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The Paternal Instinct Cannot Be Suppressed

Younkgin’s pardon of Loudoun County man is a win for fatherhood.

Farmer,And,His,Son,In,Front,Of,A,Sunset,Agricultural
Credit: Maskim Shmeljov

There are few images that have captured my imagination like that of one three-year-old girl in her father’s arms at church on a Sunday morning. The little girl was dozing, blissfully unaware of her surroundings, in every way without a care. Her father was precisely the opposite. Every sense was attuned to his surroundings, every muscle engaged in the act of supporting her, all without neglecting his duties as an usher. Perhaps the image stuck with me because I know the father and daughter and know him to be as tactical as she is carefree. But I prefer to think this image has stayed with me because it depicts something eternal about the nature of fathers, who must maintain their ceaseless vigil so that their children may sleep in peace.

This image came to my mind when Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin pardoned Scott Smith, of Loudoun County School Board meeting infamy, on Monday. Smith had attended a meeting on transgender bathroom policies in June 2021 to seek answers, according to his own account. After the board had permitted students to use the bathrooms of their self-proclaimed gender identification and regardless of their biological sex, his then ninth-grade daughter was sexually assaulted in the women’s bathrooms at Stone Bridge High by a male student in a skirt. The boy who committed the assault was ultimately convicted, but not before being transferred to another school in the district and committing another act of sexual assault, also in the women’s bathroom. 

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Smith did not plan to voice his legitimate concerns about the board’s judgment when attending the meeting, but what followed was captured on a viral video that got Smith named a “domestic terrorist” by left-wing activists and the National School Board Association. Which is to say, he spoke, and then was wrestled to the ground by local police for attempting to continue to speak after the school board abruptly ended the meeting. In the video, the police did not touch the left-wing “community organizer” who told Smith, inches from his face, that she did not believe his daughter was actually assaulted. Smith was sentenced to 10 days of jail time, suspended on good behavior, and charged with obstruction of justice, which was ultimately ruled and then overturned on appeal.

The wealthy suburb of Washington, D.C. was pursuing another charge against Smith, this time for disorderly conduct, prior to Youngkin’s pardon. Buta Biberaj, the top elected prosecutor of Loudoun County, whom the judge ultimately removed from Smith’s case due to public concern that she was biased against him, appears to have understood the situation perfectly. Biberaj released a statement this week in which she described Youngkin’s pardon as interference in the legal process “for political gain.” True: Political prisoners may only be released as a result of political maneuvering. Also true: The American justice system is far from neutral today. Youngkin, like Biberaj, has simply decided he won’t be a chump.

Smith, too, refused to be a chump. His reaction to the board’s indifference got to the heart of the parental rights battle in which the Loudoun County School Board kerfuffle would only be the first high water mark. The right of a father to shield his children from wickedness and to teach them good things are refinements of the more raw, natural, protective instinct witnessed in Smith’s reflexive and even physical defense of his daughter that day. It is a right that gives the lie to the progressive notion of relinquishing all parental authority to so-called experts and trusting, even when it goes against all reason, those educators’ false politesse.

In this sense, his pardon—though certainly good—is not the point in itself. It is good to see the law act in accordance with nature, but we should not imagine that the nature of things could have been changed by human law. In his newsletter this week, evangelical commentator Aaron Renn wrote that “the maternal instinct cannot be suppressed.” This observation was made in reference to a novel dealing with themes of 21st century feminism, but it is helpful here, too, because I believe we may apply the same framework to many men. The paternal instinct, that whole-body watchfulness, seems impervious to extinction.

Even as our cultural imagination around fatherhood has changed from the vigilant warrior to the fretful worrier, this watchful nature has not disappeared. It has been distorted and hemmed in and even shamed, but this fundamental aspect of fatherhood has survived. At least, it has not been extinguished in Scott Smith, whose statement after Youngkin’s pardon of him is as ardent as ever.

What happened to my daughter was a horrible, but preventable tragedy that she will have to deal with for the rest of her life. And the way the public school system, the School Board, the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office and SRO Department, and the Commonwealth Attorney's Office handled this situation was abhorrent and completely unacceptable. My family has been living a nightmare that no family in America should have to endure. But rather than sit quietly and take it, I decided to stand up against the government – and for that I was branded a ‘domestic terrorist’ and charged with crimes that I did not commit.

Smith says he intends to pursue legal action in the federal courts to hold accountable those elected county officials “who pursued this malicious prosecution of me,” almost certainly a reference to Biberaj.

“And, let me be clear,” he concludes. “I am not a ‘domestic terrorist,’ I am just a father who will go to the ends of the earth to protect his daughter. I will not ever give up in that endeavor until my family is both protected and fully vindicated.”

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