(The Center Square) – U.S. 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 alleged 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 over 100 letters to Biden administration officials “requesting answers about how the Administration used federal counterterrorism resources against American parents,” the committee said in a news release earlier this month.
“Whistleblowers have disclosed how, shortly after Attorney General Garland formally directed the FBI to take action, the FBI’s Counterterrorism and Criminal Divisions created a specific threat tag for school board-related threats and even opened investigations into parents simply for speaking out on behalf of their children,” the committee said.
Garland’s directive was issued after the National School Boards Association sent a letter to President Joe Biden “urging him to weaponize the Patriot Act against parents. Emails later showed how the Biden White House had advance knowledge of this letter and its contents and raised no objection,” the committee said.
His memo referred to a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff,” and directed FBI and other federal law enforcement agents to monitor activities of parents and school boards nationwide.
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 also said, “Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values. Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.”
He testified before the committee, “I can’t imagine any circumstance in which the Patriot Act would be used in the circumstances of parents complaining about their children, nor can I imagine a circumstance where they would be labeled as domestic terrorism,” saying the DOJ wasn’t targeting parents. The DOJ continues to maintain this claim.
Shortly thereafter, a coalition of attorneys general called on Garland to produce evidence to support his claims. They argued the DOJ targeting parents is unconstitutional and an abuse of power and said Garland must revoke his directive, which he has yet to do. The AGs received no response to their requests and sued last March.
Meanwhile, an FBI whistleblower came forward and by May 2022, Republican U.S. Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mike Johnson of Louisiana sent a letter to Garland stating the whistleblower provided evidence that contradicted his testimony. The FBI was in fact investigating parents, according to an Oct. 20, 2021, email made available to the committee. The FBI’s Counterterrorism Division and Criminal Division announced it created a new threat tag for its internal system to label parents, called “EDUOFFICIALS,” and directed FBI personnel to apply the tag to all “school board-related threats,” according to their letter.
The FBI maintains it hasn’t and isn’t targeting parents or investigating speech at school board meetings.
After the whistleblower information was made public, Florida-based Moms for Liberty founders Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich said, “We now have proof of what many of us suspected and some of us knew: that the Department of Justice was using counter-terrorism authority under the PATRIOT Act to investigate parents of schoolchildren who were exercising their first amendment right to petition their local government for a redress of grievances.”
Justice and Descovich the group already was aware of one of the examples Jordan cited, because she was one of their members.
“The mother was terrified,” they said. “She had been contacted by the FBI. She had been told by the FBI not to say anything about that call. She had also been told that there were many other mothers being investigated.
“Once the federal government uses our own taxpayer money to harness 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 the right to ask questions of public officials and demand accountability from those in public office.”
In response to public backlash over its letter to Biden, the National School Board Aassociaten issued an apology, which wasn’t enough for some states. According to a Parents Defending Education analysis, 26 states withdrew membership, participation, or dues from NSBA as a result of the letter.
PDE also said, “Since DOJ’s memo was released, a number of parents have confirmed that they were, indeed, contacted by the FBI after speaking up at school board meetings – confirming the American public’s worst fears about the memo’s repercussions.” It also demanded the DOJ issue an apology to “American citizens who advocate on behalf of students, and redirect their finite time and resources to catching real criminals – not parents.”