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McCarthy’s false claim that Garland called the parents ‘terrorists’

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“We’re looking at what’s happening around the country… parents who are being attacked by the attorney general saying they’re kind of terrorists because they want to attend school board meetings.”

— House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) interview on Fox NewsApril 25

“We are going to investigate the Attorney General. Why did he go after parents and call them terrorists just because they wanted to attend a school board meeting? »

-McCarthy, interview with Fox News’ Sean HannityApril 20

“The other thing that comes with a new [GOP] majority is that you are able to hold this administration accountable. We can stand up to an Attorney General who goes after parents and calls them terrorists if they want to attend a school board meeting.

-McCarthy, interview on “Fox News Sunday”, April 17

“Biden used the FBI to target parents as ‘domestic terrorists’. Can you imagine that? Using your own FBI to go after his parents, calling them domestic terrorists. Without any evidence. Aiming simply to silence their First Amendment rights. A whistleblower just confirmed it.

-McCarthy, during a marathon speechNovember 18

We are often interested when new rhetoric begins to become part of a politician’s usual pattern. On three occasions in recent weeks, McCarthy claimed Attorney General Merrick Garland called the parents “terrorists” because they wanted to attend school board meetings.

Usually, when a politician starts dropping a new topic of discussion in their interviews, private polls indicate it resonates with voters — and McCarthy’s language fits a recent pattern in which Republicans have said they want defend the rights of parents to protest critical race theory or transgender accommodations.

It turns out that McCarthy first used that line in his eight-hour speech last fall to protest President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation. This was a significant escalation of a Republican claim we had previously verified as false – that Garland ordered the FBI to “spy” on the parents.

This new version doesn’t add up either.

It all started with a Sept. 29 letter from the National School Boards Association asking Biden for federal resources to help monitor “threats of violence and acts of intimidation” against public school members and other school officials. . “As these acts of malice, violence and threats against public school officials have increased, classification of these heinous actions could amount to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” the letter states. of six pages.

The association’s letter requested a “joint expedited review” by various agencies, including “technical assistance” from the National Security Directorate and the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. The letter also called for consideration of appropriate action that could be taken under federal laws, including “the Patriot Act with respect to domestic terrorism.”

Usually these kind of letters take weeks to get a response. But within five days, on October 4, Garland released a memo to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and federal prosecutors. He called for action within 30 days to “facilitate discussion on strategies to address threats” against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff.

“In recent months, there has been a disturbing increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff who participate in the vital work of running the public schools of our country,” Garland wrote. “While vigorous debate on political matters is protected by our Constitution, this protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their opinions.”

In an accompanying press release, the Department of Justice said: “These efforts should include the creation of a task force, made up of representatives from the department’s criminal division, national security division, the Civil Rights Division, the Executive Office of the U.S. Attorneys, the FBI, the Community Relations Service, and the Office of Justice Programs, to determine how federal enforcement tools can be used to prosecute these crimes, and ways to assist state, tribal, territorial, and local law enforcement when threats of violence may not constitute federal crimes. ”

Garland’s memo sparked a firestorm of criticism. The association’s letter had given examples of threats in detailed footnotes to news articles, some of which border on violence, but upon review it was an overstatement to use the phrase “domestic terrorism”.

The letter, for example, mentioned an incident in Virginia in which a person was arrested “during a school board meeting singling out current Critical Race Theory programs and regarding equity issues.” The arrest involved a father whose daughter was sexually assaulted in the girls’ bathroom at his Loudoun County school by a student. Prosecutors said at the teenager’s trial that he was wearing a skirt at the time of the assault, but did not comment on his gender identity.

(Some NSBA emails released by a conservative group have suggested that the association may have acted at the behest of the White House or the Department of Education, but this has been denied by the NSBA, the White House, and the Department of Education. education.)

As the Washington Post reported in January, the backlash from the letter was so intense it nearly led to the collapse of the organization. On October 22, the NSBA apologized for the letter, saying “there was no substantiation for some of the terms included.” A new executive director of the association was appointed, the letter was removed from the NSBA website, and the association announced in February that it had launched an independent review of how the letter was created.

OK. A letter from the association mentions terrorism. But what about Garland? There is no reference to terrorism in his note. And, when questioned by Republicans in congressional hearings, Garland and other top justice officials insisted they did not believe the parents involved were terrorists.

“I can’t imagine any circumstance in which the Patriot Act would be used in the circumstances of parents complaining about their children, nor can I imagine any circumstance in which they would be called domestic terrorism,” Garland told the House. Judiciary Committee on October 15. 21. He added: “Parents have been complaining about their children’s education and school boards since there are school boards and public education. This is totally protected by the First Amendment. I understand your argument that genuine threats of violence are not protected by the First Amendment. These are the things that concern us here.

This brings us to McCarthy’s statement that a whistleblower “confirmed” that the Biden administration believed the parents were domestic terrorists. A McCarthy spokesperson did not respond to questions, but appears to be referring to a Nov. 16 letter from Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican.

Jordan’s letter cited a Justice Department email, dated October 20, which he said was provided by “a Department whistleblower.” The email said the counter-terrorism and crime divisions had created a ‘threat label’, called EDUOFFICIALS, to flag all assessments and investigations of threats against administrators, board members, teachers and board staff. school. The email said the threat tag, essentially a way to sort and characterize these threats, was created in response to Garland’s October 4 memo.

The hook for McCarthy’s claim is the involvement of the FBI’s National Security Division — not mentioned in Garland’s memo but in Justice’s press release. But in January, Matthew Olsen, the assistant attorney general in charge of the justice’s national security division, and Jill Sanborn, the executive deputy director of the FBI’s national security branch, told lawmakers that security units National only played an advisory role.

Violence against school board officials is “certainly not a particular priority for the National Security Division and I have no anticipation that it would be,” Olsen said. Sanborn said “tagging is simply an administrative process to better analyze trends” and that the FBI would only investigate allegations of violations of federal law.

McCarthy puts words in Garland’s mouth. Garland never equated parents with terrorists, and in fact told Congress that he “cannot imagine” a circumstance in which that would happen.

Thanks to a trick from Rube Goldberg, McCarthy is relying on a withdrawn letter of association, a Justice Department press release and a bureaucratic designation to somehow tag Garland with words he doesn’t. did not say and that he refuted. That’s not enough to make such an inflammatory statement. McCarthy wins Four Pinocchios.

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