While the people closest to the legal war over 3-year-old Veronica have been tight-lipped, their backers have taken the opposite approach.
Left in the dark about what’s happening in the interstate custody battle, supporters of the girl’s adoptive parents and her birth father have used sign-waving at rallies, prayer at vigils, squabbles on Facebook and hacking on Twitter as ways to show solidarity.
Last week, an Oklahoma judge barred attorneys and their clients from discussing the dispute pitting Matt and Melanie Capobianco of James Island and Dusten Brown of Nowata, Okla.
The Capobiancos remained in Oklahoma this week, a family friend said, but whether they have seen the girl who lived with them for 27 months is still unknown.
The sides struck a mediation agreement last week in a state courtroom. The judge barred reporters from sitting in on the proceeding and issued a gag order, but that hasn’t stopped the respective sides from cranking up the rhetoric about the case.
Brown’s camp has staged at least two protests in Oklahoma and plans two more this weekend. Supporters of the Capobiancos attended a prayer vigil earlier this week, but they said further events were not in the works.
Closest to home, at 1:30 p.m. Saturday outside the state Capitol in Columbia, Brown’s advocates will gather for a rally including an American Indian drummer, singing and dancing. Its organizer, Nancy Loriot of Columbia, expects it to serve as a call to action for Indians in South Carolina.
Loriot belongs to the Cherokee Nation, the same Oklahoma-based tribe that Brown and Veronica are members of.
But she was raised in the South by her parents, both of whom are Cherokee Nation members. When she was outside her home, Loriot said, she felt out of place, as if she belonged in a place with a larger Indian population. Though many Cherokees live in South Carolina, the state is home to only one federally recognized tribe: the Catawbas.
That’s why, Loriot added, she sympathizes with the Browns for wanting to keep Veronica in Oklahoma, where she’s exposed to tribal customs.
“When you’re not around your people, it feels like you’re always lost,” Loriot said. “You’re always looking for home. You’re missing something.”
Brown used the heritage he shares with Veronica to get custody in late 2011 through the Indian Child Welfare Act. The 1978 law was meant to keep Indian children connected to their native cultures.
But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this summer that the ICWA didn’t apply to him because he hadn’t been in Veronica’s life. He has argued that the child’s mother had refused his attempts to get involved when she brushed off his marriage wishes.
Courts in South Carolina later finalized the Capobiancos’ adoption of Veronica, but Brown has refused to give up the girl. His attorneys said he should be allowed to challenge the decree’s enforcement in Oklahoma, where Veronica has lived for the past 19 months.
The Capobiancos flew to Oklahoma last week in hope that their presence would help sway courts to act in their favor.
Their arrival prompted protests, whose participants yelled at the couple to go home and leave Veronica alone. In Oklahoma City, picketers gathered outside the office of Gov. Mary Fallin, who has said she would speed along Brown’s extradition to Charleston, where he’s wanted on a warrant for custodial interference, if he didn’t let the Capobiancos see the girl.
The Capobiancos’ supporters lit candles and prayed during a gathering Sunday in Oklahoma. Beyond that, though, no more events are planned by their backers, said Jordan Freeman, a Charleston resident who has rallied support for the Capobiancos since they lost Veronica in 2011.
“There is no longer a need for events, rallies or protests,” Freeman said. “The law is on their side, and we know that Veronica will come home.”
Both sides of the argument have accused the other of attacks on social media.
A post on the Facebook page for nearly 8,000 of Brown’s proponents, Standing Our Ground for Veronica Brown, stated that one of the page’s administrators had been “reported” for breeches of the site’s regulations and had been halted from posting.
Instead of dwelling on the action, the supporters called for others to refocus their message by writing letters to Congress.
“Let’s stay focused on the positive,” stated a post in response to the move. “Veronica’s voice is more important than getting into minor disputes with any opposition. These kinds of tactics deviate from our mission.”
A separate report stated that a Twitter account run by a group of five Capobianco supporters, @Save_Veronica, was hacked and that negative messages were posted.
“Social media accounts have been targeted, and threatening emails have been received that are very unsettling,” Freeman said. “We continue to pray this tragedy will be over soon for all involved and that federal and state laws will be upheld.”
The Capobiancos’ supporters also said on Twitter that they were heartbroken and disturbed by a clip of an interview with Brown’s wife that was posted this week on Vimeo, a video-sharing website. It raised questions, the supporters said, about what Brown’s family was telling Veronica.
“Her response to ‘Well, they want to come and get you’ is ‘I’m going to kick and scream and hit and punch and spit,’” Robin Brown told the Tulsa (Okla.) World newspaper in the video taken earlier this month. “And that is what she has said.”
Many with strong emotions about the case, though, opted to stay above the fray.
South Carolina’s American Indian communities have closely watched Veronica’s case, but not all of its members support a decision based on the girl’s Cherokee heritage.
Harold Hatcher, chief of the Waccamaw Indian People in Conway, said that he couldn’t attend Saturday’s rally in Columbia, but that he supported the protesters’ cause.
Hatcher understands the Cherokees’ wishes to keep its more than 300,000-member tribe thriving, he said. His tribe contains only 500 members, he said, and fewer than half of them are children. The latest generation needs to maintain its ties to the tribe to ensure its survival, he explained.
But Hatcher contends that Veronica’s fate should hinge on keeping her in the home she has known for almost two years.
“The child should stay where she’s comfortable and with the man she loves as her father,” Hatcher said. “Whether he’s Indian, black, green, red or purple, it doesn’t make any difference to me.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.