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By Bethany Blankley [The Center Square contributor] –
Despite sworn testimony by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland that the U.S. Department of Justice isn’t targeting parents after he directed the department to do so last fall, a whistleblower has come forward to the House Judiciary Committee providing evidence that the FBI is in fact investigating parents.
In a letter to Garland, Republican U.S. Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mike Johnson of Louisiana wrote that they have evidence that contradicts testimony he gave before the committee last year.
Last October, Garland issued a memo about the “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff,” directing the FBI and other federal law enforcement agents to monitor activities of parents and school boards nationwide.
He did so in response to the National School Boards Association requesting the federal government to use counterterrorism tools, including the Patriot Act, against parents. In an Oct. 20 email, the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division and Criminal Division announced it had created a new threat tag for its internal system to label parents, called, “EDUOFFICIALS,” the congressmen point out in their letter. The email directs all FBI personnel to apply this tag to all “school board-related threats.”
When questioned about the memo by the House Judiciary Committee last October, Garland said under oath, “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.”
After the memo was issued, a coalition of attorneys general immediately called on Garland to revoke it and produce documentation related to the memo’s directive. They maintain that Garland has provided no evidence of any spikes in threats against school personnel by parents and the DOJ targeting parents is an abuse of power and unconstitutional. They received no response to their letters or requests for information and sued in March.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, who led the coalition, said, “Rather than cooperate, the Biden administration has sought to conceal and downplay its culpability. What are they hiding? Why won’t they come clean?”
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The answer from “brave whistleblowers,” Jordan said, is that the FBI has opened investigations in almost every region of the country related to all types of educational settings.
“The information we have received shows how, as a direct result of your directive, federal law enforcement is using counterterrorism resources to investigate protected First Amendment activity,” the congressmen wrote Garland.
In one investigation, the FBI opened a file on a mother involved with the Florida-based group Mom’s for Liberty, according to representatives. The file also notes the mom is a lawful gun owner. An FBI agent interviewed the mother, who said she was upset by her school board’s mask mandate and was hoping to replace the school board with new members through the electoral process.
Another investigation was launched into a father who opposed mask mandates, according to the congressmen. Yet another investigation was launched into a Republican official after a Democrat alleged the official was inciting violence for opposing a school district’s vaccine mandate.
The information, the congressmen said, “is startling. You have subjected these moms and dads to the opening of an FBI investigation about them, the establishment of the FBI case file that includes their political views, and the application of a ‘threat tag’ to their names as a direct result of their exercise of their fundamental constitutional right to speak and advocate for their children.”
The congressmen have directed Garland to provide materials to the committee immediately.
Moms for Liberty Founders Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich issued a statement saying, “This whistleblower letter should be an alarm bell for every mom in our country. 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.
“We at Moms for Liberty knew first-hand of the first example Jim Jordan cited, because she was – as the whistleblower letter says – one of our members. The mother was terrified. 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.”
Justice and Descovich said their organization is empowering mothers to understand their fundamental rights. But they also warn that while this happened to one of their members, it could also happen “to anyone.”
About the Author: Bethany Blankley is a writer at the Center Square, Patheos/Hedgerow, political analyst and former press secretary at Capitol Hill / NY / WDC. Follow Bethany on Twitter @BethanyBlankley.