Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday vowed to fight an order by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland directing the FBI to address threats of violence against school officials and teachers across the country.
"Attorney General Garland is weaponizing the DOJ by using the FBI to pursue concerned parents and silence them through intimidation," the Republican governor tweeted. "Florida will defend the free speech rights of its citizens and will not allow federal agents to squelch dissent."
DeSantis’ tweet comes a day after Garland directed the FBI and U.S. attorney offices to hold meetings with federal, state and local law enforcement leaders within 30 days to discuss ways to combat what the DOJ described as an "increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers in our nation’s public schools."
"Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values," Garland said in a statement Monday. "Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety."
The Justice Department did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
Critics of Garland's order complained that threats of violence are already illegal and that it’s parental rights that are under attack.
Videos of angry parents protesting against school board members over coronavirus-related policies have become a regular occurrence over the course of the pandemic. DeSantis has routinely sided with the rights of parents when it comes to instituting those policies, saying they should ultimately have the right to decide whether their child wears a mask in school or has to be quarantined after being exposed to COVID-19.
In July, the governor ushered in Florida's Parents Bill of Rights, which says the government "may not infringe upon the fundamental rights of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health of a minor child."
DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw told Fox News in a statement that it was too early to tell what steps the governor would take in response to the DOJ's order but that he was closely monitoring the situation "to protect the rights of Floridians from government overreach and the inappropriate politicization of federal law enforcement."
"Several Florida school board members, including Democrats and Republicans, have reported receiving threats and harassment from activists on both ends of the political spectrum," the statement said, in part. "This is wrong, and anyone who is a victim of a crime should report it to their local police department. Florida law enforcement is perfectly capable of responding to crimes in Florida, and we have never heard the FBI suggest otherwise."
"However, disagreement is not harassment. Protest is not terrorism, unless it involves rioting, looting, and assault, like some of the left-wing protests of summer 2020. Again, all of those actions are crimes in Florida and will be prosecuted, regardless of political context," the statement continued. "Governor DeSantis condemns any attempt by the federal government to silence free speech. It is despicable and anti-American."