Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) blasted Attorney General Merrick Garland over the FBI raid on a pro-life activist’s home and asked whether the Department of Justice (DOJ) had an “anti-Catholic bias.”
“Our department protects all religions, all ideologies. It does not have any bias against any religion of any kind,” Garland said during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Hawley then labeled the DOJ as an agency that attacks Catholics while “turning a blind eye” to crime in American cities.
“Your answer frankly surprises me,” Hawley added.
Merrick Garland has turned the DOJ into a political hit team for Joe Biden. There is no more impartial DOJ – the White House is using law enforcement to do its bidding pic.twitter.com/yCN7io4uM5
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) March 2, 2023
In September 2020, Mark Houck, a pro-life activist, and author from Pennsylvania was arrested in front of his wife and seven children after dozens of FBI agents showed up on his lawn, carrying long guns and shields.
In 2020, on Fox News’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie, recounted the event. “My entire front yard, you could barely see it, it was covered with at least 15 big trucks and cars. There were 20, 25, 30, men, women, completely in jackets with shields and helmets, and guns. They were behind cars. It was something I would never expect to see on my front lawn,” she said.
Houck was raided and arrested for allegedly pushing a 72-year-old man outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia in 2021. Houck accused the man of allegedly harassing his 12-year-old son.
According to the New York Post, the Philadelphia Police Department filed no charges against Houck. However, Houck’s case caught the attention of the DOJ.
The DOJ accused Houck of violating the Freedom of Access Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, which makes it a federal crime to use force with the “intent to injure, intimidate and interfere with anyone because that person provides reproductive health care.”
Days after the arrest, Hawley sent a letter to Garland, accusing him of turning a “local dispute into a national case.”
During the Senate hearing, Hawley asked Garland why the FBI showed “extreme force” in their arrest of Houck.
“Why did the FBI do this? Why did you send 20-30 SWAT-style agents, SWAT-style team to this guy’s house when everybody else had declined to prosecute and he offered to turn himself in?” Hawley asked.
Garland replied that the FBI agents determined how to engage with Houck in the “safest” way.
Hawley then asked if it was “objectively necessary” to send agents with long guns and ballistic shields to the home where Houck’s wife and children were at the time of the raid.
Garland reiterated that the FBI agents made the decision. When Hawley asked if he was “abdicating responsibility,” Garland said no.
“Then give me the answer. Do you think, in your opinion, you are the attorney general of the United States? You are in charge of the Justice Department and yes, sir, you are responsible. So give me an answer,” Hawley said.
Hawley repeatedly pushed for an answer from Garland as to whether he thought the FBI raid was “reasonable,” but Garland kept dodging the questions, suggesting Hawley’s description of the events was “exaggerated.”
“What that the children weren’t there? That there weren’t long guns there? That there weren’t agents? What do you dispute? What’s the factual premise that you dispute?” Hawley said.
Garland finally admitted that the FBI disagreed with Hawley’s description of how the arrest took place.
In January 2023, a Pennsylvania jury acquitted Houck of two separate federal charges that he violated the FACE Act.
Furthermore, Hawley referenced an FBI memo from Jan. 23, 2023, that advocated for the “exploration of new avenues for tripwire and source development against traditionalist Catholics.”
According to Newsweek, the memo is titled, “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities.”
The FBI in Richmond, Virginia, discussed monitoring Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists (RMVE) and their interests in “Radical-Traditionalist Catholics.”
“Attorney General, are you cultivating sources and spies in Latin mass parishes and other Catholic parishes across the country?” Hawley asked.
“The Justice Department does not do that and does not do investigations based on religion. I saw the document you sent. It’s appalling. It’s appalling. I’m in complete agreement with you. I understand that the FBI has withdrawn it and is looking into how this could ever have happened,” Garland replied.
When asked how many informants the FBI has in Catholic churches across the U.S., Garland said, “I don’t know, and I don’t believe we have any informants aimed at Catholic churches. We have a rule against investigations based on First Amendment activity.”
Garland later said he doesn’t “specifically” know how many informants the FBI has in Catholic churches.