An elementary and middle school is the latest target for anti-choice protesters in Washington, D.C., where a group of radical activists have staged demonstrations against the nearby construction of a new Planned Parenthood location. On Wednesday, Two Rivers Public Charter School filed a suit in the D.C. Superior Court against five individuals who’ve held signs saying “They kill babies nearby! Tell your parents to stop them” near the school’s entrance and allegedly shown children pictures of bloody fetuses.
The complaint of intentional infliction of emotional distress and causing a private nuisance alleges that the protesters have harassed students as young as 3 years old with talk of a “murder facility” and “baby-killing center” that’s set to open next door to the school in the spring. According to the school, the activists have been at it on several occasions since the first day of classes in September—obstructing the drop-off lane, following children to the school’s entrances, and forcing administrators to keep children inside during recess. It’s gotten so bad that they may cancel class on Jan. 21, the day before D.C.’s annual March for Life.
“Defendants’ plan is to stop the construction of the adjacent Planned Parenthood facility by engaging in a concerted effort to aggressively confront students, harm their emotional well-being, upset their parents and guardians, and ultimately damage the school’s reputation within the community,” the complaint reads. One student was so upset by the protesters’ actions, the complaint alleges, that he had to go home sick and only agreed to return the next day if the school counselor met him at the front door.
Two Rivers officials have good reason to worry. One of the protesters, Maryland resident Robert Weiler Jr., has a disturbing rap sheet: In 2006, at 26 years old, he pled guilty to plotting to bomb a College Park, Maryland, abortion clinic and shoot the doctors there. Following a tip from Weiler’s parents, police questioned Weiler, who admitted to possessing a homemade pipe bomb and a firearm he’d stolen from a friend. Weiler served five years in prison for those crimes, and was arrested again in 2014 for disorderly conduct and assaulting a police officer outside the same abortion clinic he’d planned to attack.
The Washington Post reports that, in a letter, executive director Jessica Wodatch assured parents of Two Rivers students that the school was not endorsing pro-choice politics. “We are a diverse community with different viewpoints on the issue,” wrote Wodatch. “Our students are caught up in a controversy that is not about them—our goal is to allow them safe passage to school.”
One of the protesters, Jonathan Darnel, sent his own email to Two Rivers administrators: “I’m sure you don’t want to see me, my anti-abortion friends and our graphic images any more than we want to be in your neighborhood,” it read, warning the school of the “abortion-minded women” who’ll be walking near the school and the overtures Planned Parenthood will make to “hook [students] on the perverse sexual lifestyle that they promote.” The activists have threatened to “be back every week” if the Planned Parenthood construction goes forward.
The school has petitioned for the court to keep protesters from talking to or approaching its students near the school. Darnel told the Post that the lawsuit is “typical of our culture,” and Two Rivers should be suing Planned Parenthood instead. In his words: “We blame the messenger instead of the message.”