(The Daily Signal) — Mark Houck’s children were startled awake by a loud banging on their door.
The older girls looked out the window, saw flashing lights, and ran out to the landing to see what was going on.
The little boys sat up in their beds, sleepy and startled.
Mark Houck Jr. rushed to the stair railing as questions raced through his mind. “Is someone trying to break into the house? Is it someone upset with my dad? Why would someone be coming to our house to arrest my dad?”
Below them, down in the entryway, stood their father.
Their mother was on her way down the stairs.
Crowded on the front porch and the front lawn were about 15 FBI agents, with guns pointed at their parents. It was around 7 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022.
“They were all the way lined down my driveway,” the children’s father said. “I had agents on my porch with long guns.”
Eva, the oldest sister, shared that Mark Jr. tried to order his siblings to go back to their rooms. Terrified at the spectacle before her, she said she just couldn’t leave.
Little Teresa told me that she wanted to rush at them and yell, “You can’t take my dad!” She didn’t say that, though she did push past her older brother and run down the stairs to her mother.
“I woke up and the girls were outside the door crying,” remembered 9-year-old Joshua. “And I asked them what was wrong and they didn’t answer, and I looked down the stairs and I saw guns pointing at Mommy and Daddy.”
“Were you scared?” I asked him.
“Yeah,” he responded, as his little brother Augustine nodded shyly. Multiple family members shared that Augustine has had nightmares and has acted out behaviorally ever since that September morning.
“I was shaking,” said Ryan-Marie, their mother. “I didn’t even know why they were there to arrest him.”
Mark and Ryan-Marie believe they were targeted by President Joe Biden’s Justice Department in an effort to intimidate, silence, and scare the family for their pro-life work — praying outside abortion clinics for the women headed inside to abort their unborn babies.
In early February, our Daily Signal team went to the Houck’s Pennsylvania home to hear about that day when the DOJ arrested Mark, charging him with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.
Mark pleaded not guilty to the federal charges. His legal team argued that the DOJ was violating the Constitution by engaging in “viewpoint discrimination” and “selective prosecution,” violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment’s protection for the free exercise of religion.
The FACE Act charges stemmed from a 2021 incident outside a Philadelphia-based Planned Parenthood where Mark pushed an abortion clinic volunteer who was repeatedly harassing his son (Mark Jr). Local authorities ultimately dismissed the matter — until the Biden DOJ re-upped it in response to the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
When Mark found himself confronted by FBI agents, guns pointed at him (and later at his wife, as she made her way down the stairs), his first thought was to protect his children.
“Stay calm,” he said he told the agents as he opened the door and showed his hands. “I have seven babies in here. Please, stay calm.”
There were 15 marked and unmarked vehicles on his property, Mark said.
When he asked what was going on, the agents reportedly told him, “You know why we are here.”
“I had to gather my faculties,” Mark said. Then he responded.
“Oh, you’re here because I rescue babies.”
Almost involuntarily, he added: “You wouldn’t be here if the Trump administration was in the White House.”
Mark says they all “kind of looked down” at this remark, and no one said anything.
Then Ryan-Marie arrived at the door, demanding, “Do you have a warrant for his arrest?”
Mark said that agent CJ Jackson (the lead agent on the case who was present at the trial) told her, “We are taking him with or without a warrant.” Ryan-Marie continued to press the agents, as their children began crying and screaming, about why they were taking her husband.
Mark wanted the agents and their guns out of his house and away from his children as fast as possible. “What do you want?” He asked them. “What do you want me to do?”
When they told him they were going to take him down to the station, Mark says he asked if he could put more clothing on (he was wearing a t-shirt and shorts on the chilly September morning), brush his teeth, or grab his rosary. Each of these requests was met with a “no,” though he was ultimately given his rosary.
One agent finally sent Ryan-Marie, who was still demanding a warrant, upstairs to get Mark a sweatshirt. When she returned, they had cuffed him and put him in a vehicle.
“Now I’m thinking there was a possibility that they just wanted to get him away because I was putting up a fight,” she said.
“I was scared for my children who were all screaming and crying, and that was very difficult because my natural inclination would be just to go to them,” she said. “But at the same time, I didn’t know what was happening and I needed to get some information. I just knew enough that they needed documentation.”
“You can’t just take somebody away, you know?” she insisted. “We’re not living in China. You can’t just pull people away from their home for no reason.”
When Ryan-Marie came downstairs, her husband was gone. Jackson, that lead agent, yelled to her from the driveway that he was getting her the warrant. There were still officers with guns on the porch, she said, and her children were sill screaming and crying.
