In the midst of all of the mendacious blustering and the showcasing of the president’s political pets during Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech, there was one guest who went unacknowledged but whose presence matters for the foreseeable future. It is unclear whether Biden knew (or cared) that this individual was there, but had certain directives issued by the president or the Department of Justice (DOJ) been successful, this person would’ve been in prison. The individual’s name was Mark Houck and he was there as a guest of Rep. Scott Perry (R-Penn.), both of whom sought to use Houck’s presence at the speech “to raise awareness about the injustice that was rendered against my family and others in recent months.”
For those who may not recall, Mark Houck is a Catholic father of seven, an author, speaker, radio host, co-founder of a men’s ministry group called The King’s Men, and a prominent pro-life activist. Houck came to notoriety back in September of 2022, when his house was aggressively raided by the FBI. He was arrested at gunpoint in front of his family and brought away in chains to stand trial for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (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 was facing up to 11 years in federal prison and up to a $350,000 fine.
The Long Injudicious Arm of Federal Law
During the 20th century, there were numerous times when federal law enforcement agencies (like the FBI) could not secure enough evidence to arrest, let alone convict, certain criminal organizations like the Mafia. So the DOJ learned to use roundabout ways to go after such targets by using the IRS to charge them with tax evasion or with RICO statutes. Moreover, there were also times when courts at the state level would turn to the DOJ to help them prosecute certain crimes or criminals when local courts were unwilling or unable to do so, such as during the 1960’s when the FBI prosecuted members of the KKK on federal civil rights violations.
Given who it was that the DOJ was going after, most Americans look back fondly at those times when the federal government used its authority to settle such historical cases. However, the world has changed much since those days, and in light of the Waco and Ruby Ridge debacles of the 1990’s, Edward Snowden’s revelations of massive domestic surveillance and the Patriot Act in the post-9/11 world, Americans have a far more jaundiced view of federal law enforcement agencies. Today, there is a growing concern that those agencies are claiming jurisdiction over certain local (usually high-profile) cases in order to establish and normalize the administration’s political or ideological positions across the entire nation. This sort of intrusion happened in my own state, when the threat of further mob violence pressured the courts to pile on federal civil rights charges on all of the officers involved with the George Floyd arrest. And it also what happened with Mark Houck.
The federal case against Houck was based on a minor scuffle he got into with a cantankerous and foul-mouthed 72-year old Planned Parenthood volunteer (sardonically) named Bruce Love. Back in October of 2021 Houck and his (at the time) 12 year old son were engaged in sidewalk counseling across the street from a Philadelphia clinic, when Love (who Houck had encountered before on numerous occasions) started harassing Houck’s son. Houck told Love that he did not have permission to speak to his son, and to refrain from doing so. When Love returned a second time to yell at Houck's son, Houck shoved Love who fell to the ground without injury.
The incident was so minor that the local police and district attorney declined to file charges, and when Love tried to file his own criminal complaint, Philadelphia’s municipal court dismissed the case when he didn’t even bother showing up for his own hearing. However, Merrick Garland and the DOJ, who had already been targeting pro-life groups as early as March of 2022, decided to pick up the case. Thus, Houck was sent a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s Office saying that he was now the subject of a federal probe for violating the FACE Act.
With the help of the non-profit law firm The Thomas More Society, Houck disputed the charges but said he would voluntarily appear in court. Despite this offer, Garland sent the FBI to arrest and hold Houck for trial. The trial began on Wednesday January 25th and despite a deadlocked jury and one of the jurors having to be replaced, Houck was eventually acquitted of all charges on January 30th. Houck and his family were grateful, but were planning to pursue legal action against the FBI and Pennsylvania State Troopers for “prosecutorial abuse” for the way he was arrested and imprisoned before his trial. In the end, it was a triumph for Mark Houck, his family, and in a way the pro-life movement that has become the target of hate and harassment since Roe vs. Wade was overturned last year with the Dobbs decision.
However, as the title of this article states, there was another and less obvious “triumph” associated with the Mark Houck case.
