‘Patriot’ Groups Glom on to National Protest of Family Court System

A nationwide “family rights protest” set for next week – and billed as one of the biggest ever -- is attracting attention and support from antigovernment militia, “Patriot” and “sovereign citizens” groups.

Protests organized by a group called “govabuse” are planned outside courthouses in more than 300 counties in at least 42 states on Aug. 12. Organizers say the protests – fueled by a Facebook campaign and utilizing a special red, white and blue ribbon -- are intended to shed light on “abuse of constitutional rights” by family court judges, guardians ad litem and child protective service workers. The group complains that the system is “used to separate and financially demolish families.”

Although nothing on the group’s site suggests that it agrees with the antigovernment conspiracy-mongering of Patriot groups and individuals, it’s not entirely surprising that such groups have glommed on to the protests. Over the last 15 years, Patriot organizations have taken up a number of causes in which the rights of individuals, often ones with heterodox ideas, seemed to be pitted against the government.

Nancy Rolfe, a 49-year-old Cleveland mother of four, said Thursday that she formed Govabuse LLC in April and started a related website, govabuse.org (headlined “Government Abuse is Child Abuse”), which she said has had 163,000 hits in the last three months. Rolfe said she intends to convert her “business” into a federal nonprofit organization with tax-exempt status.

“We’re going to be making history,’’ Rolfe said when asked to predict how many people would participate in the “peaceful protests” scheduled to last from 9  a.m. to 5 p.m. at each courthouse, coast-to-coast. She expects hundreds of protesters will be involved, but wouldn’t give a more detailed estimate.

The protests, she said, are intended to underscore the group’s demand for reform in family court cases, including limiting powers of CPS workers and fees paid to attorneys appointed as guardians ad litem, who are meant represent the independent interests of children in courtroom child custody fights.

The “family rights” activist acknowledged that she is receiving support from individuals with ties to militia, Patriot and sovereign citizens groups, as well as Tea Party and Libertarian Party activists. (Patriot groups generally believe that the federal government is conspiring to force Americans into a socialistic world government. Militia groups are Patriot groups that focus on paramilitary preparations for the government assault they expect. And sovereign citizens are another form of Patriots who believe they do not have to pay taxes or obey most laws.) “We welcome them all with open arms because these issues affect every American,’’ she said when asked about support from individuals with ties to Patriot groups. She declined to identify specific groups or individuals, even by state.

“We’re just telling them to leave their guns at home,” she added. “They just can’t be wanting to shoot policemen’s knees. … I’ve made it clear we are recruiting people, not groups. We do not tolerate extremists of any type. … This is to be a peaceful protest, one where we can come together. No guns, no profanity, no signs depicting little kids giving you the finger.”

Rolfe expects some states to have particularly large numbers of protests. Sixteen are planned in Michigan, while 15 are set for California, 12 in Florida, and six around New York. A complete state-by-state breakdown, including the names of local coordinators, is available on Rolfe’s website.

“Government abuse IS child abuse for profit,” is the group’s slogan. Protesters will display signs and sing Tom Petty’s “We Won’t Back Down” and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” “We’re not singing for entertainment,” Rolfe said.  “We’re singing these songs in protest.”

Rolfe said a “protest location coordinator” will be publicly identified for each location to coordinate activities and respond to media requests. “We're telling everyone not to block walkways or the courthouse doors, to obey the laws. If we go out there and act like idiots, who’s going to listen?  We’ve got to try it nice, but still let people know we’re mad as hell.”

The national day of protests also is being promoted with YouTube videos, including one posted by a man with apparent ties to the Illinois Sons of Liberty, an “unorganized militia group,” and a group opposing the Federal Reserve System. “The family court is destroying our family to make money and control us,” the man says in his video.  “It’s time the citizens stand up for what’s right.” Another YouTube video says “family court is the real weapon of mass destruction” and describes CPS workers as “the domestic terrorists at your front door.”

National professional associations representing family court judges and CPS workers seemed caught off guard by the brewing national protest.

Joan Levy Zlotnik, director of the National Association of Social Workers Foundation in Washington, D.C., said Thursday she was unaware of the planned nationwide protests directed at members of her organization. But she agreed that the child welfare system could use improvements.

"I think that most people involved with our nation’s child welfare system, working in it or criticizing it from the outside, would agree that continued reforms are necessary as our federal Child and Family Service Reviews and the many class action lawsuits highlight gaps in how services are delivered to children and families,” Zlotnik told Hatewatch.

“One such gap of particular importance to the National Association of Social Workers,” Zlotnik added, “is the need for more highly qualified professional social workers to work in child welfare in order to have the skills and knowledge to do the assessments and provide the services to children and families that are needed – in order to make the decisions about the safety and well-being of children.”

In the United States, Zlotnik said, fewer than 40% of child welfare workers have a professional social work degree, and in many states the figure is less than 20%. CPS workers, she acknowledged, are involved with “complex decisions” involving families and children as well as with judges, lawyers and school systems and mental health professionals.

Patricia M. Martin, a Chicago judge who is president of the of National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, said such judges are always seeking to improve the system. She said her organization “has worked tirelessly for 74 years to ensure the constitutional rights of all parties involved in cases our membership presides over.” She added, “We are committed to keeping families together and when needed, strengthening the ability of parents to raise their children.”

The national association, she said, works “to improve training for judges and other court personnel resolving disputes that involve child protection, juvenile justice, family violence and family law matters. Of paramount importance to our membership is access to justice and the protection of the rights of all."