Why have a group of out-of-towners and a known felon laid a six month siege against sleepy-eyed kids coming into Two Rivers Charter School?
Illustration by Brandon Bird
With the near arctic wind pushing her around like a used car lot's inflatable wacky wavy arm guy, Jennifer McCoy of Kansas smiles with excitement at the corner of Florida Ave and 4th St NE in Washington D.C.. The mother of eleven has a demeanor that masks the reality of what's on the six-foot banner that keeps pushing her backwards with every passing breeze—especially when an unexpected five-year-old walks directly in front of her.
"There's blood on here," the pre-schooler says while pointing at a mangled aborted fetus and a sobbing woman. The inscription reads: "ONE DEAD, ONE WOUNDED."
"No, that's not blood," McCoy says, hesitating a bit, "that already happened." Her posture regains its cheerleader confidence as she points behind her to a nearby construction site. "The people that want to open up this building, this is what they do here."
His face grows seemingly more confused as he states, "no, that's just blood."
McCoy is in D.C. for the March for Life rally, that commemorates the infamous day in January forty-three years ago when our country legalized abortion. McCoy and a dozen others who have come to the future flagship location site of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington on this mercilessly cold day want the world to know that they stand in opposition to this temple of nationally ordained infanticide.
The only hitch is that where McCoy and her comrades' feet are planted is the sidewalk of one of the most sought-after charter schools in all of the District of Columbia. Ever since Planned Parenthood won an injunction to keep the knots of protesters with their freaky signs off the construction site, the anti-abortion warriors decided to pick the next best bit of real estate: for the last six months, sleepy-eyed grade schoolers heading into Two Rivers Public Charter School have been met with a grand guignol of bloody anti-abortion propaganda waved at them and instructions to, "tell your parents that you don't want to go to school next to a baby killing center!"
The trouble for Two Rivers started on August 27 of 2015, when Lauren Handy—a Virginia resident who regularly stands outside of abortion clinics hoping to convince the day's clients to cancel their procedures—stood outside the school with two signs that depicted aborted fetuses while children and their families arrived for the informational session about about the upcoming school year.
When the prospective and current parents of the Two Rivers community did all they could to shield their young from the violence of the protesters' signs, the protesters let it be known that they were only beginning.
Handy, who is also a member of a group called Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, told Think Progress: "There will be disruption every day until (the clinic is) gone. It's for the good of the community."
Shortly thereafter, the school started to receive correspondence from Jonathan Darnel. Darnel, who is from Ohio, did something that none of his future co-defendants thought to do. He sent a letter to the school requesting they state their position on the construction of Planned Parenthood next door.
Handy and Darnel returned three months later on November 16, right before the start of the school day, with an even bigger sign that was clearly directed towards the smallest residents of the building. Approximately 8' by 3', the sign read, "They kill babies nearby! Tell your parents to stop them." With them was an unidentified man, as well as a man known to authorities around the area, Robert Weiler Jr.
The four of them allegedly went on a tirade directed at the children. The group allegedly pointed out a Two Rivers parent who was escorting students into the school saying, "This man is supporting baby killing!"
A week later, Darnel and Handy came back with two new recruits, Ruby Nicdao and Larry Cirignano. The group stood in front of the middle school building holding a 4' by 5' sign that read "Not 4 Sale" with pictures of various fetal body parts, clearly a reference to the now debunked "Planned Parenthood Sells Baby Parts" videos made by the recently indicted David Daleiden.
School officials allege that the group took turns telling the older children, "They are going to murder kids right next door if your parents don't do something about it."
Administrators created an alternate entrance in order to curb the harassment. However, protester Ruby Nicdao followed the students into the alley and continued to shout at them, saying that they needed to stop the bloodbath that's coming across the street. One student felt so distraught that he went home sick, threatening he would only return the next day if a counselor promised to meet him at the front door.
Two Rivers is a public charter school focused on the method of learning based on the teaching of German educator Kurt Hahn. It opened in Northeast D.C. in 2004 and quickly became one of the most sought-after charter schools in all of Washington. Last year, they received over 3,000 applications for only 100 open spots in its pre-k through fifth grade.
The school encourages open thought and looking after one another. Cherished principles of the school are "Empathy and Caring" and "Self-Discovery." The school's pedagogy is based on outward bound learning, where teachers are tasked with helping students overcome their fears and move out of their comfort zones in real world settings.
According to Bill Harper, a Two Rivers parent of a five-year-old and a seven-year-old, those fears are being tested by anti-abortion zealots. "You're terrorizing our children!" Harper screamed while walking past the January 21 prayer rally. That protest, which brought in dozens more protesters from out of town, had interrupted the education of his kids.
"We're not allowed to be on Planned Parenthood property at all," a protester offered.
"You're not on Planned Parenthood property, you're at a school," Harper replied. "Would you have protesters at your kids' school?"
"No," the protester said in a softer tone, adding, "I live in a very small town."
In anticipation of the Roe v. Wade anniversary events set to take place on January 22 of this year, the school canceled classes and scheduled a teachers only professional development day (which the school eventually made a telework day out of security fears).
Fed up, Two Rivers finally filed for an injunction against the protesters in December of last year. A judge will rule on the matter on March 11.
