A few nights ago, one of our boys woke up from a bad dream. A “bad man” had entered the house, he said. I assured him that he was safe, deeply loved, and that Jesus was more powerful than any force of darkness. I prayed that God would protect him and he eventually drifted off to sleep.
I know many of you have had similar conversations with your own children. As parents, we strive to keep our children safe, to love and protect them, and to preserve their childhood.
That’s what made the evening of January 4, 2021 so frightening. I was home alone with my then seven-week-old daughter. We were curled up on a basement couch shamelessly watching a Hallmark movie (my husband and boys were back home in Missouri) when the sound of angry voices drowned out the TV. I walked upstairs to see approximately twenty protestors standing in front of our house shouting through bullhorns. I stepped outside, baby in arms, and asked them to leave, saying we had a newborn and neighbors. They refused, and I took Abbi back downstairs. I heard yelling and pounding and came back upstairs to see at least three large men at my door blocking my entire front porch and shouting “Come out, come out” into their bullhorns. A neighbor invited us to come over until they left, but I would have had to walk through the protestors, and didn’t think it safe.
After about fifteen minutes, the police responded. (That seems like a long time when you are alone with a baby. It would have been interminable were my young boys home.) It is my understanding that the police informed the protesters that they were violating at least three laws—a noise ordinance, graffiti on public property, and a state law against residential picketing. The protesters left after about another half hour—littering our front lawn with signs and the sidewalk in front of our house with chalk graffiti—but not before threatening to return morning, noon, and night.
After getting even less sleep than usual with a newborn, I woke to find a video depicting the protest and our home plastered all over social media. I picked up the boys from the airport that afternoon and we went to stay somewhere safe. The boys still think it was a fun, surprise sleepover.
Words cannot express how thankful I am that our boys were not with me that night. They would have been terrified.
The protesters and others have accused my husband of overreacting and have referred to my family as “snowflakes.” And a police department spokesperson (who was not on the scene) has since described the protest as “peaceful” and a “minor” incident. It is true, thankfully, that no one was injured. But the forty-five minute video posted by the protesters clearly belies the protestor’s “candle-light vigil” description.
Had they been home, the night-time protest would have had more than a “minor” effect on our two small boys, as it would have on anyone’s small children.
And wasn’t that really the point? Why else would protestors come armed with bullhorns to a family home at dark? What other purpose to staging a night-time protest if not to terrorize the almost-certainly-to-be-home family?
In order to protect our home, I filed a criminal complaint against the protest leader (a self-described agitator). The magistrate judge issued a summons finding probable cause that state law had been broken. And for good reason. There’s a video, after all, showing it all.
You can agree or disagree with my husband’s politics. And protests at office buildings are both appropriate and protected by the First Amendment. Indeed, one of our most precious protections is the right to peaceably disagree. But the First Amendment also allows states and local governments to protect their citizens from harassment and to prescribe reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on protest-like events.
The assault on our home, followed by weeks of personal attacks on our family (from the simple, but sinister, “watch your back,” to much more colorful and descriptive texts, emails, and phone calls) are not civil discourse. They are just meant to frighten. Social media may provide anonymity, but it does not make it okay to threaten rape or death. And it should go without saying that threatening innocent children—one barely two months old—should be off limits. All of this makes my heart ache for the world my children—our children—are growing up in.
But all is not lost. When I am tempted to fear who might show up at our door, or what the media might say, I’ll remember the friend who left home so quickly to be with Abbi and me during the protest that she showed up in socks. I’ll remember the friends who scrubbed our sidewalk in the cold time and again so that our boys would not see the nasty inscriptions. I’ll remember the neighbor who offered her home as a refuge during the protest and the neighbor who took pictures of a serial vandal’s license plates. I’ll remember the sweet family—their house already chock full of kiddos—who let us stay with them until our house was safe, and the dozens of friends—of all political persuasions—who reached out to say they were thinking of us. And I will call to mind the words of one neighbor who, though he might not agree on policy, reminded me that we are all Americans.
I once heard “home” described as the present-day Ein Gedi, an oasis of peace and provision in the midst of a harsh world. But I suspect that for King David, as for us today, Ein Gedi has less to do with four walls than with family, sock-footed friends, and neighbors.
Erin Hawley is a senior legal fellow at Independent Women’s Forum, and former clerk to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. She is married to Senator Josh Hawley.