Saturday, July 20, 2024

Frustrated by Police Inaction, the Pro-Life Movement Takes Up the Work of Law Enforcement

Last June a firebomb ripped through the CompassCare crisis pregnancy center in Buffalo, causing extensive damage but no deaths. Amid the rubble and soot, the words “Jane was here” were written on the wall, suggesting that the militant abortion rights group Jane’s Revenge was responsible. Almost immediately, authorities all the way up to the FBI assured the pro-life enterprise they would bring the perpetrators to justice. 

Eight months later, CompassCare officials say virtually nothing has happened. Aside from last night – news of the federal indictment of two in Florida for acts of vandalism – no arrests have been made in any of the scores of similar attacks that have damaged other crisis pregnancy counseling offices and churches coast to coast since word first leaked in late May that the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, returning abortion laws to state legislatures.    

CompassCare CEO Jim Harden says this inaction has forced the pro-life movement to do the work of law enforcement on its own. His organization has teamed with the Thomas More Society, a nonprofit libertarian law firm in Chicago, to hire their own private investigators. The home of the firm’s president, Thomas Brejcha, was damaged by abortion supporters last July. 

Neither the Thomas More Society nor CompassCare elaborated on the private investigators hired to look at the attacks by abortion supporters — who they are, how many or where deployed. But Brejcha said no price limit has been put on their services.

The development comes at a time when many, especially on the right, are warning of the politicization of justice. A few of the examples they point to are the SWAT team arrest of Trump adviser Roger Stone; the armed search of former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in pursuit of classified documents (along with the multiple lawsuits specifically aimed at Trump); and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s ordering the FBI to track possible threats of violence or intimidation after parents began confronting school boards about what their children were being taught in public schools.

They say such heavy-handedness contrasts with law enforcement at the local, state, and federal levels turning a blind eye to obvious lawlessness not identified with the right. Examples include the nationwide George Floyd riots of 2020; smash-and-grab thefts at retail stores from New York to Los Angeles; homeless camps turned open-air drug bazaars; and city prosecutors declining to enforce laws because of concerns regarding “systemic racism.”  

“I think the country’s gone bonkers,” Brejcha said. “We watched rioters looting in the south side of Chicago, where I grew up. I think what we’re doing is a normal response. It’s not vigilante, but citizens taking civic action.” 

Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told RealClearInvestigations: “I’m not surprised pro-life groups have had to conduct their own investigations after being attacked by radical abortion activists. Sadly, they’ve been left with no other option because of the blatant politicization of the Biden FBI and the Justice Department.” 

Abortion opponents are doubly incensed by what they consider aggressive action by the Department of Justice against them. They, along with several Republican members of Congress, accuse the Department of one-sided enforcement of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a 1994 law that prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.” 

The Justice Department pursued dozens of anti-abortion activists in multiple states on FACE Act charges last year, chiefly for alleged offenses in previous years, according to its website. In October, federal prosecutors indicted 11 people in Tennessee, including an 87-year-old survivor of a Communist concentration camp, for alleged actions stemming from a 2021 incident. Another incident outside a Washington, D.C. abortion clinic in 2020 led to 10 more indictments in March and October of 2022. 

Abortion opponents note that, in contrast, federal officials have failed to make a single arrest in what the Thomas More Society counts as 161 attacks on pro-lifers since the leak of the Supreme Court draft decision last May. In addition to the CompassCare attack in Buffalo, these include actions against pregnancy crisis centers in Washington, D.C., and Oregon, as well as Brejcha’s home in Evanston, Illinois (unoccupied at the time). Federal prosecutors have made a cause célèbre out of Mark Houck, a longtime anti-abortion activist and father of seven who was arrested in an FBI raid on his Pennsylvania home last September and now faces a Jan. 24 court date for alleged FACE violations. 

Houck’s case stems from an incident outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic in October 2021. Houck and an abortion supporter tangled outside the clinic, with Houck claiming he was defending his son. Local police were called to the scene and declined action; a court complaint against Houck was dismissed when no one appeared to press the case. 

Nevertheless, months later the Justice Department took up the case. He was arrested at his Pennsylvania home by armed state and federal agents last September and charged with two FACE Act violations involving the alleged shoving incidents. He faces up to 11 years in prison. Thomas More Society lawyers are defending Houck, and they filed motions last month to dismiss the case, calling the FACE Act unconstitutional and accusing the Biden administration of “viewpoint discrimination” and “selective prosecution.” 

The FBI insists its agents have remained impartial. 

But anti-abortion activists say the bureau’s claims are undermined by their own admissions. FBI Director Christopher Wray acknowledged in congressional testimony last November “that, since the Dobbs Act decision, probably in the neighborhood of 70 percent of our abortion-related violence cases or threats cases are cases of violence or threats against pro-life, the victims are pro-life organizations.”  

Asked repeatedly whether any arrest had been made in these cases, the FBI declined to comment. On Jan. 19, the day after RCI’s most recent request for arrest data, the bureau reissued its November announcement of rewards up to $25,000 for information that leads to an arrest in nine more attacks against abortion opponents in addition to the Buffalo firebombing.  

“The FBI is continuing to investigate a series of attacks and threats targeting pregnancy resource centers, faith-based organizations, and reproductive health clinics across the country, as well as to judicial buildings, including the U.S. Supreme Court,” a spokesman said. “The incidents are being investigated as potential acts of domestic violent extremism, FACE Act violations, or violent crime matters, depending on the facts of each case.” 

