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U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland told federal agencies in 2021 to work to address criminal threats against school officials and staff.
Garland’s memo did not mention the word "terrorist" and stated that "spirited debate" is protected by the Constitution.
A 2021 National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin fueled some claims that those who oppose coronavirus safety restrictions were labeled domestic terrorists, but that is not the case.
House conservatives have been targeting actions by the Justice Department to falsely suggest that the agency is slapping the "terrorist" label on parents who simply raise concerns about school curriculum.
Speaking on March 2 at the Conservative Political Action Conference, U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., said: "You have the DOJ, the Department of Justice, calling parents that are concerned about what their kids are being taught, they are labeling them terrorists."
We rated a similar statement in 2021 that spread on Instagram as False. We have debunked false statements on the topic by multiple politicians, including U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa. and U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio. We have repeatedly found no evidence that parents are labeled terrorists for speaking up about school curriculum concerns.
In September 2021, following threats against school officials, the National School Boards Association wrote a letter to President Joe Biden requesting assistance to address concerns about school employees’ and board members’ safety. Their concerns were prompted by backlash by some parents about school mask policies or by parents who falsely believed critical race theory was being taught in their schools.
Supporters of teaching critical race theory describe it as a collection of ideas, not a single doctrine, that explain why racial inequality and disparities persist long after civil rights laws and court rulings barred discrimination. Opponents use it as a blanket label for any discussion of white privilege, and they have encouraged local school districts to forbid the teaching of anything that addresses systemic racism.
In October 2021, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland sent a memo to the FBI and federal prosecutors acknowledging a "disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence" against school officials.
Garland directed the FBI to hold meetings across the country and bring together government leaders to discuss strategies to address those threats. The memo focused on criminal conduct, not parents’ views about school curriculum. It did not include the word "terrorist." Garland acknowledged that people have a right to express their views.
"While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views," Garland wrote.
A Trump-nominated judge dismissed a case by parents challenging the memo. The judge concluded that the memo does not target protected conduct under the Constitution and covers only criminal conduct.
Republican claims appear to be linked to an August 2021 bulletin from the National Terrorism Advisory System, which warned of a "current heightened threat environment" in the U.S.
The bulletin mentioned several factors, including the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and threats from foreign and domestic terrorists.
"These actors are increasingly exploiting online forums to influence and spread violent extremist narratives and promote violent activity," the bulletin said. "Such threats are also exacerbated by impacts of the ongoing global pandemic, including grievances over public health safety measures and perceived government restrictions."
Although the bulletin referred to frustration some people have expressed about pandemic safety restrictions, experts say it did not designate anyone a domestic terrorist.
The federal State and Treasury departments have the authority to designate groups as terrorists; the National Terrorism Advisory System does not.
We contacted Cammack’s spokesperson and did not get an immediate response. It’s possible she was referring to the FBI’s use of "threat tags," — something that other House Republicans have raised.
The agency uses such "threat tags" to track information and spot trends. The FBI created the EDUOFFICIALS tag to track threats directed against school officials.
A "threat tag" does not necessarily signal that a full investigation is in progress; such an investigation would occur if there is evidence of potential violence and violation of federal law, an FBI spokesperson previously told PolitiFact.
Cammack said, "you have the DOJ, the Department of Justice, calling parents that are concerned about what their kids are being taught, they are labeling them terrorists."
That’s not accurate. In a 2021 memo, Garland directed the FBI to address criminal threats against school officials. But his memo didn’t use the word "terrorist" and noted that "spirited debate" is protected by the Constitution.
The FBI created an EDUOFFICIALS "threat tag" to track threats of violence against school officials, not to flag parents for questioning curriculum.
A 2021 bulletin from the National Terrorism Advisory System about the level of threat environment in the U.S. has fueled claims that those who oppose coronavirus safety restrictions were labeled domestic terrorists, but that is not the case.
We rate this statement False.
CPAC, Tweet, March 2, 2023
CPAC, Live video, March 2, 2023
Politico, Proposed GOP select panel would be empowered to review ‘ongoing criminal investigations’ Jan. 7, 2023
National School Boards Association, "Letter to President Biden concerning threats to public schools and school board members," Sept. 29, 2021
Washington Post, National School Boards Association stumbles into politics and is blasted apart, Jan. 13, 2022
U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich, Saline Parents vs. Merrick Garland, Sept. 23, 2022
House Judiciary Committee Republicans, FBI whistleblowers: What their disclosures indicate about the politicization of the FBI and Justice Department, November 2022
Washington Post, The big-stack-of-paper strategy comes to House Judiciary Republicans, Nov. 4, 2022
PolitiFact, "Rick Scott wrongly warns FBI coming after loud parents at school board meetings," Oct. 11, 2021
PolitiFact, "No, parents who question school curriculums haven’t been labeled domestic terrorists," Oct. 18, 2021
PolitiFact, No, the federal government isn’t using the Patriot Act to treat parents like domestic terrorists, Oct. 22, 2021
PolitiFact, Kleefisch misses mark with claim that the FBI will be targeting parents on critical race theory, Nov. 9, 2021
PolitiFact, Did Merrick Garland 'sic' police on parents at school board meetings? May 23, 2022
Email interview, Wyn Hornbuckle, U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson, Jan. 9, 2023
FBI press office, Statement to PolitiFact, Jan. 9, 2023
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