FBI Forced to Turn Over Docs on Targeting Catholics and Parents
America’s top law enforcement agency is finally releasing documents pertaining to targeting American Catholics and parents. The FBI last week handed over internal documents to the House Judiciary Committee related to a January memo from the Richmond, Va. field office outlining plans to infiltrate and spy on “radical traditionalist Catholic” communities, further labeling such Catholics “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.”
“Radical traditionalist Catholics” in the memo are denoted as Catholics who attend the Tridentine Mass, the form of the Mass the Catholic Church has celebrated from roughly the 5th century on. The documents, which also related to labeling concerned parents who attended school board meetings “domestic extremists,” were only given to the House Judiciary Committee after the FBI reportedly requested committee members not make any of the contained information public.
FBI Director Christopher Wray last month flatly refused to hand over information related to the memo or to allow members of Congress to interview or question FBI agents involved in crafting the memo. Wray insisted that the FBI was conducting its own internal “review,” which committee chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) pointed out is distinctly different from a criminal investigation. The FBI only handed over the documents after Jordan threatened to hold Wray in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas demanding the relevant information.
Documents the FBI originally provided to the committee earlier this year were almost completely redacted. Acting Assistant FBI Director Christopher Dunham wrote a letter accompanying the newly-furnished documents, in which he explained that, while there are fewer redactions this time around, some of the information is still heavily redacted due to “law enforcement sensitive information, such as information specific to ongoing criminal investigations, as well as personally identifying information.”
Catholics have expressed outrage at the FBI’s blatant targeting of conservative-skewing Catholics since the Richmond field office’s memo was originally leaked early this year. President of the Catholic League Bill Donohue told The Washington Stand, “The idea that practicing Catholics pose a threat to our nation, or to other Americans, is madness. It is one thing to go after Catholics suspected of breaking the law, quite another to induce rank-and-file Catholics to spy on each other.” CatholicVote President Brian Burch said the memo is representative of a “pattern of anti-Catholic bigotry” in the U.S. Justice Department and denotes the beginning of “the new Inquisition.” At the time the memo was leaked, Richmond’s Catholic bishop Barry Knestout stated:
“The leaked document should be troubling and offensive to all communities of faith, as well as all Americans. … I call on all national representatives from the Commonwealth of Virginia in the House and Senate to exercise their role of oversight, to publicly condemn this threat to religious liberty, and to ensure that such offenses against the constitutionally protected free exercise of religion do not occur again.”
Virginia’s attorney general, Jason Miyares, condemned the leaked document, saying, “Virginia is the birthplace of religious freedom and has a long history of protecting the inalienable right to live your faith free from government interference or intimidation. The leaked memo from our state capital’s FBI office is unacceptable, unconstitutional and un-American.”
The Richmond FBI field office’s controversial memo cited the leftist Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) think tank as a source in labeling Catholics “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.” The SPLC purports to be an authority on “hate groups” and has placed Family Research Council, Catholic organizations, Moms for Liberty, and other conservative and Christian groups on its “hate map,” alongside violent terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and “racist skinheads.”
Tyler O’Neil of The Daily Signal argued that the FBI’s reliance on the SPLC in crafting the Richmond memo should concern not just Catholics but Americans of all creeds:
“At first, this may seem like a problem merely for Roman Catholics. After all, the FBI memo encouraged agents to develop ‘sources with access’ in ‘places of worship’ — in this case, Catholic churches. … If the FBI uses the SPLC as a source in tracking ‘extremism’ and ‘hate’ — as if constitutionally protected speech amounted to a terror threat — then this tracking won’t stop with Roman Catholics. In fact, it won’t stop with evangelical Protestants. … Evangelical Protestants should care about this story just as much as Roman Catholics, and we should demand answers.”
Earlier this year, 20 state attorneys general issued a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, expressing similar religious liberty concerns, with signatory and Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey (R) saying:
“As Attorney General, I will protect the Constitution, which includes the basic right to religious liberty enshrined in the First Amendment. … We already knew that President Biden was launching an attack on the First Amendment rights of Americans … but now it’s clear that he’ll weaponize unelected federal bureaucrats to go after any American who doesn’t worship the ‘right way.’”
The documents the FBI provided to the House Judiciary Committee also related to a 2021 effort to label parents who attended school board meetings as “domestic terrorists,” with the FBI even creating a “threat tag” for those parents. The SPLC also labels parental rights advocacy groups like Moms for Liberty as “hate groups.”
The contents of the documents the FBI turned over to the committee have yet to be released to the public.
S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.