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Despite Houck's Vindication, a Weaponized DOJ Still Accomplished Its Objective
On January 30, 2023, a federal jury in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, found pro-life activist Mark Houck not guilty of a violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act “FACE” Act.
If you did not follow this story closely, you likely heard of it, at least. In 2021, Houck was providing sidewalk counseling outside an abortion clinic with his son when an employee of the clinic verbally harassed the boy. Houck and the clinic employee got into a brief physical altercation during which Houck pushed the employee twice. Local law enforcement investigated the incident and chose not to prosecute Houck. But almost a year later, Merrick Garland’s DOJ decided to get involved.
In a dawn raid, the FBI descended on Houck’s house to arrest him, terrifying his wife and seven children with drawn guns and all the strong-arming and heavy-handedness of the SWAT Team raids for which the FBI is becoming known.
The government charged Houck with a violation of the FACE Act, which prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.” If convicted, Houck would have faced a potential ten-year prison sentence.
Of course, this raid outraged right-wing America. Houck hired excellent counsel, and his case went to trial right at the end of this month.
His acquittal yesterday is absolutely the cause of much rejoicing. For Houck and his family, it is an enormous and wonderful relief. For Americans generally, we can take some comfort that innocent men and women can still receive justice from a jury of their peers—at least as long as the jury is drawn from outside the District of Columbia’s jurisdiction.
But the sad truth is the DOJ still accomplished much of its purpose. It is not burdensome for the DOJ to bring this type of criminal charge against an ordinary citizen like Mark Houck. The overwhelming force of the federal government’s prosecutorial hammer swings with ease at its prey. But for the defendant, federal indictment is crushing. It can ruin people financially and emotionally, destroying families and lives. Even if your personal life survives intact, the process is the punishment. The Houcks have, without a doubt, been going through hell these months since September 2022.
The message for the rest of us is clear, the DOJ is out to persecute pro-life activists. It is a chilling warning and reminds me of the example of Catherine Engelbrecht.
In 2009, Catherine Engelbrecht founded True the Vote to fight election fraud in Texas, and it turned her life upside down. Her work was effective, and when she applied for non-profit status from the federal government, she placed herself in the crosshairs of Barack Obama’s politically charged IRS.
As she noted in congressional testimony years later, in the two decades she ran a private business before her political involvement, she had no contact with the IRS aside from filing her taxes. After applying for non-profit status for her King Street Patriots and True the Vote non-profits, her private business, non-profits, and family were subjected to more than 15 instances of audit or inquiry by federal agencies. In 2011, her personal business tax records were audited by the IRS, each going back a number of years. In 2012, her business was investigated by OSHA. OSHA issued fines “in excess of $20,000,” despite not finding anything serious or significant. In 2012 and 2013, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms conducted comprehensive audits of Engelbrecht’s place of business, and in 2010, the FBI contacted Engelbrecht’s non-profits asking to cull through her membership databases in connection with domestic terrorism cases.1
Engelbrecht’s story, of course, circulated widely through conservative circles. I remember hearing her speak and recount these chilling examples at several meetings organized by the late and great Phyllis Schlafly. Obama’s IRS was ultimately reprimanded for its abuse. But the reality is that the federal government is more corrupt than ever and the power of the federal government to, at best, destroy you in the courts and, at worst, imprison you on technicalities or downright lies is a quiet fear that flits at the back of every conservative activist’s mind. I know it crosses my own.
With their raid of Mark Houck’s home and the outrageous charges that followed, the FBI not only placed Houck and his family under terrible strain, it reminded every pro-life activist in America that this story could be your story. And, of course, the ending might not be a happy one. Houck was one jury away from a federal criminal conviction and at the mercy of a federal judge’s sentencing authority. What if the verdict had gone the other way?
Although yesterday was a victory for justice and life, the shadow cast by this abusive FBI remains and will be felt for a long time to come.
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I remember hearing Catherine’s story at an Eagle Forum event, but these facts are almost verbatim from Catherine Engelbrecht’s testimony to Congress, available here: