Nearly three months after the controversy over the FBI targeting school parents as possible domestic terrorists, Senate Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have gotten a reply from the Dept. of Justice.
They say the response falls far short of what's necessary.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced this week that he received a reply. He stated the following:
"[I]n December we asked why the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division was getting involved in parents expressing their concerns at school board meetings. Now, just to be crystal clear, there’s no excuse for real threats or acts of violence at school board meetings, but if there are such threats, these should be handled at the local level and the Attorney General should withdraw his memo that started this whole thing.
"Well, a couple days before Christmas, the Justice Department responded to us with just a one-page letter.
"In that letter, DOJ had nothing to say about why the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division was involved in local school-board matters. DOJ just said, 'We’re not going to withdraw the memo.' So, the Feds may be keeping track of school board meetings—even if it creates a horrible chilling effect. And, of course the FBI looking over your shoulder would have a chilling effect. Next week the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on domestic terrorism. I hope we’re going to be focusing on the serious threats facing our country—and I hope no one thinks the focus is on our nation’s parents.
Grassley then made a public statement on the matter:
The Department of Justice owes the American people a better answer than just a one-page letter that says nothing about why the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division is involved in local school-board matters. Now more than ever, parents should be their kids’ strongest and best advocates. They have the God-given right to do so. And the Justice Department ought to be doing everything it can to protect that right, not scare them out of exercising that right. Attorney General Garland should withdraw his memo. And he should take Congress’s oversight, and concern for the rights of parents, more seriously.Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
By way of background, on Monday, October 4, US Attorney General Merrick Garland sent out a memorandum directing the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Attorneys’ Offices to meet in the next 30 days with federal, state, Tribal, territorial and local law enforcement leaders to discuss strategies for addressing the disturbing trend in the nation's public schools.
Garland cited an increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers in our nation’s public schools. And, as evidence, he quoted a letter of concern from the National School Boards Association.
But once the controversy became public, it was revealed that Biden administration officials solicited the letter of concern from the School Board group and then pretended to have received it organically. Later, officials from the National School Boards Association indicated they felt the letter, which was not authorized by the entire group, was inappropriate.
In response to Garland's memo, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and all Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) on October 7, demanding the agency not interfere with local school board meetings or threaten the use of federal law enforcement to dissuade parents' free speech.
"We are concerned about the appearance of the Department of Justice policing the speech of citizens and concerned parents. We urge you to make very clear to the American public that the Department of Justice will not interfere with the rights of parents to come before school boards and speak with educators about their concerns, whether regarding coronavirus-related measures, the teaching of critical race theory in schools, sexually explicit books in schools, or any other topic”
"To be clear, violence and true threats of violence are not protected speech and have no place in the public discourse of a democracy… However, the FBI should not be involved in quashing and criminalizing discourse that is well beneath violent acts… It is not appropriate to use the awesome powers of the federal government – including the PATRIOT Act, a statute designed to thwart international terrorism – to quash those who question local school boards.”Republican Senators of Senate Judiciary Committee
After the letter was sent to the Justice Department, Republican Senators were alerted to information from an FBI whistleblower, showing an internal DOJ email illustrating that the FBI's Counterterrorism and Criminal Divisions had created a threat tag titled "EDUOFFICIALS" as a means to track "instances of related threats" about school administrators, school board members, teachers, and staff.
In light of this new revelation, the senators drafted another letter to Attorney General Garland demanding he withdraw the October 4 memorandum and explicitly state that concerned parents will not be treated as domestic terrorists and will not be targeted for exercising their First Amendment Rights.
In their follow-up letter dated December 6, Republican Senate Judiciary Members wrote:
"Parents and other citizens who get impassioned at school-board meetings are not domestic terrorists. You may believe that, but too many people involved in this issue seem to think harsh words can be criminalized. Getting the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division involved in the matter only makes this worse—dramatically worse.”Republican Senators of Senate Judiciary Committee
Links to all letters and remarks below:
Attorney General's Oct 4 memorandum
Senate Judiciary Oct 7 letter
Senate Judiciary Dec 6 letter