Feds, Banks Colluded to Snoop on Religious, Gun-Owning Americans without Warrant
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) “urged large financial institutions to comb through the private transactions of their customers for suspicious charges on the basis of protected political and religious expression,” according to a letter by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), in his capacity as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. A branch of the U.S. Treasury Department, FinCEN’s job “is to ferret out money laundering, illegal activities,” Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) said on “Washington Watch.” “But there’s a way to do that. It’s called a search warrant.”
“Following January 6, 2021, FinCEN distributed materials to financial institutions that, among other things, outlined the ‘typologies’ of various persons of interest,” Jordan stated in the letter. That guidance included certain “extremism indicators, ranging from the use of generic political terms like “Trump” and “MAGA” to vague yet invasive categories such as “transportation charges … for travel to areas with no apparent purpose.”
One noteworthy red flag was “the purchase of books (including religious texts) and subscriptions to other media containing extremist views.” Given the context, “extremist views” should here mean those that incite violence or otherwise encourage acts of domestic terrorism, such as pro-ISIS mullahs encouraging “lone wolf”-style terrorist attacks in the U.S. However, subsequent misbehavior by the Biden administration raises the possibility that more mainstream religions were also considered “extremist.”
Documents obtained by the weaponization subcommittee indicate that FBI field offices from coast to coast were involved in drafting a memo targeting “radical, traditional” Catholics as a potential source of domestic extremism, and the FBI recruited at least one undercover agent to spy on the religious group. In designating this group as extremist, the FBI memo relied on a rating by the discredited Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which also classifies other mainstream, religious organizations, including Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom, as extremist for holding to a biblical view of marriage, sexuality, and family.
Even the U.S. Supreme Court was labeled “extremist” by the Biden administration’s congressional allies after its June 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and return abortion policy to the hands of the people’s elected representatives. By this standard, any book or media that affirms the innate value of every human life would be classified as extreme — and that includes the Bible.
“If you’re looking for someone who bought religious text, or [something that] is related in some way to a ‘MAGA Republican’ or ‘Trump,’ is that not profiling?” asked Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
Jordan directed his letter to Noah Bishoff, the “former Director of the Office of Stakeholder Integration and Engagement in the Strategic Operations Division of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network,” and who now works as the anti-money laundering compliance officer for digital finance company Plaid. The letter asked Bishoff to sit for a transcribed interview with the committee, presumably to answer questions relating to this apparent spying on constitutionally protected religious behavior, political activity, and even private travel.
FinCEN also distributed documents prepared by the Ohio-based Key Bank that explained how other banks could more easily detect gun purchases by “potential active shooters.” This absurd phrase — a “potential” shooter is, by definition, not “active” — seemingly indicates horrific wishful thinking on the part of the person(s) who coined it. In any event, the term seems to stand for nothing more than, “people with whom I disagree politically, and who also own guns,” unless the second clause repeats the first. “Despite these transactions having no apparent criminal nexus — and, in fact, relate to Americans exercising their Second Amendment rights — FinCEN seems to have adopted a characterization of these Americans as potential threat actors,” argued Jordan’s letter.
Jordan directed a second letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, asking for a transcribed interview with a Mr. Peter Sullivan, the FBI’s Senior Private Sector Partner for Outreach in the Strategic Partner Engagement Section, whose office issued a report, “Domestic Violent Extremists Likely Emboldened in Aftermath of Capitol Breach,” which Jordan said “broadly characterized certain political beliefs as indicative of domestic violent extremism,” and which was also “shared with financial institutions.”
In that report, the FBI Private Sector Office listed “increased socio-political pressures” surrounding “firearm legislation, the easing of immigration restrictions,” and “discontent with renewed measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19” as factors that could “mobiliz[e] criminal actors and DVEs [domestic violent extremists] to violence.”
Jordan criticized the report’s “sweeping characterization of political beliefs and constitutionally protected speech as indicators of domestic violent extremism.” That, combined with FinCEN’s warrantless collusion with banks, “raises serious doubts about FinCEN’s respect for fundamental civil liberties.”
The Weaponization Subcommittee previously discovered evidence that “the Bank of America (BoA) provided the FBI — voluntarily and without any legal process — with a list of individuals who made transactions in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area using a BoA credit or debit card between January 5 and January 7, 2021,” Jordan’s letter stated.
Instead of discouraging this improper behavior, the FBI appeared eager to collude with the bank. “FBI personnel, including Mr. Sullivan, made contact with and provided BoA with specific search query terms.” The FBI told BoA it was “interested in all financial relationships” — not just the ones for which it could obtain a search warrant — and especially in any bank account-holders “who had made ‘ANY historical purchase’ of a firearm, or who had purchased a hotel, Airbnb, or airline travel within a given date range,” according to Jordan’s letter.
The level of collusion between federal justice officials and private corporations recalls the previously exposed collusion between federal officials and social media companies to censor the expression of disfavored political opinions. The collusion was so gross that even liberal journalists were shocked, and a federal judge has forbidden the Biden administration from contacting social media platforms to discuss protected free speech. Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey (R) called it “the worst First Amendment violation in this nation’s history.” Now, it appears FinCEN attempted to prove him wrong.
The FBI had to know the impropriety of collecting this information on BoA customers without a warrant. “When that list was later brought to the attention of Steve Jensen, the FBI’s then-Section Chief of the Domestic Terrorism Operations Section,” wrote Jordan, “he acted to ‘pull’ the BoA information from FBI systems because ‘the leads lacked allegations of federal criminal conduct.’”
Luetkemeyer described the Biden administration’s weaponization of financial services as “a new version” of the Obama-era “Operation Choke Point,” something he worked to stop as a member of the Financial Services Committee. “Regulators would go in and intimidate bankers by saying, ‘If you don’t do this, we’ll come in, and we’ll audit you again next week.’ So they intimidated the banks into cutting off financial services to some folks that the regulators had a personal bias against,” he explained. “With the Biden administration, they’ve come in and done this all over again.”
Luetkemeyer added that FinCEN’s activities demonstrate a “bias toward conservatives, a bias toward people who disagree with the administration, a bias [toward] anybody who is a supporter of Trump.”
“What FinCEN is doing right now is just automatically throwing out there, with a blanket, these words and these actions that they want [monitored],” Luetkemeyer added, “with … minimal, if any, jurisdiction whatsoever, no authority whatsoever. If I was a banker today, I would tell them, ‘Go get a search warrant.’” An April 2022 court filing unsealed last year revealed that the FBI had improperly conducted warrantless searches against U.S. citizens more than 278,000 in 2021.
FinCEN is not the only division of the Treasury Department with a reputation for one-sided targeting of conservatives; the Internal Revenue Service, to which congressional Democrats recently gave even more power, targeted conservative groups so aggressively during the Obama administration that even The Washington Post was forced to acknowledge it. (Meanwhile, IRS whistleblowers had to shame DOJ officials into filing felony tax evasion charges against the president’s son.)
Last year, 40 House Democrats urged the IRS to resume its practice of targeting conservative groups, specifically calling out Family Research Council for being an organization committed to biblical principles (although likely the unstated reason was its proven track record of making a difference).
“It is time we extinguish all bigoted beliefs,” one signer demanded, in a video endorsing SPLC’s hate map. If the FBI’s and FinCEN’s collusion with banks is any indication, the Left plan to “extinguish all bigoted beliefs” involves extinguishing one constitutionally guaranteed freedom at a time.
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.