FIRST ON FOX – Sen. Josh Hawley on Tuesday tore into Attorney General Merrick Garland over a memo he issued Monday night directing the FBI and other Department of Justice entities to focus on identifying and prosecuting threats of violence and harassment of school officials and board members.
The memo came after months of school board meetings nationwide that often featured contentious exchanges between officials and parents who oppose controversial policies like mask mandates, teaching critical race theory and more.
In some cases, parents have been kicked out of meetings for refusing to wear masks, leading to allegations that school boards were trying to silence dissent. In one specific instance, an entire school board was forced to resign after hot mic comments showed board members mocking concerned parents.
"All around the country, Americans are speaking out against the radical racist ideology sometimes called 'critical race theory.'" Hawley wrote in a letter to Garland. "Americans have responded to this radical ideology by winning elections for local school boards and protesting peacefully at school board meetings. Yet your memo yesterday to the FBI and local U.S. Attorneys ignored all of this and warned of an insurgence of ‘threats of violence’ and ‘efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.’"
"I certainly share your view that threats of violence have no place in this country, but the backdrop of your memo strongly suggests that your concern is not violence, but democratic pushback against critical race theory," the senator continued.
Hawley said Garland and the DOJ should stay out of "regular democratic activity" and that it "provided no evidence of actual, genuine threats of violence." Instead, Hawley alleged, the DOJ is simply aiming to paint opponents of critical race theory as "enemies of the republic."
Hawley's letter asks Garland's office to provide him with any materials the DOJ plans to disseminate in connection with the attorney general's memo, and a list of who was consulted as the memo was prepared.
Garland's memo came shortly after a letter from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) to President Biden that said some rhetorical clashes between school boards and parents are going too far and amount to threats against board members.
"The National School Boards Association (NSBA) respectfully asks for federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation," it said in the letter last week.
"As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes," it added.
The letter detailed multiple instances of this alleged pattern, including school board meetings being disrupted, a person being arrested at an Illinois school board meeting, and a letter from an individual saying a school board member will "pay dearly" for supporting mask mandates.
In a memo Monday, Garland enthusiastically agreed with the NSBA.
"While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under the Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views," Garland said. "Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to the nation's core values."
Garland told the FBI to take the lead on a task force to address threats against school officials, including creating a centralized way to report such threats.
Hawley said that the timing of the Garland memo was highly suspect because it immediately followed the NSBA letter. Hawley alleged that the NSBA letter is not really about violence and instead about school boards not being able to take criticism.
"Your announcement arrives immediately after the Biden administration received a letter from the National School Boards Association, which laid out a litany of complaints against the widespread criticisms of local school boards that are being leveled by concerned parents," Hawley wrote.
"The letter denounced as ‘propaganda’ the criticism that schools are pushing critical race theory into classrooms," he added. "It further asserted, without explanation, that ‘extremist hate organizations are ’showing up at school board meetings' and ‘spreading misinformation that boards are adopting critical race theory curriculum.’ The NSBA’s letter is pure gaslighting."
Hawley also questioned Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco about the memo during a Tuesday hearing. Hawley alleged that the memo was designed to chill parents' speech at school board meetings because the memo did not define the terms harassment and intimidation, and therefore may encompass some frustrated parents' speech depending on how it is used by the government.
Monaco shot back that the memo is only about violence and threats of violence, and it's the role of the FBI address those threats.