Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday denied claims that the Justice Department (DOJ) would label parents as domestic terrorists following an Oct. 4 memorandum he sent to DOJ employees about intervening in incidents of violence or intimidation targeting state and local school board officials.

GOP lawmakers have criticized Garland for getting involved in matters that should be handled by state and local law enforcement and issuing the memo days after the National School Boards Association (NSBA) asked the Biden administration to utilize tools including the terrorism-related PATRIOT Act to deal with these situations. 


"I want to be clear. The Justice Department supports and defends the First Amendment right of parents to complain as vociferously as they wish about the education of their children, about the curriculum taught in the schools. That is not what the memorandum is about at all, nor does it use the words ‘domestic terrorism’ or ‘PATRIOT Act,’" Garland said Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee in response to a question from Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, about the memo.

Merrick Garland testifies before the House Judiciary Committee (CSPAN)

Merrick Garland testifies before the House Judiciary Committee (CSPAN)

Garland added that he "can't imagine any circumstance in which the Patriot Act would be used in the circumstances of parents complaining about their children," nor any circumstance in which those instances "would be labeled as domestic terrorism."

The NSBA in its request for the Biden administration to use the PATRIOT Act to deal with threats against school board members cited incidents of non-violent disruption of school board meetings where parents voiced their concerns about issues such as the teaching of critical race theory, prompting Republicans to voice fears that federal involvement will influence conservatives to keep quiet instead of continuing to engage with officials.


NSBA President Viola Garcia in her Sept. 29 letter to Biden asked for the "expertise and resources of the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, and its National Threat Assessment Center regarding the level of risk to public schoolchildren, educators, board members, and facilities/campuses."

The NSBA, which represents over 90,000 school board members, also requested that a federal review "examine appropriate enforceable actions against these crimes and acts of violence under the Gun-Free School Zones Act, [and] the PATRIOT Act in regards to domestic terrorism," Garcia wrote.

Supporters of the academic doctrine known as Critical Race Theory and transgender students meet outside the Loudoun County School Board headquarters before a school board meeting, in Ashburn, Virginia, U.S. June 22, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Supporters of the academic doctrine known as Critical Race Theory and transgender students meet outside the Loudoun County School Board headquarters before a school board meeting, in Ashburn, Virginia, U.S. June 22, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Garland then directed the FBI and U.S. attorney's offices to hold meetings with federal, state and local law enforcement leaders over the month of October to discuss ways to combat what the DOJ called a "disturbing trend" of harassment and threats against school officials, sparking backlash from parents and Republican politicians.

"Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values," Garland said of the memo in an Oct. 4 statement. "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 memo begins by mentioning a "disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation's public schools," but neither Garland nor the DOJ has specifically defined "harassment" or "intimidation."

DOJ also has plans to launch a task force aimed at addressing the issue, while attempting to determine how the federal government can use its powers to prosecute crimes and to assist local law enforcement in incidents that are not federal crimes.

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