It’s tempting to see the new directive by Attorney General Merrick Garland as merely a transparent attempt to intimidate parents into silence over opinions that the Biden Administrations doesn’t like. However, it’s worth going though some of the other reasons why this misconduct by federal law enforcement is is so appalling, and to remind parents why they should not be deterred.
Many parents in Illinois and across the country have spoken out recently with unprecedented anger in unprecedented numbers at school board meetings and beyond. Their complaints have been about Critical Race Theory in classrooms, mask mandates and explicit materials for minors about sexuality and gender. We’ve written here often supporting some of those complaints. My colleague Ted Dabrowski and I have participated in some of the efforts directed toward our own childrens’ schools.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland
But on Monday, Garland issued a directive to the FBI and federal law enforcement officials across the nation to focus on alleged criminal conduct in protests by parents.
Outrage ensued immediately, and appropriately, from parents, their organizations and commentators who are infuriated that a threat of federal law enforcement is being used to try to scare them out of constitutionally protected speech.
Garland’s Department of Justice has responded simply by saying it isn’t true, and its defenders, particularly MSNBC, have cited examples of conduct by parents that allegedly were either inappropriate or illegal.
Linked here are Garland’s directive and an accompanying DOJ press release. They should be read in conjunction with a letter sent by the National School Boards Association late last month to President Biden, which gave rise to the directive. It claimed that school officials are “under immediate threat” and asked Biden to sic nearly the full force of the national security establishment on offending parents.
It contains these astonishing requests, from which you would think the entire Taliban is loose in America:
NSBA respectfully asks that a joint collaboration among federal law enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement, and with public school officials be undertaken to focus on these threats. NSBA specifically solicits the expertise and resources of the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, and its National Threat Assessment Center regarding the level of risk to public schoolchildren, educators, board members, and facilities/campuses. We also request the assistance of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to intervene…. including any technical assistance necessary from, and state and local coordination with, its National Security Branch and Counterterrorism Division, as well as any other federal agency with relevant jurisdictional authority and oversight. Additionally, NSBA requests that such review examine appropriate enforceable actions against these crimes and acts of violence under the Gun-Free School Zones Act, the PATRIOT Act in regards to domestic terrorism, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Violent Interference with Federally Protected Rights statute, the Conspiracy Against Rights statute, an Executive Order to enforce all applicable federal laws for the protection of students and public school district personnel, and any related measure.
The DOJ was happy to oblige. It’s directive, as you can see in the documents they released, is much shorter but conveys the same point.
And the DOJ made sure that school boards and officials will be trained in how to be claimed as victims who can call on those enforcement mechanisms. From the DOJ press release:
The Justice Department will also create specialized training and guidance for local school boards and school administrators. This training will help school board members and other potential victims understand the type of behavior that constitutes threats, how to report threatening conduct to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, and how to capture and preserve evidence of threatening conduct to aid in the investigation and prosecution of these crimes.
Keep in mind that a real crime requires violence or a threat to commit either violence or some other illegal act. But most of the offensive conduct being referenced by the media and school officials is not criminal. Is it criminal to say, for example “we will get you,” or “we will not forget this,” or “your career is education is dead”?
Some such things may be vile and reprehensible, like saying “we know where you live,” but criminality is a different matter. The meanings of many statements are not clear nor is their criminality.
Yes, there are other, worse examples of some actual, criminal conduct, including violence, which should not be tolerated. But neither the DOJ nor anybody else has put up any evidence that it is widespread enough to justify such an unprecedented federal response.
That’s part of why Garland’s directive is so pernicious. He could have provided a useful service by delineating what is prosecutable and what isn’t. Instead, he used the tactic of exploiting the murkiness about where the line gets drawn between criminal conduct and protected speech, thereby purposely chilling what is constitutionally protected.
“Garland knows this is dangerous nonsense. I personally know that he knows it.” That’s from Andrew McCarthy, who worked under Garland in the DOJ.
McCarthy further wrote that “Garland incorrectly — indeed, outrageously for someone of his experience as a Justice Department official and federal appellate judge — claimed that free-speech principles yield not only to “threats of violence” but also to “efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.”
Why is the federal government getting involved at all in this? Crimes like those at issue are the domain of local officials.
In fact, the constitutionality of federal involvement is highly questionable. At least two state attorneys general, in Arizona and Missouri, already blasted the DOJ for that reason and more may be coming. McCarthy, too, made that point in the column linked above.
Selective enforcement of law for political reasons is reprehensible in itself, and it’s brazen in this case. If conduct like parents’ at school boards, even when intimidating, is colorable as a federal offense, where was the DOJ when rioting, vandalism and destruction of statues was overlooked for being supposedly acceptable protest?
Doesn’t the DOJ have better things to do?
Here in Illinois, it’s been over two years since a federal criminal investigation was opened about Gov. JB Pritzker’s removal of toilets to reduce property taxes. It’s still open. The event happened over four years ago. His reelection is approaching and his state would like to know if he will be its next indicted governor. But now the U.S. Attorney’s office in northern Illinois, which is handling the case, is ordered to spend time on parents and school boards.
How about if federal resources were directed instead to, oh, say, enforcing the border? Or providing what assistance they can to major cities like Chicago being destroyed by crime?
Garland’s biggest error is underestimating parental devotion to children. Few forces in nature are more unrelenting. Parents will not be frightened off from doing what is right for their offspring by the FBI or anybody else.
Garland apparently has a different notion of parental devotion. It turns out that his son-in-law is the co-founder and president of Panorama Education, which sells teacher training and curriculum for race-focused surveys and conducts trainings on systemic oppression, white supremacy, unconscious bias, and intersectionality. CRT-type stuff, the primary thing parents are complaining about.
Parents, know that there is safety in numbers. Countless other parents around the country will not stand for this.
We will not change what we say and write.
Nor should you.