Harden of CompassCare called the rewards a publicity stunt that reflects “feigned interest” by the Justice Department and said perhaps the investigators hired by CompassCare and the Thomas More Society could get their own investigatory work “underwritten by the reward money.” 

Harden said the reward money “makes FBI Director Wray look like the hero absent results,” Harden said. “It’s a day late and a dollar short.” 

The FBI took CompassCare’s security video from the night of the attack and has refused to return it, and Harden said when he called last June to get an idea of any progress in the investigation, agents told him: “We don’t answer to you. We’re not answering any of your questions.” 

It was only last August, after Sen. Cruz criticized the Justice Department for politicizing its activity and accused it of neglecting the attacks on anti-abortion figures, that the FBI called and requested a meeting. There, the FBI tried to buy his silence, according to Harden.  “They said, ‘If you back off we’ll give this more attention,’” he recalled. “Now they know they’ll be under scrutiny from the House Judiciary Committee,” – a reference to the Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives this year. 

Like Harden, Brejcha said he has not seen any progress into the investigation of the vandalism of his house  last July 1, despite a seemingly large number of leads. The demonstration at his house was advertised on social media and printed flyers. Protesters drove to a nearby park before marching to Brejcha’s house where the black-clad and masked activists tore out bushes, spray-painted the house, and tossed smoke bombs and paint bombs at it. No one was injured in the incident. 

Brejcha said videotape showed the protesters gathering in the park, and car license plates of protesters are available to investigators. But in the face of such evidence, he says, he does not believe a good faith effort has been made by police. A spokesman for the Evanston, Ill., police department confirmed to RCI last week there have been no arrests.

“The police told me they’d been tipped by the FBI that they would be targeting my house the next day,” Brejcha said. “That’s a threat.” 

Brejcha said he did “not want to attack the police, but they need to be more aggressive. There are so many connections between all these events.” 

Hans von Spakovsky, a conservative attorney, told RCI he wasn’t surprised that abortion opponents felt compelled to hire their own investigative staff given the lack of attention they’ve received as victims. 

“It is another shocking development that victims of violent attacks and harassment can’t trust the FBI to actually investigate their case or the Justice Department to prosecute it,” he said. “It is even more evidence of the politicalization of federal law enforcement, one of the most dangerous developments in modern times.” 

Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan sent a letter to Garland just before the November midterms demanding the preservation of documents and promising that “one-sided enforcement of the FACE act” would be among politicized moves his House Judiciary Committee would investigate. 

Outside of the abortion battles, some of those who feel similarly betrayed by authorities wish they, too, could hire their own police. In Phoenix, for instance, people have fought with city officials for months over “The Zone,” a growing homeless encampment where a charred fetus was found last November and a burned man in December. 

“I’d love to get private security here but who can afford it?” said Angela Ojile, who owns an antique store across the street from “The Zone” and its estimated 1,000 people. “I know the police have been told to stand down, and now they’ve created a dangerous situation.” 

Ojile described a nightmarish situation in which drug dealing, public defecation, and a threatening atmosphere overwhelm her, anyone she can convince to work in the store, and potential customers. 

“There’s some scary people down there and I can’t keep employees,” she said. “They’re so petrified because people are getting beat up, held up, there’s people running around half naked over there.” 

“The Zone,” like the abortion battles, has spawned litigation. On one hand, the Goldwater Institute, a conservative Arizona-based think tank, has thrown its support behind a lawsuit that accuses Phoenix authorities of betraying the public trust. A spate of violent crimes including shootings, stabbings, and rape have made “The Zone” a perverse example of compassion run amok. 

 “It’s just lawless,” the Institute’s Austin Vanderheyden told RCI. “The city in its inaction has caused this.” 

Phoenix has launched some small-scale clean-up operations but those have come under legal attack by the ACLU, which sued the city in part to block the removal of temporary shelters in “The Zone.” 

At both the federal and local level in these cases, the argument is the same: that officials have made law enforcement decisions based on politics. 

 “It’s a hard word to talk about the ‘politicization’ of the Justice Department, but there seems to be too much tolerance on one side of the political equation,” Brejcha said.  

Harden said the decisions within the Justice Department that appear to green-light aggressive prosecution of abortion opponents while overlooking attacks by abortion supporters leaves groups and individuals with no choice but to move outside traditional law enforcement channels. 

“This signals to me a breach of contract between the government and the people,” he said. “Civilized order depends on people’s trust that criminals will at least be pursued in good faith. But when they refuse to investigate crimes equally, their corruption becomes complete and they become complicit in the crimes themselves.” 

Addendum, January 25, 2023, 4:52 PM Eastern

As RCI went to press, the Department of Justice announced the arrest of two individuals in Florida in connection with spray-painted threats at pregnancy resource centers. The article has been updated to reflect this.

Addendum, January 25, 2023, 11:22 AM Eastern

After requests to the FBI for comment before RCI’s publication deadline, the bureau responded post-publication:

The FBI takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and reports them to the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General. Contrary to the inference, the FBI has continued to rigorously investigate the arson of the CompassCare facility and will continue to do so. On January 19, the FBI began offering up to a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the persons responsible for the arson.

This article was originally published by RealClearInvestigations and made available via RealClearWire.