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Intact America Part 5: A wild goose chase backfires

October 11, 2018

wild goose chase - an absurd or hopeless pursuit, as of something unobtainable

Three years ago a circumcision dispute between unmarried Florida parents became an international story. When the mother, Heather Hironimus, refused to consent to a circumcision for their son Chase, the father, Dennis Nebus, sued her in court. When their son was 14 months old, Nebus and Hironimus signed a parenting agreement which stipulated that Nebus would be responsible to schedule and pay for the boy's circumcision. Sometime afterward, Hironimus changed her mind, having been influenced by materials from Intact America and other anti-circumcision groups. [1] In May 2014 a judge ruled in favor of the father, and an appeals court affirmed the ruling in January 2015. With her legal options dwindling and the procedure imminent, Hironimus fled with Chase and disappeared. After nearly three months in hiding, she was found and arrested, and Nebus was awarded custody. Chase, who turned 5 in October, was circumcised sometime prior to November, 2015, and has had only limited contact with his mother since.


Intactivists in general, and.Intact America in particular, played key roles in fanning the flames. In December 2014 both parents agreed to maintain Chase's privacy by not revealing his name, photograph, and personal information. [2] Despite the agreement, Hironimus remained in close contact with intactivists throughout the trial.

In January, 2015, when it became clear that Nebus was going to prevail, Intact America sent 1,000 letters to pediatric surgeons in Florida, threatening each with legal consequences if the doctor circumcised Chase. Nevertheless a physician who had testified at the trial agreed to perform the procedure. At the advice of intactivists, Hironimus created a huge scene on two consecutive days in February at pre-op appointments, threatening to sue everyone in the office. The appointment was canceled after the office received several phone calls threatening to kill the physician and his staff and burn down the office. [2]

Three days later Hironimus vanished with her son, giving no notice to Chase's father, the court, or law enforcement. Shortly thereafter, Intact America posted a photo of Chase with the message "Chase is safe tonight."

For almost three months she hid from the authorities in a domestic violence shelter. Each day that Hironimus was in hiding, the Intact America Facebook page posted a “virtual vigil” with her portrait. Intact America also posted regular updates on the legal matters. During her second month in hiding, Intact America named Hironimus its “Intactivist of the Month," commending her for violating a court order and child custody agreement. [3]

After 81 days in hiding, Hironimus was found and arrested on May 14. Nebus took custody of his son. The judge gave the father temporary sole authority over Chase's medical decisions and allowed Nebus and Chase to travel outside Florida to perform the procedure. [4] With the circumcision becoming imminent, Intact America's actions became increasingly desperate, and its rhetoric increasingly reckless.



On May 29 Intact America extended its campaign, sending 12,000 letters to pediatric surgeons around the United States. Chapin admitted that Intact America conducted this campaign on their own - without Hironimus's knowledge. The legal threat was toothless, since any specialist would have legal protection as a result of the court order. And the letter campaign could not possibly stop a father motivated to circumcise his son. Even if Intact America had contacted every physician in the country, Nebus needed to find just one willing to perform the procedure.

Nevertheless Nebus located a willing pediatric surgeon. On June 8 Intact America learned that the procedure was scheduled for Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood Florida. Intact America immediately named the hospital and the physician as "BREAKING NEWS" on its Facebook page and directed its followers to warn the physician that there would be consequences. The post included the phone numbers for the hospital and the doctor's office, and Chapin linked to a page with the doctor's photo and a map showing the location of his medical office. (The post also included Chase's full name, violating a promise Intact America had made a few weeks earlier.)

Shortly thereafter the doctor received death threats, and the hospital received a bomb threat and threats to hack the hospital’s computer system. The U.S. Secret Service and other law enforcement were called in to investigate. [2]

In a sworn affidavit Nebus recounted the campaign of intimidation and revenge that the intactivists inflicted on his son and himself. On June 8, the day that Intact America posted its hysterical announcement, Nebus was stalked at home and while he was driving. Two days later intactivists began to submit false allegations to Child Protective Services. They also contacted the Drug Enforcement Agency, claiming that Nebus was in possession of illegal drugs. As a result CPS and the DEA conducted unnecessary investigations, further traumatizing Chase and disrupting his life. After two more days intactivists threatened to murder Nebus, the judge, and the doctor. [2] As a result the procedure was again cancelled, much to the delight of the intactivist community.

Their celebration proved to be premature. In November Nebus notified the court that Chase had been circumcised. He also revealed that Chase had been diagnosed with leukemia - fortunately an acute, treatable type. Readers can view announcements here and here, then decide which medical condition - circumcision or leukemia - Intact America found more distressing.


Intact America boasts that its executive director, Georganne Chapin, is a licensed attorney who specializes in bioethics. But Intact America and Chapin provided poor legal assessments. Clearly Chapin’s emotional view of the case clouded her legal judgment, as she repeatedly made ridiculous statements about the case.

Five days after Hironimus was arrested, Chapin wrote that “people are allowed to change their mind about pretty much everything, without being thrown in jail.” This is an absurd reaction for two reasons. First, Hironimus wasn't in trouble because she changed her mind. She was arrested because she disobeyed a court order and violated a custody agreement. Second, an attorney of all people should know that legal contracts are created and signed precisely because people tend to change their minds. By signing and filing a parenting agreement, both parties commit themselves to follow the terms. A contract doesn't become null based on a change of heart.


