That scene came to mind when Attorney General Merrick Garland testified in Congresfbs to assure members that he does not believe that parents protesting at school board meetings are domestic terrorists.
The Attorney General insists there was nothing to be worried about because the FBI would simply be monitoring what these parents say or do at school meetings. Promises of such “unobtrusive” investigations or operations ignore the obvious: any national enforcement or monitoring effort is, by definition, obtrusive—particularly when it comes to free speech.
Garland’s testimony came after the Justice Department announced that it would initiate a national effort to “address threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff,” including “open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response.”
It came shortly after the National School Boards Association asked for such action, including the possible use of the Patriot Act against individuals deemed threatening to board members. While the Justice Department memo itself does not mention domestic terrorists nor the Patriot Act, the Justice Department’s press release pledged to include the National Security Division in the effort.
Garland repeatedly assured the members that he knows of no basis for alleging domestic terrorism in these school board meetings. He further pledged that he will not use such laws against parents objecting to critical race theory or other issues at these meetings.
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However, those answers only begged the question: why has the Justice Department pledged this broad effort to monitor and respond to threats at these meetings? If these are not matters of domestic terrorism, why is the Justice Department implementing this effort? The school board association letter does not cite any pattern of criminal threats nor interstate, federal profile.
Clearly, some threats using interstate communications or interstate conduct can satisfy federal jurisdiction, but such local threats are rarely matters of federal enforcement. Indeed, I raised the same concerns when the Justice Department took over rioting cases in Wisconsin, Washington, and other states.
When asked about alleged sexual misconduct in Loudoun County, Virginia school bathrooms involving student-on-student misconduct, Garland insisted that such violence sounds like a “local case” and the Justice Department would not be involved. Yet, the Justice Department just announced it would get involved with any such threats or violence in school board meetings.
These meetings involve core political speech on issues that are deeply dividing the country. If the Justice Department is going to launch a national effort to address possible crimes in such meetings, it has a heightened duty to explain the basis for an effort based on federal criminal conduct.