’t be disagreement. And if someone voices opposition expect me to fire back with facts that support my case. We will not be intimidated or shouted down. But we will come with an open mind.”
But many are criticizing the event, including U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4. Higbie invited Himes to take part, but the congressman declined and cited Higbie’s earlier comments.
“Mr. Higbie is entitled to his noxious views, including the racism and homophobia that ended his work with the Trump administration,” Himes said. “But Mr. Higbie is not entitled to the benefit of the doubt in terms of what sort of spectacle he may be planning.
“While I hope the community will meet Mr. Higbie’s hate with the scorn and rejection it deserves, I will not add legitimacy or in any way normalize Mr. Higbie’s bigotry. I would hope that all other elected officials, regardless of party, would make that same choice.”
Higbie was chief of external affairs for the Corporation for National and Community Service in the Trump administration when a CNN online report revealed racist, sexist, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ+ remarks he had made in 2013 while hosting an Internet radio show.
While serving as host of the “Sound of Freedom” show, Higbie questioned President Barack Obama’s citizenship and threatened to shoot people crossing the border illegally. He also criticized soldiers suffering from PTSD, claiming that most of them were lying or trying to “milk” the government for disability money, and he made homophobic, racist and sexist remarks.
When he resigned from the post in January 2018, Higbie apologized and later said he was attempting to be a radio “shock jock” and create controversy.
“I’m sorry. I’m not sorry that my words were published, I am sorry that I said them in 2013,” Higbie posted on Facebook when he stepped down. “Those words do not reflect who I am or what I stand for, I regret saying them.”
Other posts on social media have decried the Greenwich event, calling Higbie ignorant, racist and homophobic. Although the event is not endorsed by the town, many criticized the use of Town Hall.
Representative Town Meeting member Lucy von Brachel questioned the town’s policy for allowing nongovernmental groups to use meeting rooms in Town Hall.
“I think this possibly a very risky move as it opens the door for anyone to be able to try and use Town Hall,” von Brachel said. “What would happen if another group wanted to do it but the town refused them? I don’t want to see the town get sued.”
Joanna Swomley, co-founder of Indivisible Greenwich, said the policy allows reservations to be made by nonprofit organizations and requires the submission of 501(c)3 forms.
The policy states that Town Hall can be used for educational and informational purposes.
Although they will not take part in the discussion, First Selectman Peter Tesei and state Rep. Fred Camillo, R-151, are listed as participants.
Tesei said he will give brief “welcome to Greenwich” remarks. He posted on his personal Twitter account that he considered it an issue of free speech.
Camillo will also offer opening remarks at the forum because he said he wanted to encourage respectful, bipartisan debate.
“Carl said some horrible things many years ago and he apologized for them. Having known him for many years, I believe the person who made those remarks is not the person I see today around town,” Camillo said.
“We all make mistakes. Recognizing them, taking ownership, endeavoring to grow, and moving on is what we, as Americans, believe in,” Camillo said. “As someone who wore the uniform of the United States and defended the country, I would hope those still criticizing him remember that now.”
But Nerlyn Pierson, an Indivisible Greenwich co-founder, said that participation by Tesei and Camillo will legitimize Higbie’s views.
“It’s not a case of free speech,” Pierson said. “He has the right to speak, but do I want to just let it happen at Town Hall?”
Selectman Sandy Litvack, a Democrat, said he has heard from community members who object to the forum. He applauded Tesei’s desire to encourage civil discourse, but said he felt Tesei was misguided. Litvack said he considered Higbie a provocateur and a rabble-rouser. “There is no reason to think he plans for this forum to be anything different,” Litvack said.
“As a public official, I want to be clear that I, and I believe the people of Greenwich, stand opposed to every racist, homophobic and xenophobic comment Higbie has made,” Litvack said. “Affording him a platform at our Town Hall is no more appropriate, in my view, than affording one to David Duke would be.”
Higbie said he was not surprised by the reaction.
“It is a liberal fixation to harp on something they don’t like and use it to silence opposition,” he said. “Those that preach tolerance the most do not practice it themselves. Sure, some of the things I said were just a-----e comments, period, no justification, and I apologized for them. … Others are wildly out of context and if they are brought up I am more than happy to address them, nothing is off limits.”
The criticism is “about liberals wanting to destroy people,” Higbie said. The outrage is not about solutions, but rather silencing the opposition and President Trump, he said.
“I am a fighter and I am not going away so they better get used to it,” Higbie said.
After leaving the Corporation for National and Community Service, he joined America First Policies, which promotes policy initiatives put forth by the Trump administration. Higbie said he left that position recently to be closer to his family in Greenwich and to take some time off from politics.
His show — called “The Carol Higbie Show” — is broadcast weekday nights at 8 p.m. on the website for America’s Voice Network.
The idea for the event was developed before he joined the network, he said. The goal is to engage communities on the news, Higbie said, and he offered to help set it up.
“I recommended Greenwich since this is my hometown,” Higbie said. The network plans more panel discussions in other locations around the country, he said.
Higbie will be on the panel along with conservative commentator Tom Borelli; Cathy Areu, a Democratic commentator billed as the “liberal Sherpa” and a frequent guest on Fox News; and David Stevenson, who is listed as a Democratic socialist. The event will be moderated by Alison Maloni, a media specialist.