I’m standing outside the Eastern District of PA’s U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia with 150 to 175 people, many with signs and cameras. It’s a sunny October morning at 6th and Chestnut. The mood is solemn but curiously upbeat.
One of the event’s organizers, Dr. William Devlin, pastor of Infinity Bible Church in the South Bronx, is at the podium. Devlin is a tall and lanky minister with a tight ponytail in the back of his head, which may lead some to assume that he’s “woke.” The truth is the opposite of that. Devlin is an international human rights advocate as well as a polished speaker with a knack for rallying the troops, such as when he filled Chestnut Street with the following refrain: “In the Peoples’ Republic of Philadelphia…”
Devlin was referring, of course, to the city’s woke policies on nearly any social or cultural issue you can think of. At the rally, his animus is directed towards President Biden’s Department of Justice.
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This pro-life rally is for Mark Houck, the Catholic activist with a 20-year history of demonstrating outside Planned Parenthood’s Elizabeth Blackwell Center in downtown Philadelphia. There are eight speakers who wait their turn at the podium, including former US Pennsylvania Senate candidate Kathy Barnette, and Ashley Garecht, the mother of minor children harassed and doxxed by state rep. Brian Sims outside Planned Parenthood in 2019.
Because the rally is taking place in front of the U.S. Attorney’s office, significant attention is being paid to who enters and leaves the building.
As the event progresses, several speakers mention how all of us in the wide semi-circle arranged around the podium are being photographed and filmed by unseen cameras. Photographed, and encapsulated into a file of sorts — the legendary FBI files Vietnam War protesters talked about in the 1960s — which might be useful later on if the agency springs into action to curtail what President Biden has referred to as “threats from the Right.”
Only this is not about the Right per se, but about Life. Nevertheless, that covert photographic file would include pictures of the high school-aged woman standing next to me with her collection of placards, as well as the young boy with Down’s syndrome standing close to the podium.
Speakers included Dom Giordano of WHPT 1210 Talk Radio, Patrick Stanton, a Board Member at the Pro-Life Union, Attorney Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society, Kathy Barnette, and Rev. Patrick Mahoney, the President of the Christian Defense League.
As for Houck’s story, it’s straight out of George Orwell.
Arrested in his home in Kintnersville, Bucks County on September 23 in the wee hours of the morning, Houck had just gotten out of bed and was fixing breakfast for his family. He was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. His wife, Ryan-Marie, was about to head into the shower when they heard aggressive pounding on their door.
Houck says he had to ask two or three times before the visitors identified themselves.
Ryan-Marie, in a panic, looked out a window and spotted fifteen or more vehicles outside their house with flashing red and white lights.
When Houck opened the door, he said FBI agents (some Pennsylvania State Troopers were among them) entered and pointed their guns directly at Houck and Ryan-Marie. Meanwhile, the Houck’s eight children ran around the house screaming in terror. When Ryan-Marie asked what the invasion was about, she was told that Houck was about to be arrested. When she asked for a warrant, she said an agent told her, “We are taking your husband with or without a warrant.”
Eventually, an agent did mention (in passing) that a warrant would be forthcoming. Meanwhile, the agents with guns ignored her pleas to wait until taking her husband until she got his sweatpants (he was barefoot) and his rosary.
While she was upstairs retrieving these items, the agents left with her husband.
Houck’s troubles began a year ago on October 13, 2021, when he was praying the rosary at the usual Wednesday protest at Philadelphia’s Planned Parenthood Center at 12th and Locust Street. At that time, a 72-year-old PP escort began harassing Houck’s twelve-year-old son. The harassment was severe enough to evoke a reaction from Houck, who pushed the escort away from his son in order to stop the harassment. The escort allegedly fell to the ground, resulting in a minor injury that, according to the Catholic News Agency, required a “Band-Aid on his finger.”
The escort filed charges but when he neglected to show up in court, the case was thrown out.
The case was essentially dead until the overturning of Roe and the Biden administration’s pit bull-like attacks on the pro-life movement.
Biden’s DOJ accused Houck of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrance Act (FACE) which states that it is a federal felony to injure, intimidate or interfere with anyone seeking to obtain reproductive health services. If Houck is convicted at his scheduled trial in Philadelphia on Jan. 24, he faces up to eleven years in prison. Peter Breen, Houck’s attorney from the prestigious Thomas More Society, said that the only violation that occurred in front of Planned Parenthood “had been the harassing of Houck’s twelve-year-old son.”
