I stand in front of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of the PA in Philadelphia with 150-175 people, many with signs and cameras. It’s a sunny October morning in 6th and Chestnut. The atmosphere is solemn but curiously optimistic.
One of the event organizers, Dr. William Devlin, pastor of Infinity Bible Church in the South Bronx, is on the podium. Devlin is a tall, lanky minister with a tight ponytail at the back of his head, which may lead some to assume he’s “woke.” The truth is quite the opposite. Devlin is an international human rights advocate as well as a polished orator with a knack for rallying the troops, like when he filled Chestnut Street with the following refrain: “In the People’s Republic of Philadelphia…”
Devlin was, of course, referring to the city’s woke policies on almost any social or cultural issue you can think of. At the rally, his animosity is directed at President Biden’s Justice Department.
This pro-life rally is for Mark Houck, the Catholic activist who has been protesting for 20 years outside Planned Parenthood’s Elizabeth Blackwell Center in downtown Philadelphia. There are eight speakers awaiting their turn on the podium, including former US Senate candidate from Pennsylvania, Kathy Barnette, and Ashley Garecht, the mother of underage children. harassed and doxxed by the state representative. Brian Sims outside of Planned Parenthood in 2019.
Since the rally is taking place in front of the U.S. Attorney’s office, careful consideration is given to who enters and exits the building.
As the event progresses, several speakers mention how all of us, in the large semi-circle arranged around the podium, are photographed and filmed by invisible cameras. Photographed and encapsulated in a file of sorts – the legendary FBI files that Vietnam War protesters talked about in the 1960s – that could be useful later if the agency takes action to reduce what President Biden has called of “threats from the right”. ”
Only it’s not about the right in itself, but on Life. Nevertheless, this secret photographic file would include photos of the high school girl standing next to me with her collection of signs, as well as the young boy with Down syndrome standing near the podium.
Speakers included Dom Giordano of WHPT 1210 Talk Radio, Pro-Life Union board member Patrick Stanton, attorney Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society, Kathy Barnette and the Reverend Patrick Mahoney, president of the Christian Defense League.
As for Houck’s story, it came straight out of George Orwell.
Arrested at his home in Kintnersville, Bucks County on September 23 in the early hours of the morning, Houck had just woken up and was cooking breakfast for his family. He was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. His wife, Ryan-Marie, was about to head to the shower when they heard a loud knocking on their door.
Houck says he had to ask two or three times before visitors identified themselves.
A panicked Ryan-Marie looked out the window and spotted fifteen or more vehicles in front of their house with flashing red and white lights.
When Houck opened the door, he said FBI agents (some Pennsylvania state troopers were among them) came in and pointed their guns directly at Houck and Ryan-Marie. Meanwhile, Houck’s eight children ran around the house screaming in terror. When Ryan-Marie asked what invasion was about to, he was told that Houck was about to be arrested. When she asked for a warrant, she said an officer told her, “We’re taking your husband with or without a warrant.
Finally, an officer mentioned (in passing) that a warrant would be issued. Meanwhile, the armed officers ignored her pleas to wait until she took her husband until she got his sweatpants (he was barefoot) and his prayer beads.
While she was upstairs to retrieve these items, officers left with her husband.
Houck’s troubles began a year ago on Oct. 13, 2021, when he prayed the Rosary during the usual Wednesday event at Philadelphia’s Planned Parenthood Center at 12th and Locust Street. At this time, a 72-year-old PP escort began harassing Houck’s twelve-year-old son. The harassment was serious enough to elicit a reaction from Houck, who rebuffed his son’s escort in order to end the harassment. The escort reportedly fell to the ground, resulting in a minor injury which the Catholic News Agency said required a “finger bandage”.
The escort filed a complaint but when he failed to appear in court, the case was thrown out.
The case was essentially dead until the overthrow of deer and the Biden administration’s pit bull attacks on the pro-life movement.
Biden’s DOJ has charged Houck with violating the Freedom of Access to Entry to Clinics (FACE) Act which states that it is a federal crime to injure, intimidate or interfere with anyone seeking reproductive health services. If Houck is convicted at his scheduled trial in Philadelphia on Jan. 24, he faces up to 11 years in prison. Peter Breen, Houck’s attorney from the prestigious Thomas More Society, said the only violation that occurred before Planned Parenthood “was the harassment of Houck’s twelve-year-old son.”
On the way to the rally as I drove through downtown, I was struck by dozens – perhaps hundreds – of “Vote Democrat/Choice” signs posted at every intersection. This was the awakened steel thumb of the majority pressing on the minority, the same opposition that showed up at regular intervals during the rally when a passing vehicle on Chestnut Street swelled its engine to drown out the speakers.
As the speakers shed light on this – downtown Philadelphia is always a cacophony of discordant sounds – I couldn’t help but notice when a young woman with a strident attitude “dares to tell me the contrary” came out of her march to strut in front of the loudspeakers.
When Ashley Garecht spoke, I paid close 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’s?”
Brian Sims was once a darling of the Philadelphia establishment, championing all the right woke positions, saying all the right things to the agenda makers who are currently pulling the strings on Biden but, as leftists consumed by ideological fervor have the used to do it, he went too far when he approached the girls of Garecht. The deed was captured on Sims’ own camera and posted online as if it were a trophy.
Sims finally apologized for his series of verbal attacks directed at the girls of Garecht. Sims’ apology, of course, only came after members of his own party admitted to being quite appalled by his behavior. No doubt they carried out an intervention in the name of Democratic damage control (Sims recently lost his re-election bid).
What pushed Sims’ attacks over the top was when he offered his fans $100 if they could identify four young teenage girls in his video. “Repel the Planned Parenthood protesters,” Sims wrote. “PLEASE! They prey on young women, they use white privilege and shame. They are racists, classists, bigots who NEED and DESERVE our just opposition. Push back, please !
So yeah, where was the FBI in the Sims case?
Garecht’s question, “Why didn’t the FBI go to Brian Sims?” points to a clear bias by Biden’s DOJ, a justice department that 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 Catholic World Report reported:
” Since Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Friday’s decision, attacks on Catholic churches and pro-life pregnancy centers were reported in West Virginia, Washington, Virginia, Louisiana, Colorado, California, Texas, Florida, New York and in Indiana.
“Father Hyacinth Cordell, OP, pastor of the church, told CNA that the graffiti, which read ‘Give up the Church,’ was in a corner outside the church. It’s cleaned up, he said.
Garecht’s fundraising campaign on behalf of the Houck family has already raised an incredible $360,000, a testament to the gross inhumanity of this home invasion by Biden’s DOJ. Additionally, 22 (and escalating) House members and at least a dozen U.S. senators have agreed to defend Houck in federal court.
“But this is not a lonely, chimerical crusade,” the Catholic News Agency reported. “A wave of public support fueled by outrage over dubious government charges for what Houck claims was a minor pushing incident and the aggressive manner in which FBI agents invaded his home and arrested him at gunpoint outside his terrified wife and children gave Houck a fighting chance – and a formidable war chest.
The rally ended with a recitation of the Our Father as participants knelt on the sidewalk. The prayer was led by Father H. James Hutchins, a Catholic priest from New Jersey.
Kneeling on a public sidewalk was a first for me. It was surely something I had never done during my years as a left-wing activist and street protester in what seems like a century ago.
Indeed, if a fortune teller had approached me then and told me what I would be doing and thinking decades from now, I think I would have chosen 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 newspaper, 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 released later this year.