The Punitive Pageantry of our Democracy
During the Roman empire, when a current or former dictator, consul, or praetor achieved a great victory in battle or in some far-off campaign of conquest, a triumphus curulisor or “great triumph” was held in his honor in the city of Rome. The triumph was a public celebration where the victor rode in an ornate chariot followed by a parade containing the booty and prisoners of the defeated armies or the lands conquered on behalf of the empire. These events were seen as vital public pageants that were meant to highlight and instill a sense of pride and awe for the might and glory of the Roman empire to its citizens. To a certain extent we still have these sorts of events today, but rather than federally-sanctioned parades we have non-events like the State of the Union speech or the red-tinted scream fest Biden gave (ironically enough in this case) in Philadelphia.
The arrest and trial of Mark Houck was a kind modern day triumph for the Biden administration. Merrick Garland used his praetorian authority to sign off on a raid that sent 20-30 agents, along with all the accompanying men and materiel, into the barbarus lands of rural Pennsylvania to conquer (arrest) a notorious local chieftain of some clan called "The King's Men" who had been a constant source of friction at a nearby capital city. Furthermore, despite Houck’s case having been dismissed at the local level, the Biden administration used the DOJ to assert its authority over Houck by claiming that his shove was a "violent act" that interfered with "the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services." An assertion that even the judge at Houck’s trial said was stretching the FACE Act “a little thin here,” let alone one warranting 11 years in federal prison and a hefty fine. By comparison (again from my own state), BLM protestor Montez Terriel Lee, who was responsible for the death of a homeless man who had been sleeping in a Minneapolis pawn shop when Lee burned it down during the George Floyd riots of 2020, was given a ridiculously light sentence of 10 years.
The DOJ had to have known that the chances of convicting Houck were low, but they went ahead with the arrest and trial anyways. They did so because their triumph of Mark Houck furthered their political and ideological ends in two key ways. First, it provided a visible scapegoat to satiate the ire of Biden’s progressive base who, while they denied Trump a second term as president, still suffered a major defeat with Dobbs at the hands of Trump’s judicial appointments. Secondly, the Biden administration turned Houck’s perp walk into a PSA which made it clear for all to see that they are Dobbs-deniers and they will do everything in their power to reinstate and codify Roe. If they need to intimidate, prosecute, and even imprison pro-life groups and persons in order to do so, then so be it.
These assertions might come across as hyperbolic and highly speculative, but the recent leak of an FBI memo out of the Richmond field office by a whistleblower named Kyle Seraphin validates the point. The memo relied on the same farcicle and sloppy research standards that went into the infamous Salon article from August of 2022 that tried to connect those who prayed the rosary with violent white supremacist groups. In the case of the leaked memo, the FBI apparently relied on the highly partisan Southern Poverty Law Center to invent a category Catholics (the “Radical Traditional Catholic”) that exist only in the minds of those who are imbued with woke ideology.
A Conflict of Kingdoms and the Road Ahead
While the FBI has since tried to walk back the memo’s significance, it was too late, they had said the quiet (but already known) part out loud. The concern Biden, Garland, and the DOJ and FBI have over “radical” or traditional Catholics is not so much about their theology, as it is about federal authority. As Matt Lamb over at The Federalist has pointed out, traditional Catholics who take their faith seriously are more likely to homeschool their kids, to instruct their kids in traditional moral values about family, marriage, and the sanctity of human life, and when push comes to shove, will obey God over the State. So when the FBI labels someone like Mark Houck or other Catholics as “radical” or “traditional” what they are doing is marking them as someone who opposes every progressive ideal the current administration stands for. To put it bluntly, they are being labeled as enemies of the state.
Given this administration’s lack of transparency, it’s hard to believe there aren't more “memos” out there that have yet to be leaked. Ones that are more thorough and explicit than the Richmond one. In fact one has to wonder how long it will be before other groups are designated as “radical”- Lutherans, Evangelicals, Baptists, etc. What about professions such as teachers, doctors, or lawyers? Or even the trades such as auto mechanics, construction workers, or service workers? What about anyone else who exercises their inalienable (as in God-given) rights in contradiction of the "our democracy" crowd's political agenda? Will any of them be singled out to be part of another federal triumph?
Time will tell, but we will know soon enough in two years time.
Photo Credit- Catholic News Agency