House Republicans say they have evidence from FBI whistleblowers that the bureau used anti-terrorism tools to investigate parents who were critical of school boards’ COVID-19 policies despite assurances from Attorney General Merrick Garland to lawmakers that such probes would not be conducted.
“In sworn testimony before this Committee, you denied that the Department of Justice or its components were using counterterrorism statutes and resources to target parents at school board meetings,” Rep. Jim Jordan, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote to Garland on Wednesday.
Jordan (R-Ohio) said the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division created a “threat tag” to track investigations into parents who spoke at school boards in opposition to vaccine and mask mandates even though they were exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.
The Ohio congressman said the use of the threat tag followed a controversial memo the Justice Department released on Oct. 4, 2021, in response to the National School Boards Association’s appeal to use “counterterrorism tools, including the Patriot Act,” to target parents at school board meetings.
“By Oct. 20, the FBI had operationalized your directive. In an FBI-wide email, the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division and Criminal Division announced the creation of a new threat tag – EDUOFFICIALS – and directed all FBI personnel to apply it to school board-related threats,” Jordan said in the letter.
In the Oct. 4 memo, Garland had directed FBI agents to work with local law enforcement to investigate “threats of violence” as instances of heated confrontations between parents and officials at school board meetings began generating national headlines.
Garland testified at a House Judiciary Committee later that month that the department would not infringe on parents’ First Amendment rights and would not use anti-terrorism laws against them.
“I want to be clear, the Justice Department supports and defends the First Amendment right of parents to complain as vociferously as they wish about the education of their children, about the curriculum taught in their schools,” Garland said at the time.
However, Jordan said, thanks to “brave whistleblowers,” lawmakers know the FBI has opened investigations “in almost every region of the country” with the EDUOFFICIALS threat tag.
“We now have evidence that contrary to your testimony, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has labeled at least dozens of investigations into parents with a threat tag created by the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division to assess and track investigations related to school boards,” the letter said.
Jordan cited the details of several probes.
In once case, the FBI interviewed a mom who told school board members “we are coming for you” after receiving a complaint that came through the National Threat Operations Center snitch line.
The complaint said the woman posed a threat because she belonged to a “right wing mom’s group,” Moms for Liberty, and because she was a “gun owner.”
The woman, Jordan pointed out, told the FBI she was upset about the school board’s mask mandates and vowed she and other members of the group would try to oust some of the officials in elections.
Another complaint that came through the snitch line, Jordan said, involved a father who “‘fit the profile of an insurrectionist’ because he ‘rails against the government’ and ‘has a lot of guns and threatens to use them.’”
“This whistleblower information is startling. You have subjected these moms and dad to the opening of an FBI investigation about them … as a direct result of their exercise of their fundamental constitutional right to speak and advocate for their children,” Jordan wrote.
The lawmaker concluded by demanding that Garland turn over information previously sought by the committee and void his Oct. 4 memo.