(The Center Square)
US Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona have until March 1 to turn over documents to the House Judiciary Committee about FBI investigations into parents attending school board meetings in response to a memo Garland issued 17 months ago.
Since October 2021, Republican members of the committee have sent more than 100 letters to Biden administration officials “demanding answers about how the administration has used federal counterterrorism resources against American parents,” the committee said in a news release earlier this month.
“Shortly after Attorney General Garland formally directed the FBI to take action, whistleblowers revealed how the FBI’s counterterrorism and criminal divisions created a specific threat tag for school board-related threats and opened the investigation to parents for speaking up on behalf of their children,” the panel said.
Garland’s directive was issued after sending a letter to National School Boards Association President Joe Biden “urging parents to weaponize the Patriot Act.” The emails later showed how the Biden White House had prior knowledge of the letter and its contents and raised no objection,” the committee said.
His memo cited a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff” and directed the FBI and other federal law enforcement agents to monitor the activities of parents and school boards nationwide.
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Soon after Garland issued it, he was called to testify before the committee and said he issued the memo because there were “reports of violence and threats of violence.” In a news release at the time, he said, “Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they are against our nation’s core values. Those who devote their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to do their job without fear for their safety.
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He testified before the committee, saying, “I can’t imagine any situation where the Patriot Act would be used in cases where parents are complaining about their children, or where they would be labeled as domestic terrorists.” DOJ was not targeting parents. DOJ continues to maintain this right.
Shortly thereafter, the Association of Attorneys General called on Garland to produce evidence to support his claims. He argued that the DOJ’s targeting of parents was unconstitutional and an abuse of power, and said Garland should withdraw his directive, which he has yet to do. The AGs received no response to their appeals and filed suit last March.
Meanwhile, an FBI whistleblower came forward, and by May 2022, Republican US Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mike Johnson of Louisiana had sent a letter to Garland, saying the whistleblower had provided evidence contradicting his testimony. As of October 20, 2021, the FBI was actually investigating the parent to make the email available to the committee. The FBI’s counterterrorism division and criminal division announced it had created a new threat tag for its internal system to label parents, known as “educators,” and directed FBI personnel to apply the tag to all “school board-related threats,” according to their letter.
The FBI maintains it is not targeting parents and is not investigating speech at school board meetings.
After the whistleblower information was made public, Tiffany Justice and Tina Deskovich, founders of Florida-based Moms for Liberty, said, “We now have proof of what many of us suspected and few of us knew: that the Justice Department is using counterterrorism powers to petition their local government for redress of grievances within their First Amendment rights. Under the Patriot Act to investigate parents of school children exercising their right.
Justice and Deskovich already knew one of the examples cited by Jordan, as he was one of their members.
“Mother was terrified,” he said. “She was contacted by the FBI. The FBI told her not to say anything about that call. She was told that many other mothers were being investigated.
“Once the federal government uses our own taxpayer money to use federal resources and federal officials to investigate law-abiding parents who attend public meetings and speak their minds, everyone’s free speech is at risk. We have a right to question public officials and demand accountability from those in public office.
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In response to the public backlash over the letter to Biden, the National School Board Association issued an apology, which was not enough for some states. According to a Parents Defending Education analysis, 26 states withdrew membership, participation or dues from the NSBA as a result of the letter.
“Since the DOJ’s memo was released, several parents have confirmed being contacted by the FBI after speaking at school board meetings — confirming the American public’s worst fears about the memo’s implications.” It urged the DOJ to apologize “to American citizens advocating on behalf of students and redirecting their limited time and resources to catch the real criminals — not parents.”
Syndicated with permission from The Center Square.