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• Internal FBI guidance shows that a “threat tag” was created to track “investigations and assessments of threats specifically directed against school board administrators, board members, teachers and staff.”
• The FBI says tags are “merely a statistical tool to track information for review and reporting.”
• There is no evidence the FBI intends to use a “threat tag” for any parents protesting school boards.
At the end of September, the National School Boards Association requested federal assistance to address concerns about the safety of public school employees and school board members.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the FBI to work with state and local officials to address threats. But Garland’s Oct. 4 memo caused a stir — and misinformation linked to the memo continues to spread.
"House Republicans have obtained whistleblower documents showing that the FBI is using its counterterrorism division to investigate and add ‘threat tags’ to parents who are protesting school boards," reads a Nov. 16 post on Facebook.
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Did the FBI create a "threat tag" to use on parents who protest school boards? Here’s what we know.
Misinformation about Garland’s memo popped up quickly, with some parents claiming they were being unfairly targeted for voicing their opinion. (PolitiFact debunked one claim that parents who "challenge school curriculums" were being labeled "domestic terrorists," for example.)
By late October, backlash to the National School Boards Association’s initial letter prompted the organization to backtrack.
"We regret and apologize for the letter," it said in a statement. The organization reiterated its commitment to ensuring school officials’ and students’ safety, but said that "there was no justification for some of the language included in the letter." It did not specify what language it was referencing.
The saga didn’t end there.
On Nov. 16, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, made public a letter he addressed to Garland.
In it, Jordan said he was in possession of "a protected disclosure from a (Justice) Department whistleblower." He said the information obtained showed that "the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division is compiling and categorizing threat assessments related to parents."
With the letter, Jordan also released a copy of an email with the subject line, "Guidance: Threat to violence against School Administrators."
"The Counterterrorism and Criminal Divisions created a threat tag, EDUOFFICIALS, to track instances of related threats," reads the email. "We ask that your offices apply the threat tag to investigations and assessments of threats specifically directed against school board administrators, board members, teachers and staff."
There is no evidence to suggest that FBI personnel were instructed to use the EDUOFFICIALS threat tag on investigations of any parents for simply protesting against a school board.
In an email to PolitiFact, an FBI spokesperson said the agency is concerned with protecting First Amendment rights to peaceful protest and free speech.
"The FBI has never been in the business of investigating parents who speak out or policing speech at school board meetings, and we are not going to start now," the FBI said in a statement. "The FBI’s focus is on violence and threats of violence that potentially violate federal law."
The statement also said that the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division and the Counterterrorism Division "share responsibility for violent threats," but noted that "before either division can open an investigation there must be information indicating the potential use of force or violence and a potential violation of federal law."
The FBI also said that it uses tags as a tool to track information.
"The creation of a threat tag in no way changes the long-standing requirements for opening an investigation, nor does it represent a shift in how the FBI prioritizes threats," the statement said. "The FBI has used tags to track everything from drug trafficking to human trafficking."
A Facebook post claimed that "the FBI is using its counterterrorism division to investigate and add ‘threat tags’ to parents who are protesting school boards."
Following guidance from the attorney general, the FBI created a threat tag to track threats of violence directed at school officials. When releasing information about the threat tag, Jordan said it was evidence of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division compiling "threat assessments related to parents." But the FBI memo he released to support the claim only showed that the FBI has asked its offices to apply the tag to investigations involving threats against school board members, educators and school employees.
There is no evidence it would be used on parents for simply protesting school board decisions.
We rate this claim Mostly False.
Facebook post, Nov. 16, 2021
National School Boards Association, "Letter to President Biden concerning threats to public schools and school board members," Sept. 29, 2021
PolitiFact, "No, parents who question school curriculums haven’t been labeled domestic terrorists," Oct. 18, 2021
Politico, "School board group backtracks on letter for security help from DOJ," Oct. 25, 2021
U.S. Justice Department, "Justice Department Addresses Violent Threats Against School Officials and Teachers," Oct. 4, 2021
U.S. Justice Department, "Memorandum: Partnership to address threats against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff," Oct. 4, 2021
National School Boards Association, "Message to NSBA Members," Oct. 22, 2021
Letter to Merrick Garland from Rep. Jim Jordan, Nov. 16, 2021
Email exchange with FBI press office, Nov. 19, 2021
New York Times, "F.B.I. Set Plan to Track Threats Against School Boards and Teachers," Nov. 16, 2021
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