Marilyn Milos, a member of the Intact America Steering Committee, fanned the flames when she irresponsibly declared that "real justice" would involve locking up the father, the judge, and sheriff's department officers.

One day later Hironimus voluntarily dropped her federal lawsuit - a move that stunned her anti-circumcision sympathizers. In a statement to the media, Georganne Chapin reacted bitterly.

Thomas Hunker, Hironimus's attorney, told her supporters that his mission now is to try to "Heather get out of jail and preserve her custody rights." Hunker explained that their prospects in the federal lawsuit seemed hopeless following a hearing in which the judge repeatedly questioned the justification for a case that was already decided in state court.

Intact America's focus was solely on the boy's foreskin. Georganne Chapin would have been willing to do anything, including sacrifice Heather Hironimus's freedom and terminate any hope of regaining her child custody rights.

But Thomas Hunker's focus was on the overall picture. Apparently he realized that further legal proceedings would not change the outcome. As Hironimus's attorney, he wasn't willing to sacrifice everything that his client valued. Rather than continue down a hopeless path, he tried to salvage his client's custody rights. That's the difference between a fanatic and an advocate. [6]

By the end of May, Chapin warned that the images of a distraught Heather Hironimus signing the consent showed that she was “bullied” into it and that she doesn’t truly give her consent. “If anyone finds out the circumstances under which she signed, a doctor would be insane to carry out that surgery,” she said. [4]

On the contrary, it was insane to suggest that a physician would face any liability when both parents had signed an agreement authorizing the procedure, the mother had lost in state and federal court, and a judge had explicitly ordered that the circumcision take place.

Intact America badly miscalculated the consequences of their own actions for Hironimus, her son, and their own followers.

They harmed Heather Hironimus and Chase Hironimus. The Intactivist of the Month announcement predicted, "Long after this court case has ended, Heather will remain an inspirational figure in our movement." [3] Intact America didn't warn Hironimus that the status would come at a severe price: the loss of child custody.

Intact America' actions were all for naught, as the circumcision procedure was merely delayed. Intact America could have served the mother better by advising her to accept the rule of law. If she had taken advice from a responsible party, she would not have lost custody of her son.

Intact America gave their followers unrealistic expectations. Intact America could have served their followers by maintaining a sober attitude, by cautioning them not to get their hopes up. Because the legal reality is that the law was always on the side of the father. Intact America should have told their followers that this case presents an important, if painful, lesson. In a contract dispute, a court will seek to apply the terms of a valid written contract. Before signing a contract, each party should be clear on the terms to which she is committing.

Unfortunately that is not the lesson that Intact America taught their followers. They learned that anything goes. That they can ignore any contract, violate any law, make false allegations, and submit death threats and bomb threats.


In response to a Georganne Chapin op-ed published while Hironimus was in hiding, a letter writer expressed understanding of the situation. "The matter before the court is the validity of the parental agreement executed three years ago. Not the matter of routine circumcision." [7]

That writer hit the nail on the head. The attempts by intactivists to prevent the circumcision had as much chance of success as a wild goose chase. In a foolish and futile attempt to prevent one circumcision, Intact America showed that they are willing to put lives at risk and interfere in parent-child relationships.

In a tragic irony, Intact America's wild goose chase caused unnecessary harm to Chase Hironimus. For almost three months the child was illegally separated from his father, who was denied any contact. Then for the past 3 1/2 years he has been legally separated from his mother, presumably with just occasional supervised visits. Intimate details about his personal medical history will remain public knowledge for the rest of his life. An innocent boy's ongoing hardship is the enduring legacy of Intact America's interference in what should been a private legal matter.

[1] Georganne Chapin; Freedomain Radio; April 5, 2017. (Clip begins at 17:40)

[2] Dennis Nebus; "Father's Motion for Psychological Evaluation of the Mother"; Filed with 15th Circuit Court, Palm Beach County, Florida; September 3, 2015. (We obtained a copy - in poor condition - of the legal motion, and we have attempted to replicate the copy. Although the spacing is different from the actual motion, the text is verbatim, including misspelled words.)

[3] "IOTM - Heather Hironimus"; Intact America; April 1, 2015

[4] Matt Sedensky; "South Florida woman released in jailing over son's circumcision"; South Florida Sun-Sentinel; May 24, 2015

[5] Marc Freeman; "Circumcision battle: Mom seeks release from jail after federal lawsuit is dismissed"; South Florida Sun-Sentinel; May 20, 2015

[6} Ultimately Hunker was not successful in restoring Hironimus's custody rights. Apparently the rash acts committed by his client and deranged activists incited by intactivist leaders were hurdles too big to overcome. Six months later Hironimus was allowed to visit her son when the court learned of his leukemia condition, and the mother has been granted occasional, supervised visits. But she must pay a $300 court fee per visit, for the cost of supervision - to protect Chase from another abduction.

[7] Michael Paretsky, "No clear winner in circumcision debate"; South Florida Sun-Sentinel; April 1, 2015

October 11: Part 5 - A wild goose chase backfires


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