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Couple: State took our baby

Last modified: 10/9/2010 12:00:00 AM
An Epsom couple says state social workers seized their newborn baby hours after her birth because of the father's affiliation with an organization that opposes government tyranny. State officials, however, cited domestic violence and child abuse allegations against the baby's father in taking her into state custody.

The issue turned the parents, Johnathan Irish and Stephanie Taylor, into instant celebrities in the online libertarian community. By mid afternoon, about 20 people who had never met the couple gathered at Concord Hospital to protest what they termed the state's unconstitutional interference in a family matter. None claimed to know anything about government's allegations that Irish had beaten his fiancee or her young children, but they said they were outraged that the affidavit supporting the taking of his newborn mentioned Irish's association with a group called the Oath Keepers. The group's website describes it as an affiliation of current and former military and law enforcement members who promise to resist totalitarian actions by the government.

Irish said that on Thursday, one day after Taylor gave birth to their daughter, a group of police officers and state social workers took her from them. He said he and Taylor did not know where their daughter had been taken.

"She's either in the nursery there or in a foster home," said Taylor, who was on hand with Irish to greet protesters and grant interviews.

But according to an affidavit provided to Irish by the state Division for Children, Youth and Families, state officials took the child because of Irish's long record of violence and abuse. According to the affidavit, a judge determined that Irish abused Taylor's two other children. She is still married to the father of those children, though Taylor said yesterday that her husband has refused to accept her divorce petition for the past two years.

The affidavit also says that the police in Rochester report a "lengthy history of domestic violence" between Taylor and Irish, and that she accused him of choking and hitting her on more than one occasion. According to the document, Irish failed to complete a domestic violence course as ordered by the state, and that a hearing was held last month to terminate Taylor's parental rights over her two older children.

Taylor "has failed to recognize the impact of domestic violence in her life and the potential danger it poses to a newborn baby," the affidavit reads. "Mr. Irish has not acknowledged any responsibility to date and remains a significant safety risk to an infant in his care. . . . Without the intervention of the court, the infant will be at risk of harm."

Irish, 24, said in an interview yesterday that he had never abused his fiancee or her other children. He said he was unemployed and collected disability because he is blind in his left eye from a childhood accident. He said that Taylor suffers from "stress-induced seizure disorder" and that complications during her pregnancy required him to tend to her almost constantly. He said he has no lawyer, though a hearing in the matter has been scheduled for next week.

The affidavit also states that Irish is "associated with a militia known as the Oath Keepers and had purchased several different types of weapons including a rifle, handgun and Taser."

It's that sentence that riled up Irish and his allies yesterday, who saw it as proof that he was being persecuted for his political beliefs.

"They're saying that is the reason they're taking my daughter," Irish said.

Most of the couple's supporters shared that interpretation - even if they knew nothing about Irish's legal record.

"All I heard was that a baby was kidnapped, literally kidnapped, because the father posted on an online forum," said Ofer Nave, a Manchester man who did not know Irish or Taylor but described himself as active in "pro-liberty" causes. He said he heard about the protest from a friend, who likely heard about it through Facebook.

As for allegations that Irish had abused his fiancee's children, Nave said: "Maybe he's not that great a guy. Maybe he has a record. But just because the government says it's so, I don't believe it. The fact that there are documents about it is meaningless. But what they did is no different if I kidnapped that baby."

State and police officials declined to discuss the matter yesterday, citing privacy concerns.

"It's a juvenile issue, so I can't comment," said Lt. Keith Mitchell of the Concord Police Department.

A spokeswoman for the state Division for Children, Youth and Families said all child protection matters are confidential under New Hampshire statute.

A message on Concord Hospital's voicemail yesterday cited privacy regulations in declining to answer questions about the case.

About two hours into the protest yesterday, two Concord police officers handed Irish and Taylor a letter from the hospital's chief of security telling them that they were not welcome on hospital grounds unless they required emergency services. As the officers walked away, some of the protesters shouted taunts at them.

"Are you proud of what you're doing?" one called out.

Such support extended beyond Concord yesterday. In fact, the couple quickly found themselves a cause celebre on websites such as Global Political Awakening, Militant Libertarian and Truth is Treason.

Infowars.com, a website run by radio host Alex Jones, who focuses on conspiratorial theories behind what he terms the "New World Order," posted an account of Irish and Taylor's story. Within minutes, it attracted dozens of comments from readers offering support for the couple. Jones also interviewed the couple on his show yesterday.

"This is Nazi Germany crap that's what this is," wrote one commenter, Robininthehood. "The camps are coming next if you let this slide."

"What this comes down to is: you will no longer be able to just breed. Once you have the kid, they will take it away," wrote another commenter.

On the Oath Keepers website the group's founder, Stewart Rhodes, issued a statement in support of Irish and Taylor.

"If true, then this is as bad, and in fact worse, than any of the violations of liberty that our Declaration of Independence lists as the reasons for our forefathers taking up arms in our Revolution and for separating from England," Rhodes wrote. "We no longer have freedom at all if this is allowed to be done. And we will not let it stand."

The internet played a big role in rallying support for the couple. A Facebook page dedicated to the couple spurred the 20 or so protesters at the hospital yesterday. Many held signs, and conversational references to the Nazis and Stalin-era Russia were common. Someone brought poster board and markers for sign-making; one man held a sign that read "Infant Political Prisoner."

A woman who only identified herself as Tiffany held a sign that read "I am an Oathkeeper. Are you gonna take my kids too?"

Tiffany said she had joined the group only yesterday morning, after hearing of Irish's story.

"This is supposed to be America, not Nazi Germany," said Tiffany. "You can't have your children stolen."

Amanda Biondolillo, a Concord woman who came with her young daughter, said she didn't think the state should get involved in family issues at all, even if there is reason to suspect abuse.

"The family should be left to resolve it on their own," Biondolillo said. "Or private enterprise - private companies can contact the family and say, 'We heard you were hitting your kids. Can you stop that?' "

Brad Guida, an Epsom man who said he was Irish and Taylor's landlord, said the couple had been model tenants since they began renting from him in February.

"He's a very honorable person who loves his country," Guida said. "And I've watched the state and the police systematically hammer him."

But the vast majority of protesters did not know Irish or Taylor, thought they said they were familiar with similar struggles.

"We've got Nazis in our airports," said David Oliver, an Exeter man. "They're restricting our movement, trying to chill everybody by stealing babies."

(Daniel Barrick can be reached at 369-3322 or dbarrick@cmonitor.com.)


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