“I’m standing at the door and I had a child under my arm and trying to tell the other children, ‘Please be quiet,’ because I couldn’t hear.”
Jackson brought her the warrant, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily Signal, but Ryan-Marie says he ripped off just the first page. The FBI agent reportedly told Ryan-Marie that Mark would likely be arraigned that day.
Then the agents left.
Ryan-Marie was shaking. But she had to be brave for the children. They were supposed to go to their homeschool co-op that day and, hoping to give the children a sense of normalcy, Ryan-Marie packed them into the car and took them there.
Mark says he chatted in a friendly fashion with the authorities who drove him to the station.
They later “tightly” shackled him at his waist and at his ankles, he said, forcing him to “shimmy” his feet as he walked. Mark also said they chained him to a table for six hours in a small room, and at this point, he “fully entered into the peace of Christ.”
“I was at the foot of Calvary,” he said. “I was there with Jesus. I was totally consoled.”
Mark’s descriptions of the ordeal generally dwelt lightly on how he was treated, often focusing on his interactions with the authorities. But he strongly emphasized that when he was brought down to the U.S. Marshals, he was “treated like a dog” and “a convicted criminal.”
“The U.S. Marshals handle prisoner transfer,” he explained. “They are used to dealing with felons and so I was treated as such. Very curt in demeanor and rude in tone. There was no humanity. You were treated less than human with no dignity. While I was only there for about 30 minutes, I felt like I was already convicted of my alleged crime(s).”
By the time authorities had finished fingerprinting him and their business, it was about eight or 10 hours later. He was reunited with his family around 3 o’clock that day.
Mark was charged with violating two counts of the FACE Act. If convicted, he faced 11 years in prison.
On Jan. 6, 2022, the DOJ offered his lawyers a plea deal. Mark described the attitude as “we’ll make this a slap on the wrist” if he pleaded guilty — “We can spare you the trial and you can have your normal life back.”
His answer to such an offer was “always going to be no,” Mark said. Ryan-Marie backed him. He knew his wife wouldn’t let him come home if he took such a “cowardly” deal.
Mark was also aware that the pro-life movement needed case law on the topic moving forward in order to protect the advocates praying outside abortion clinics.
“I don’t want sidewalk counselors to have to deal with this,” he said.
Represented by the Thomas More Society, Mark went to trial. A jury declared him not guilty of the FACE Act charges in late January.
“We took on Goliath — the full might of the United States government — and won,” his attorney Peter Breen said that day. “The jury saw through and rejected the prosecution’s discriminatory case, which was harassment from Day One. This is a win for Mark and the entire pro-life movement. The Biden Department of Justice’s intimidation against pro-life people and people of faith has been put in its place.”
But the ordeal has left a permanent mark on the Houck family.
“The children are the true victims,” Mark said, “and after the arrest, they were traumatized. And they’re still traumatized to this day.”
Each of the children described to us just how much the arrest, and their subsequent fears about their father, affected them.
“I think about it a lot. Especially when I sleep at night,” Teresa told me. “Something I do is I retrace my steps, if we had a really good day, and it makes me feel better.”
Smushed into an arm chair with Eva and her baby sister Imelda, Teresa also told me she wants an apology from the government.
“For doing this to us,” she said. “You shouldn’t just come to someone’s house like that and just do that to people. It’s not right.”
The children were scared of Fridays for a good bit, the family told me. That was the day of the week that their father was arrested. Now that it has been months since the arrest, and Mark has been cleared of the charges, they are beginning to feel better.
In our interviews, Mark Jr. dwelt on the suffering that his family has been put through in recent months. He believes that his father was targeted by the Biden DOJ for his work protecting the unborn.
“I think my Dad was targeted this way because the Biden administration doesn’t like what my dad does and is against everything my dad does,” he said.
“I’m proud of my dad,” he said simply.
Ryan-Marie doesn’t know what the future holds for her children or for her family. But she and her husband are both looking toward the future with cheerful optimism.
“There’s still a lot of healing that needs to take place,” she said of the children, adding with a laugh, “They do play ‘FBI, open up’ a lot more than they used to.”
Last week, Mark attended the State of the Union as the guest of Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa. He also took his family back to the abortion clinic in Philadelphia where this all began, and as a family, they thanked God for their deliverance and prayed for the unborn.
Those seven children watched as their father was torn from his home, and then they watched him walk free. Now they will continue to fight for life with him.
“I hope they grow up and remember how courageous their father was,” Ryan-Marie shared emotionally. “I hope they remember the faith that we had. That God did not abandon us and was with us every step.”
“I hope they just remember the truth prevailed.”