On my way to the rally as I was walking through Center City, I was struck by dozens — perhaps hundreds — of “Vote Democrat/Choice” placards posted at every intersection. Here was the steely woke thumb of the majority pressing down on the minority, the same opposition that showed itself at periodic intervals during the rally when a vehicle passing on Chestnut Street pumped up its grinding engine sounds to drown out speakers.
While the speakers made light of this — downtown Philadelphia is always a cacophony of discordant sounds — I couldn’t help but notice when a young woman with a strident “dare to tell me otherwise” attitude went out of her walk to strut in front of the speakers.
When Ashley Garecht spoke, I paid particular attention.
“My three teenage daughters were doxxed by (then) State Rep. Brian Sims,” Garecht told the crowd. “How come the FBI didn’t show up at Brian Sims’ house?”
Brian Sims was once a darling of the Philadelphia establishment, advocating all the right woke positions, saying all the right things to the agenda manufacturers who currently pull Biden’s strings but, as leftists consumed by ideological fervor are wont to do, he went too far when he accosted Garecht’s daughters. The act was captured on Sims’ own camera and posted online as if it was a trophy.
Sims eventually apologized for his string of verbal assaults directed at Garecht’s daughters. Sims’s apology, of course, came only after members of his own party admitted to being quite appalled at his behavior. No doubt they conducted an intervention in the name of Democrat damage control (Sims recently lost his bid for re-election).
What brought Sims’s attacks over the top was when he offered his fans $100 if they could identify four young teenage women in his video. “Push back against Planned Parenthood protestors,” Sims wrote. “PLEASE! They prey on young women, they use white privilege, & shame. They’re racist, classist, bigots who NEED & DESERVE our righteous opposition. Push back, please!”
So, yes, where was the FBI in Sims’ case?
Garecht’s question, “Why didn’t the FBI go to Brian Sims’ house?” points to an obvious bias in Biden’s DOJ, a justice department that has effectively ignored at least 107 documented acts of violence directed at Pregnancy Care Centers and Catholic churches.
In Philadelphia, Saint Patrick’s Church on Rittenhouse Square was defaced with pro-abortion spray paint on June 25, 2022. As the Catholic World Report reported:
“Since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision on Friday, attacks on Catholic churches and pro-life pregnancy centers have been reported in West Virginia, Washington, Virginia, Louisiana, Colorado, California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Indiana.
“Father Hyacinth Cordell, O.P., pastor of the church, told CNA that the graffiti, which said ‘Abort the church,’ was on a corner on the outside of the church. It is cleaned off, he said.”
Garecht’s fundraising campaign on behalf of the Houck family has already raised an astounding $360,000, a testament to the gross inhumanity of this home invasion by Biden’s DOJ. Additionally, 22 House members (and climbing) and at least a dozen U.S. senators have agreed to defend Houck in federal court.
“But this is no solitary, quixotic crusade,” The Catholic News Agency reported. “An outpouring of public support fueled by outrage over the government’s questionable charges for what Houck contends was a minor shoving incident and the aggressive manner in which FBI agents swarmed his house and took him into custody at gunpoint in front of his terrified wife and children has given Houck a fighting chance — and a formidable war chest.”
The rally concluded with a recitation of the Our Father as participants knelt on the sidewalk. The prayer was led by Father H. James Hutchins, a New Jersey-based Catholic priest.
Kneeling on a public sidewalk was a first for me. It was surely something I had never done during my years as a left-leaning activist and street demonstrator what seems like a century ago.
Indeed, had a fortune teller approached me then and told me what I would be doing and thinking decades hence, I think I would have opted to jump off the Walt Whitman Bridge.
Thom Nickels is a Philadelphia-based journalist/columnist and the 2005 recipient of the AIA Lewis Mumford Award for Architectural Journalism. He writes for City Journal, New York, Frontpage Magazine and the Philadelphia Irish Edition. He is the author of fifteen books, including ”Literary Philadelphia” and ”From Mother Divine to the Corner Swami: Religious Cults in Philadelphia.” “Death at Dawn: The Murder of Kimberly Ernest” will be published later this year.