Confronted with tough questions about armed agents making an early-morning show of force at an unarmed pro-lifer’s house, America’s top law enforcement officials pushed the blame onto the Philadelphia office of the FBI.
At issue was the decision to send armed, shield-wielding federal agents, brandishing semi-automatic rifles, to arrest Bucks County pro-life activist Mark Houck. Houck was charged with allegedly violating the federal Freedom to Access Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act after a minor scuffle with a clinic escort. Local authorities declined to charge him over the incident, and his attorneys had already offered to bring in the father of seven to turn himself in.
Instead, the Biden administration’s Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Merrick Garland, executed an early-morning raid on his home to take Houck into custody.
When his case went to trial, it took a Philadelphia jury just an hour to acquit Houck of all charges.
Garland was grilled about the DOJ’s actions by Republican senators on Wednesday. Rather than explaining the rationale for bringing the case in the first place, or offering a defense of using armed agents for the arrest, Garland pushed the responsibility onto the local FBI.
Despite photos showing the armed agents, Garland insisted the Senators’ description of events “didn’t match” the information he was given by the local FBI. When asked how their actions matched the guidelines of the DOJ — which call for a “reasonable” use of force in each situation — he again deferred to the local agents.
“They made decisions on the ground about what is safest and easiest,” Garland said.
Senators found his answers less than satisfactory.
“In the early morning, Mrs. Houck said the children were screaming. He offered to turn himself in. And this is who you go to terrorize?” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)
“You use an unbelievable show of force with guns –liberals usually decry long guns and assault-style weapons. We’re supposed to hate long guns. You’re happy to deploy them against Catholics and innocent children, and then you haul them into court. And a jury acquits him in one hour. I just suggest to you that that is a disgraceful performance by your justice department and a disgraceful use of resources.”
Carrie Adamowski, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia FBI, defended the level of force used in the Houck case. “Extensive planning takes place prior to the service of any federal warrant. The FBI then employs the personnel and tactics deemed necessary to effect a safe arrest or search.
“While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence.”
Houck told DVJournal the raid on his house remains fresh in his mind.
A judge had found he was not a flight risk, had no criminal history, and he was released on his own recognizance the same day as his arrest, Houck said. And yet, “they pointed M-16s at my wife and children.”
FBI agents shackled Houck to a table for six or seven hours, he said.
“It’s not normal to show up without a warrant,” Houck said. “It’s not normal for them not to announce ‘FBI’ and point guns at babies and little children.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray also faced questions about the Houck arrest, during a Tuesday interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier. Asked about the significant show of force, Wray also pushed the responsibility onto the local agents.
“Those decisions are made as they should be by the commanders on the ground in the field office who have the expertise about when to conduct operations safely and securely for the safety of everybody involved. And to my knowledge, those processes were all followed in this case,” Wray answered.
Houck said he believes his treatment, from arrest to trial, was not a mistake by local FBI officials.
“Obviously, Director Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland told the DOJ to pursue people like me,” Houck said.