"When class is canceled, you've got to pay for the daycare or you've got to stay at home with your kids. They also make pick-up and drop off impossible," Harper says. He spent $40 on daycare per child just so he could go to work. "I don't know if working parents had the same luxury that day."
Despite the school being shut down, the prayer rally event scheduled for that day went on as planned. The group of assembled protesters waited eagerly for the day's main speaker: David Daleiden, the mastermind behind the notorious Planned Parenthood "expose" videos that were intended to demonstrate how Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal organs.
When he arrived, late, Daleiden received the type of praise and adoration normally reserved for Beyonce and the Pope. The crowd pulled and scrambled to touch or speak to him, and it was clear by his smile that the year he spent editing his videos finally paid off.
During his speech, he mocked Planned Parenthood for not putting libel or defamation in the suit against him. To loud applause, he told the crowd that the fact that they left those things out of the suit was an indication of their own guilt.
I approached Daleiden between hugs and selfies. I briefly explained the injunction, pointed out where we were standing, and then asked him how he would explain his videos to a five-year-old like the ones who attend Two Rivers.
"How do you talk to a five-year-old about my videos? Well, the same way you would talk to them about abortion." He added, "it's going to be a conversation about violence, about people doing bad things, but ultimately, it's a conversation about what they do here, which is murder babies and sell their parts."
A few days after the protest, Planned Parenthood was cleared of any wrongdoing and it was Daleiden who was indicted on fraud charges for his videos.
Parents' cries that the protesters are terrorizing their kids might be hyperbole rooted in frustration at being inconvenienced, but for one of the defendants listed in the injunction, it's a valid claim.
One of the protesters, Robert Weiler Jr., according to attorneys representing Two Rivers," is at best, a partially-secured loose cannon" and at worst an "unrepentant domestic terrorist." Weiler—who is representing himself in the case–is the biggest cause for alarm to the school's administration. While already a felon for stealing $22 worth of gas and trying to outrun the authorities in Utah, he was sentenced to five years in prison in 2006 for plotting to shoot up a suburban Maryland abortion clinic. He even had a homemade pipe bomb ready for that campaign, and who knows what the outcome would have been had his parents not tipped off the authorities.
After serving his time for that offense, he worked as a pizza delivery guy and waited until the terms of his parole expired, as they forced him to stay at least 1000 feet away from any abortion clinic. He then picked up a new hobby, shaming women entering the same clinic he plotted to blow up. You can read about his exploits over at the blog "Contraception is Murder."
Weiler has stood outside Two Rivers to protest at least twice, school officials claim. Once he held a giant sign that read: "Two Rivers Hates Free Speech."
Most of his co-defendants in the injunction have tried to distance themselves from Weiler, but a quick social media search shows that a few are at least Facebook friends and have had contact prior to the beginning of the Two Rivers protests.
Currently only two of the protesters have lawyered up: Larry Cirignano and Ruby Nicdao. Cirignano is the Virginia state director of American Catholics for Religious Freedom and the holder of the "Not 4 Sale" sign at the school. He's being represented by
Liberty Counsel. You may have heard of Liberty Counsel, as they also represent Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Liberty Counsel has stated that they believe there are no valid claims against their client, but are shocked that the school would "allow the horrors of the abortion practice" nearby.
They filed an extension on a response, which is due on February 5, and wouldn't issue any other comment until then aside from continuing to distance their client from Weiler, saying that "Larry had no way of knowing if he would be in the same place at the same time as that individual."
Nicdao is the Virginia project director for the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, which bills itself as a "prenatal justice organization." It's also alleged that Nicdao approached cars and chased children down alleyways in order to hand them bloody pamphlets. Her lead counsel is Steve Crampton, who has argued in front of the Supreme Court in favor of the "Choose Life" license plates and once tried to stop the St. Louis Cardinals from removing a cross on the pitcher's mound.
Representatives for the school have tried to remain as neutral as possible when it comes to the issue of abortion or what goes on at its neighboring businesses. An official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity said, "This is not a culture war. This is about the kids."
They added that they had no clue that Planned Parenthood was moving in until they saw the permits. But that shouldn't matter; they simply want the protesters to direct their attention to their actual target and not school children.
"We've gone through great lengths not to stifle free speech," the school administrator said. Adding, "they can keep their signs, just make them smaller as to not harm our kids, and don't disrupt their education."
A Two Rivers mother, who asked that we not use her name, called herself a pro-life Christian, but was quick to ask me to relay a message to the protesters. "Challenge Roe v. Wade in the court system, find a way to create restrictions in the law, but going after kids is how you lose the value of what you're saying." She added, "heck, at least do it where the kids need the message—go to a high school—but an elementary?"
The protesters have not stated publicly if they will return to the school before their next court hearing in March.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to the blog "Contraception is Murder" as belonging to Robert Weiler Jr.. The blog is owned and operated by John Dunkle. The blog features writing by Weiler. Additionally, in earlier version of this article we referenced court documents that characterized as "a partially-secured loose cannon" and an "unrepentant domestic terrorist." These statements did not appear in documents and were instead quotes given to us by attorneys for Two Rivers. We regret these errors.