Editor's note: This column was first published in City Journal.
In an official memo, Attorney General Merrick Garland has pledged to mobilize the FBI against parents protesting critical race theory in public schools, citing unspecified "threats of violence" against school officials.
Garland’s memo follows a National School Boards Association request that the Biden administration investigate threats to school board members and classify sometimes heated parent protests as "domestic terrorism." The NSBA suggested that some of these parents should be prosecuted under the PATRIOT Act and federal hate crimes legislation.
The school board association letter, however, is riddled with falsehoods, errors, and exaggerations. It begins with the claim that "critical race theory is not taught in public schools," despite a vast body of evidence, including my own reporting, showing that CRT is widespread in public schools. Even the national teachers’ union has admitted as much, and called for its implementation in all 50 states.
The NSBA deliberately misrepresents debates at school board meetings as "threats" and sometimes vociferous and angry speech as "violence." The letter refers to dozens of news stories alluding to "disruptions," "shouts," "arguments," and "mobs" but, contrary to its core claim, cites only a single example of actual violence against a school official: a case of aggravated battery in Illinois, which is obviously condemnable, but hardly the justification for a national "domestic terrorism" investigation.
The association even fabricated entire storylines to support its political objectives. For example, the NSBA claims that a Tennessee school board official named Jon White resigned due to "threats and acts of violence"; the linked source, however, reports that White resigned for "concerns about too much time away from his family," with no mention of threats or violence. (In another local report, White complains about parents calling him a "child abuser" and other epithets, which, while harsh, are hardly an "act of violence.")
Still, despite the school board association’s flimsy pretext, the Biden administration appears to be doing its bidding. Garland’s memo instructs the FBI to coordinate with "federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement" to develop plans to "discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them when appropriate." NSBA director Chip Slaven and national teachers’ union president Randi Weingarten immediately praised Garland’s aggressive actions.
This is a deeply politicized and dangerous escalation in the debate about critical race theory in public schools. For months, critical race theory proponents, including teachers’ unions, have struggled to respond to critics, and new survey data now show that strong majorities of all racial categories oppose CRT in public school. But as their standing in the polls has collapsed, the education establishment has turned to more heavy-handed tactics.
The purpose of mobilizing the FBI is not only to monitor dissent but to subdue it. The suggestion that parents might be engaging in "domestic terrorism" is designed to suppress speech and assembly and to justify the further federalization of education policy. In congressional testimony last week, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona refused to say that parents are the "primary stakeholders" in their children’s education; this week, Attorney General Garland is attempting to drive an even bigger wedge between parents and public schools.
Parents should not let this overreach deter them from speaking out against critical race theory in their schools. The Biden administration has raised the stakes, so that this fight is no longer only about CRT; it is about protecting the basic rights of speech, assembly, and voter control over the country’s public institutions.
The grassroots revolt against critical race theory is proof that the American people still have the instinct for self-rule. They must not let the Biden administration crush it.