The Federal Bureau of Political Weaponization
Once a hallmark of American integrity, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is being criticized by Congress for political bias and religious discrimination. On Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray sat in the hot seat while the House Oversight Committee grilled him on the political weaponization of his office, particularly against American Catholics.
Referring to a leaked memo detailing the Richmond FBI field office’s plans to infiltrate and spy on “radical traditionalist” Catholic communities, committee chairman Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) asked, “Any idea how many Catholics there are in America, director? There’s a lot, over 60 million. What percentage of those are ‘radical traditional’ Catholics according to the Richmond field office of the FBI?”
The memo relied on information from the far-left Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) think tank to label Catholics attending the Tridentine Mass “Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists.” The SPLC “hate list” which the Richmond field office used to craft its infiltration mandate places “Christian Identity” and “Radical Traditionalist Catholicism” on a par the “Ku Klux Klan,” “Neo-Nazis,” and “Racist Skinheads.” The SPLC also routinely labels Catholic and Evangelical organizations as “hate groups” for simply adhering to longstanding Christian moral teaching on homosexuality.
Arielle Del Turco, director of Family Research Council’s Center for Religious Liberty, told The Washington Stand that the Richmond field office’s memo “reveals how extreme the underlying secular worldview that dominates these agencies is — that devout Catholics are regarded with highlighted suspicion, seemingly without any real cause for concern. When federal law enforcement agencies are treating religious groups this way, it poses a clear risk to religious freedom.”
The FBI’s weaponization against American Catholics isn’t relegated to a single memo. Last year, Catholic speaker and father of seven Mark Houck was arrested for a two-year-old alleged violation of the FACE Act, which prohibits blocking entrance to abortion facilities or harassing those entering and exiting. Houck’s home was raided by an estimated two dozen FBI agents armed with tactical and riot gear, and he was cuffed in front of his wife and children. Houck frequently prayed outside an abortion facility in Philadelphia and had been accused of assaulting a Planned Parenthood employee named Bruce Love. The FBI and the Department of Justice pressed charges. Four months after his arrest, Houck was acquitted. Video footage revealed that Love followed Houck and his twelve-year-old son across the street, where they were praying a Rosary, and began shouting profanities and vulgar comments at the boy. Houck told the Planned Parenthood employee to back off and, when he didn’t, Houck shoved him. Tom Stevens, president of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, called Houck’s prosecution “a horrendous stunt to intimidate pro-lifers.” Houck himself agreed, saying that the FBI’s use of extreme tactics over such a seemingly minor case was intended to “instill fear in pro-life America.” Thomas More Society attorney Peter Breen, who defended Houck in court, described the case as an example of “[t]he Biden Department of Justice’s intimidation against pro-life people and people of faith …”
When asked Wednesday whether he approved of the raid on Houck in retrospect, Wray responded, “I’m not going to second-guess the judgment of the career agents on the ground who made the determination.” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) shot back, “Your job is to second-guess and take a look at what they are doing. Your job is to review what they do. Your job is to protect the American people from a tyrannical FBI storming the home of an American family.” Wray replied, “I could not disagree more with your description of the FBI as tyrannical. I don’t believe it is tyrannical.”
Nor does the politicization of the FBI stop at the active persecuting of pro-life Catholics: According to advocacy group CatholicVote, 322 Catholic churches in the U.S. have been defaced, vandalized, damaged, burned, or otherwise attacked since May of 2020, including 158 since the leak of the Supreme Court opinion that eventually overturned Roe v. Wade. A number of pro-life crisis pregnancy centers have also been targeted. To date, the FBI has been derelict in prosecuting these crimes. Certainly, no two dozen agents equipped with riot gear have been sent to a suspect’s door. CatholicVote president Brian Burch told The Washington Stand, “Spying on Catholics in their churches while ignoring hundreds of incidents of vandalism, firebombing and destruction of those churches by pro-abortion radicals indicates that the Bureau prioritizes politics over the rule of law.”
In fact, Houck testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government suggesting revising the FACE Act so that attacks against pro-life institutions and churches might also be vigorously prosecuted. Del Turco also offered testimony during the hearing, noting that “the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act extends explicit protections to places of religious worship.” She continued:
“It protects people lawfully exercising or seeking to exercise the First Amendment right of religious freedom at a place of religious worship. It also protects places of religious worship from intentional efforts to damage or destroy their property. … Anti-religious hosility … has no place in our society or any country that wants to call itself a land of freedom. This issue deserves the full attention of the entire American public and the full weight of law enforcement.”
On Wednesday, Jordan also pressed Wray to allow Congress to interview Richmond agents who compiled the memo smearing Catholics. Wray refused, insisting the FBI is conducting an “internal review,” which Jordan noted is distinctly different from a criminal investigation. The FBI has increasingly refused to permit even legal oversight of its activities. For example, CatholicVote filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking details on the use of the Richmond field office memo. The request was ignored for months and, after a lawsuit was filed, the FBI finally responded, telling CatholicVote it doesn’t have the right to access that information.
This is consistent with the FBI’s practice of self-bestowed impunity. For example, when asked about Attorney General Merrick Garland labeling parents at school board meetings “domestic terrorists,” Wray not only admitted there was no basis for the claim but outright refused to apologize for the FBI’s role in persecuting parents. He quipped, “I think the FBI conducted itself the way it should here …” Wray also refused to respond to questions about protecting the Biden family, planting agents at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th in 2021, covering up the Hunter Biden laptop story, or fabricating the infamous Steele Dossier.
S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.