Many American parents are outraged after U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered the FBI and U.S. attorneys to help local authorities fight what he called, "a disturbing trend" of harassment, intimidation, and threats against school board members.
"While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views," he said.
Garland deployed the FBI after the National School Boards Association demanded President Biden take action against parents who have spoken up in contentious school board meetings across the country.
The association says the threats are comparable to "domestic terrorism" as angry parents protest issues like critical race theory, pandemic restrictions, and transgender activism. The group sent a letter telling Biden that protests made by parents and other concerned citizens should be classified as "hate crimes" and urged him to use the USA Patriot Act against the protesters.
Conservative critics and parents immediately lashed out at Garland's order, calling it an attempt by the Biden administration to prevent parents from being actively involved in their children's education.
"President Biden's latest decision is part of a disturbing trend in the Democrat Party to silence parents," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tweeted Tuesday. "We should encourage family participation in our schools, not baselessly attack opposing views because leftist groups want control over curriculums."
President Biden's latest decision is part of a disturbing trend in the Democrat Party to silence parents.
We should encourage family participation in our schools, not baselessly attack opposing views because leftist groups want control over curriculums.https://t.co/mxmLXrXNzA
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) October 5, 2021
"There has been a disturbing trend in the Democrat Party that wants to silence parents, and prevent them from having a say in their own children's education," McCarthy said in a statement. "We saw it last week when Virginia Democrat gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe, said parents shouldn't have a say in what their own children are taught and it continues this week with the Biden administration labeling parents with concerns and dissenting opinions as domestic terrorists."
"Parents have a fundamental right to be lawfully involved in their children's education," the California Republican congressman said.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) also denounced Garland for breaking his promise to not weaponize the DOJ.
Cruz tweeted, "At his confirmation hearing, Merrick Garland promised not to follow the Obama model of weaponizing DOJ to target & persecute his political opponents. Just a few months in, he's already breaking that promise."
Also on Tuesday, Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley pressed U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco on the limits of the new Department of Justice policy.
"Is waiting to express one's view at a school board meeting harassment and intimidation?" Hawley asked.
Monaco replied, "As the Attorney General's memo made it quite clear, spirited debate is welcome, is the hallmark of this country, is what we should all engage in."
But the Missouri senator wasn't buying her explanation.
"I don't think so Ms. Monaco, it doesn't make it quite clear, it doesn't define those terms... harassment and intimidation. What does that mean in the context of a local school board meeting? If this isn't a deliberate attempt to chill parents from showing up at their school board meetings, for their elected school boards, I don't know what is," Hawley said.
Hawley also sent a blistering letter to the attorney general, charging that the memo is aimed at intimidating opponents of liberal policies.
Asra Nomani, vice president of investigations and strategy at Parents Defending Education, posted a videotaped message on Twitter.
"Dear @TheJusticeDept Merrick Garland and @FBI Director Christopher Wray," Nomani wrote. "This is what a domestic terrorist looks like? You are criminalizing parenting, and you owe the people of America a swift apology."
She also bitingly signed her tweet "Domestic Terrorist" Asra Nomani.
Veteran California public school educator Rebecca Friedrichs also accused the Biden administration of weaponizing the Justice Department.
"The NSBA – which is in cahoots with the teachers' unions – has deceptively painted parents as the danger to America's schools, likening their actions to protect their kids as 'domestic terrorism.' In reality, parents and children need protection from activist NSBA members and so-called teachers' unions who hold parents in contempt. Joe Biden, a beneficiary of the union war chest, dutifully prodded our usually snail's-pace federal government – in just four days! – to heed orders from the NSBA to weaponize the Justice Department and the FBI against parents!" Friedrichs said in a statement to CBN News.
"While the NSBA and teachers unions can twist Biden's arm to defend them, the reality is parents across America are awakening to the communist takeover of our schools and are pushing back. No longer are parents ignorant of the fact their children are being indoctrinated by a racist, sexually charged, anti-American, anti-family, anti-decency agenda pushed by union-controlled school boards who claim to be public servants," she said.
Two top scholars at The Heritage Foundation also condemned the Biden administration's use of federal law enforcement agencies to target parents.
"The Heritage Foundation condemns in the strongest possible terms the U.S. Justice Department's decision to intimidate parents attending school board meetings to advocate on behalf of their children and to push back against poisonous concepts like critical race theory being forced on them in the classroom," Mike Gonzalez, senior fellow in Heritage's Allison Center for Foreign Policy, and Jonathan Butcher, Heritage's Will Skillman fellow in education, said in a joint statement.
"A school board's responsibility is to represent the families in its district, and parents and voters should be active participants in board members' decision-making processes—on everything from curricula to COVID mandates. Biden administration officials should praise Americans for their civic participation and sense of duty, not treat them as a threat," their statement read.
"This is nothing less than an attempt to chill debate using the muscle of an increasingly politicized federal law enforcement apparatus," the scholars argue.
"Neither Garland nor the Justice Department has asserted a violation of a federal criminal law, but are invoking federal law enforcement anyway. Parental participation in school board meetings during periods of public comment—which school boards in Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Virginia, to name a few, have suspended in recent months—does not violate provisions related to terrorist activities, and it is laughable for this administration to think they do," they continued.
"School board members should not presume to operate without consent from the governed. American parents are now demanding that school boards listen to their views," they said. "The Biden administration has no place interfering in these local issues."