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Newly released DOJ memo details top-down pressure on cops to probe vague school board threats

This newly public memo which was first referenced by the House Judiciary Committee in its March report on the DOJ's efforts to monitor nebulous threats against school boards shows the top-down effort from Garland's department to gather information and facilitate prosecutions with local law enforcement against parents concerned about curricula imposed on their children.

Published: December 13, 2023 11:00pm

Updated: December 14, 2023 1:58pm

After Attorney General Merrick Garland issued an October 2021 directive calling for federal resources to investigate threats against school boards, a newly released memo shows the Justice Department pressured all U.S. Attorneys Offices to convene meetings with local law enforcement and FBI representatives to address the alleged threat.

Notably, the memo gave prosecutor offices a hard deadline and required a report back to Washington after the meeting took place, including a requirement to identify the specific local law enforcement agencies that participated.

The Oct. 20, 2021 memo, provided to Just the News by the watchdog group Protect the Public’s Trust, was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

It provided directives to all U.S. Attorneys Offices across the country to implement Garland's directives to coordinate with local law enforcement to address a “disturbing spike” in violence against school administrations, board members, or staff.

“[They] sent the memo to all the US Attorney's offices across the country and ordered them to—it does say on the memo that its guidance on implementing the Attorney General's memorandum—but there are required actions that…they are required to convene a meeting within the next few weeks,” Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protecting the Public’s Trust, said on the "John Solomon Reports" podcast on Wednesday.

According to Chamberlain, "The memo was sent out on October 20 of 2021 and they were supposed to have the meeting by November 3 and they were supposed to, they were required to report back. And to verify that they had the meeting and list details…such as the local officials who attended. So this was not something that was just, you know, not something that they didn't believe was important. It doesn't it doesn't look like they put a lot of effort and resources into enforcing the memo."

The memo directed each U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) to organize a meeting with local law enforcement agencies, including state, local, Tribal or territorial authorities, to address the specific issue of the spike of violence against school boards and related organizations. Specific discussion topics were provided by the DOJ that it wanted addressed in the meetings, including support for victims, reviewing local or state laws and federal laws that can address the problem, and a discussion about “training needs” for local law enforcement.

The memo also required the USAOs to notify Washington confirming the meeting was held, identify all the law enforcement agencies that attended, and forward any specific issues to the Deputy Attorney General.

You can read the memo below:

 

This memo followed Garland’s October 4, 2021 memo directing his department to convene the meetings to address a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff,” though the department did not cite any data showing an increase in violence or threats.

Garland’s initial memo came under scrutiny because it followed shortly after a Sept. 29, 2021 letter from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) to the Biden Administration that warned of “an immediate threat” to public schools and “education leaders” and called for federal cooperation with local law enforcement to deal with the threat.

“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,” the letter said.

The NSBA specifically identified parent backlash against critical race theory in classroom instruction as a source of physical threats against public school officials.

“Coupled with attacks against school board members and educators for approving policies for masks to protect the health and safety of students and school employees, many public school officials are also facing physical threats because of propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula,” the NSBA explained.

“Now, we ask that the federal government investigate, intercept, and prevent the current threats and acts of violence against our public school officials through existing statutes, executive authority, interagency and intergovernmental task forces, and other extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of our children and educators, to protect interstate commerce, and to preserve public school infrastructure and campuses,” the letter continued.

The NSBA identified some the threats, which include “threatening letters,” “cyberbullying attacks,” and “social media” posts. The NSBA labeled these so-called threats equal to “domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”

Garland’s memo was released less than a week after NSBA’s letter to the Biden Administration and caused significant uproar among Congressional Republicans who accused Garland of establishing a “snitch line” on parents. This assertion comes from the DOJ’s decision to use the FBI’s National Threat Operations Center (NTOC) national tip line to receive reports of threats against school board members and other education staff.

"It concerns us that it was issued just five days after the National School Board Association sent a letter to President Biden which referred to concerned parents as the equivalent of 'domestic terrorists and perpetrators of hate crimes,'" Rep. Mike Johnson, now Speaker of the House, said at the time. "Given the timing of all this, your memo appears to have been motivated by politics more than any pressing law enforcement need. This is concerning to us and it's worthy of investigation."

After Republicans gained control of the House in early 2023, the Judiciary Committee opened an investigation into the Attorney General’s memo which concluded that “the Biden Administration misused federal law-enforcement and counterterrorism resources for political purposes,” in monitoring “threats” to the school boards. The Oct. 20 document was cited in the House Judiciary Committee report from March of this year, but was not made public by the committee.

The committee also concluded that the DOJ’s own documents showed “that there was no compelling nationwide law-enforcement justification for the Attorney General’s directive or the Department components’ executive thereof.”

You can read the Judiciary report below:

As the DOJ prepared its response to congressional inquiries and questions covering the memo, the department prepared at least nine pages of probable questions and department answers on the controversy, according to the FOIA production released to Protect the Public’s Trust. However, all of these pages were redacted in the production, meaning internal DOJ deliberations about how to respond to the accusations from House Republicans and public backlash are still being kept secret.

Garland defended his memo in public, even after the NSBA retracted its original letter labeling purported threats as equivalent to domestic terrorism. 

“DOJ concluded its work under the memo more than a year ago. The memo, which was issued in October 2021, directed U.S. Attorneys to convene meetings within 30 days to learn more about threats against school officials. That has long since happened," a source familiar with the DOJ's work told Just the News after a request to the Office of Public Affairs. "DOJ did not hold back in turning over to Congress the feedback from different US Attorney’s offices. Some offices found the meetings helpful, a few didn’t. The memo’s purpose was to open these lines of communication and that is what DOJ did.”

“That's all it's about,” Garland said at the time, referring to actual threats of violence or real criminal conduct. “And all it asks is for federal law enforcement to consult with, meet with local law enforcement to assess the circumstances, strategize about what may or may not be necessary to provide federal assistance, if it is necessary," he said.

In March, Garland told the House committee that the FBI was sent 22 reports of threats against school board members following his Oct. 4 memo of which six were referred to state and local law enforcement entities and authorities.

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