House Republicans Reveal Whistleblower Documents Exposing FBI Use of Counterterrorism Tactics Against Parents

US Attorney General Merrick Garland looks on after being ceremonially sworn in at the US Department of Justice on March 11, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

A letter from Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland reveals the lawmakers have received documents from a whistleblower that state the FBI is using counterterrorism tactics to investigate parents considered to be potential “domestic terrorists” as they voice concerns about education in their local school districts.

The documents, which state the FBI is adding “threat tags” to parents, appear to contradict Garland’s testimony on October 21 during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in which he said the Department of Justice and the FBI were not using counterterrorism tools to investigate parents at school board meetings.

A letter signed by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), ranking member of the House Judiciary, to Garland Tuesday states:

We are now in receipt of a protected disclosure from a Department whistleblower showing that the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division is compiling and categorizing threat assessments related to parents, including a document directing FBI personnel to use a specific “threat tag” to track potential investigations. This new information calls into question the accuracy and completeness of your sworn testimony.

In his letter, Jordan also reminded Garland:

Specifically, you testified that you could not “imagine any circumstance in which the Patriot Act would be used in the circumstances of parents complaining about their children, nor … a circumstance where they would be labeled as domestic terrorists.” You also testified: “I do not think that parents getting angry at school boards for whatever reason constitute domestic terrorism. It’s not even a close question.”

Jordan wrote the whistleblower provided an FBI email, dated October 20 – the day before Garland’s testimony – that referenced a directive from Garland on October 4 to the FBI to look into school board threats and apply a new “threat tag,” created by the Counterterrorism and Criminal Divisions, to “investigations and assessments of threats specifically directed against school board administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”

“The email articulated the purpose as ‘scop[ing] this threat on a national level and provid[ing] an opportunity for comprehensive analysis of the threat picture for effective management with law enforcement partners at all levels,” Jordan wrote.

On September 30, top officials of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to President Joe Biden seeking federal assistance to target parents voicing concerns at school board meetings about issues affecting their children’s education. The letter recommended that federal laws such as the Patriot Act be used to explore whether these parents might be identified as “domestic terrorists.”

The letter, signed by Viola M. Garcia, Ed.D., the group’s president, and Chip Slaven, Esq., NSBA interim executive director and CEO, made specific mention of parents voicing concerns about mask mandates and stated parents were engaging in “propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula.”

“This propaganda continues despite the fact that critical race theory is not taught in public schools and remains a complex law school and graduate school subject well beyond the scope of a K-12 class,” the NSBA officials wrote to Biden.

On October 4, Garland’s office issued a memorandum that stated:

Citing an increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers in our nation’s public schools, today Attorney General Merrick B. Garland directed the FBI and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to meet in the next 30 days with federal, state, Tribal, territorial and local law enforcement leaders to discuss strategies for addressing this disturbing trend. These sessions will open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment and response by law enforcement.

The Biden Education Department then announced October 13 it had appointed Garcia to the National Assessment Governing Board, a top position that provides oversight regarding which subjects students will be tested on in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card.

In the weeks that followed, NSBA’s own board of directors renounced the letter to Biden sent by Garcia and Slaven, writing on Friday they “regret and apologize” for its content, and at least 26 state school board associations have distanced themselves from NSBA, some totally cutting ties with the organization.

Emails obtained as well in October through public records requests by Parents Defending Education (PDE) revealed Garcia and Slaven had been “in talks over the last several weeks with White House staff,” and “they requested additional information on some of the specific threats.”

Garcia wrote to NSBA directors the organization “has been engaged with the White House and the Department of Education on these and other issues related to the pandemic for several weeks now.”

She added:

What we have witnessed are coordinated efforts, playbooks, for creating chaos at school board meetings and in local communities. Letters across states are very similar and these incidents are beyond random acts. What we are now seeing is a pattern of threats and violence occurring across state lines and via online platforms, which is why we need the federal government’s assistance.

“At best, if we assume that you were ignorant of the FBI’s actions in response to your October 4 memorandum at the time of your testimony, this new evidence suggests that your testimony to the Committee was incomplete and requires additional explanation,” Jordan wrote to Garland.

“If, however, you were aware of the FBI’s actions at the time of your testimony, this evidence shows that you willfully misled the Committee about the nature and extent of the Department’s use of federal counterterrorism tools to target concerned parents at school board meetings,” he added.

Jordan said the Judiciary Committee would like to further “assess the accuracy and completeness” of his “sworn testimony.”

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