Arkansas, the first state to elect a woman to the Senate, now has Tom Cotton to represent the people in the U.S. Senate. A sitting senator for just over one month, Cotton has gained international notoriety for authoring a hawkish letter intended to close U.S. negotiations with Iran and then persuaded 46 other senators to sign it. Donors intent on the U.S. supporting Israel in a war against Iran provided most of Cotton’s $13.9 campaign funds. Apparently, they got their money’s worth.
Another Arkansan legislator recently attracted attention for his “gifting” adopted children to others, including a child molester. The two girls, sisters, were in foster care because a male relative had sexually abused the older girl and left her traumatized. The last week has shown more fallout about Harris and his claims.
The Harris family said they gave the girls up because of the children’s violent nature. Marsha Harris told the babysitter that the girls were demonically possessed and that they had to be kept separate because they could communicate telepathically. Before isolating the middle girl in her bedroom, the Harrises removed all books, toys, and colorful clothing from the middle girl “because a demon told her not to share…Demons told her to not appreciate [her toys] and all that, so they took away all the toys and her colored clothes.” The girls was monitored with a video camera, and even their babysitter was told not to talk with them. When the Harrises felt these actions were unsuccessful, they hired an exorcist from Alabama to cast out the girl’s demons.
Harris, a self-identified Christian, also owns and operates a Christian dayschool where an employee said that workers would also try to rid the children of their demons. If children were “acting up,” the employee said, “they would pray on the kids, do a circle around them, put their hands on their heads, saying, trying to rebuke demons.” After she suggested other ways to discipline the children, she was fired. Before then, however, Marsha Harris complained to the employee about the adopted girls’ demons. Despite its religious focus, Harris’ school has received over $4 million from taxpayers since 2010.
Foster families where the children stayed have disputed all Harris’ statements, including the ones about the girls’ violent nature. Craig and Cheryl Hart, an experienced foster family that housed the two younger girls for a year and a half prior to their adoption, claim that the Harrises had been warned several times that the girls were not a good fit with the family because of the children’s traumatic background including neglect, violent abuse, and sexual molestation.
Harris said that he and his wife had used therapy that they learned from Nancy Thomas’ book, When Love Is Not Enough, on reactive attachment disorder (RAD), despite the lack of this diagnosis for the children. In a 2006 report, the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children condemned unproven treatment methods that border on abuse and specifically cited Thomas’ work. “Treatments” include absolute control over children, including strict regulations on their movements, and extremely limited diets of bland, unappetizing food, forced sitting and facing the wall, and “holding therapy” which forcibly holds children down through feelings of rage and powerlessness until they submit. Children may also be assigned to hours of pointless, repetitive chores. A devout Christian, Thomas has no medical or psychotherapeutic training but makes a good living through her personal methodology. Psychology professor Jean Mercer says these RAD therapies mistakenly equate obedience with attachment and equates these to outdated religious child rearing philosophies that emphasize children’s submission above all else.
The youngest daughter told investigators that Marsha Harris “…touched her with a spanky thing,” going on to say it was a pink whip that made her bottom hurt. The girl also told investigators that one time Justin Harris “…touched her maybe with a stick outside.” She said she cried when he did that.
A Harris friend and DHS official, Cecile Blucker, pushed through the adoption, despite misgivings stated by state officials. A former DHS employee said that it was “true” that the wishes of the local adoption team were not followed because of Blucker. Harris said that Blucker knew he had given away the children. DHS refused to comment.
Cheryl Hart said that other objections came from a team working on the adoption: DHS caseworkers, adoption specialists, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and therapists from Ozark Guidance, and a mental health provider. Later they gave tentative approval, with conditions. She described a court hearing leading up to the Harrises’ adoption:
“The ad litem attorney—you know, the one who is representing only the interests of the children said, ‘When we met less than a couple of days ago, everyone’s recommendation was for these kids to not go to this home. Now, what has happened in the last 24 hours that everyone’s recommendation has changed?’
“Harris’ face was getting all red, and the ad litem asked him, ‘Did you make calls?’ And he finally said, ‘I did what I had to do to get these girls.’ I expected the judge would [stop the adoption] but she gave them the oldest girl.” The younger two soon followed.”
Before events turned sour for Harris, he used the oldest girl, then his foster child, in his 2012 campaign ads, in conflict with DHS regulations. DHS specifically prohibits the public use of photos or any other media that would compromise a foster child’s anonymity. This girl is the one that was institutionalized after living with the Harrises before adoption by a therapeutic foster family where she is doing well. Instead of seeking help from DHS for either of their adopted children, the Harrises gave them to Eric Francis, a serial predator who had molested the six-year-old.
Conservative Christian legislators are still protecting Harris. State Rep. David Meeks wrote that he wouldn’t “throw someone I consider a friend under the bus” because of a “tabloid [that is] out to destroy Conservatives, Christians and are willing to spin, lie, or make up stuff to do it.”
Secretary of State Mark Martin posted a response on his Facebook to a recommendation that Harris resign by saying that she was “making a judgement [sic] based upon misinformation by a vile socialist anti-Christian propaganda blog about one of the most righteous seeming, humble, and gentle men I have ever met in my life.” In another exchange, he wrote, “This judgement [sic] against the Harris’ [sic] is the most hypocritically self-righteous bull I have ever heard.” Harris originally represented Martin’s former district.
In the first months of his first term as governor, Asa Hutchinson said, “I don’t have an inspector general’s office. I don’t have a budget that will cover hiring independent investigators, and if we did, they don’t have subpoena authority.” Other high-ranking Republicans, who want to stay anonymous, blame DHS.
Records show that Harris used his influence over the DHS in the legislature. Although at least 30 emails dealing with specific adoption and custody cases were withheld from the public, the ones released, several from March 2013 during Harris’ push for the adoption, showed a pattern of threats to DHS. After a meeting with DHS wasn’t scheduled as quickly as Harris wanted, he blocked the legislation that DHS wanted. The routine bill shepherded through legislature by fellow Republicans had already passed the state senate 34-0. After the House managed to get the bill, it passed 88-0 with Harris not voting. His emails indicated that the meeting he had demanded was a personal one, not one that had anything to do with the legislative votes, although his attorney denied this.
Harris continues to deny any wrongdoing and says that he will not resign from the legislature.