GOP Sens. Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley are demanding answers and calling Attorney General Merrick Garland's mobilizing of the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute school board protests a form of "intimidation" and a threat to free speech.
Of particular concern to Cotton is that Garland's memo announcing the initiatives were a "tacit approval" to explosive claims made by the National School Boards Association.
"The NSBA letter requested that the Biden administration examine whether these purported acts violated several statutes, including the Patriot Act and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act," Cotton wrote in a letter to Garland. "The letter further asserted that these acts may amount to a form of 'domestic terrorism.'
"Your memo, issued just five days after the NSBA letter and copying some of its recommendations, certainly appears to be a response to and tacit approval of that letter. The Department of Justice's endorsement of such outlandish allegations threatens to intimidate parents, chill free speech, and discourage lawful assemblies."
The protests at school board meetings have included objections to political hot-button topics, including mask and vaccine mandates and teaching of critical race theory in schools.
Critical race theory is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica as the concept in which race is a socially constructed category ingrained in U.S. law intended to maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites. It holds U.S. society is inherently racist.
Cotton's letter comes one day after Hawley excoriated Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on whether it was considered "domestic extremism for parents 'to oppose their children being taught to treat people differently because of race.'"
"If this isn't a deliberate attempt to chill parents from showing up at school board meetings for their elected school boards, I don't know what is," Hawley told Monaco. "I am not aware of anything like this in American history. You're talking about the FBI, using the FBI to intervene in school board meetings. It's extraordinary.
"I think you know it is," he continued to Monaco. "It's unprecedented."
Hawley also said Garland's letter was a form of voter intimidation and called for a Senate Judiciary hearing under oath with the AG.
"I think parents across this country are going to be stunned to learn, stunned, that if they show up at a local school board meeting – by the way, where they have the right to appear and be heard, where they have the right to say something about their children's education, where they have the right to vote – and you are attempting to intimidate them," Hawley said forcibly. "You are attempting to silence them, you are attempting to interfere with their rights as parents, and, yes, with their rights as voters.
"This is wrong. This is dangerous."
Among Cotton's demands in his letter to Garland:
- "Did the NSBA letter prompt you to issue the aforementioned memorandum? If not, what considerations prompted you to issue the memorandum?"
- "Have any state or local authorities or other organizations besides the NSBA requested or encouraged the Biden administration to take action against this alleged rise in violence and intimidation against school officials? If so, which organizations?"
- "Please provide all sources to support your claim in the memorandum that 'there has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.'"
- Please document any cases of physical violence committed against school district officials in recent protests against school policies and curriculum."
- "When, according to your analysis, did this purported spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence occur? Do you agree with the NSBA's claim that the alleged spike is being fomented by mask mandates and curricula teaching critical race theory?"
- "Do you agree with the NSBA's assessment that protests against school district policies and curricular instruction may amount to domestic terrorism?"
- "The NSBA requested that you invoke specific authorities to prosecute as 'domestic extremists' parents who disagree with the positions of their school boards. Please explain whether you believe any of the following federal laws could be used to prosecute those who protest against local school board policies and their members:
- Gun-Free School Zones Act.
- Patriot Act.
- Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
- Violent Interference with Federally Protected Rights statute.
- Conspiracy Against Rights statute."
"The Department of Justice and the Biden administration has probably been the most aggressive at punishing its political enemies – any Justice Department that I've ever seen," J.D. Vance, an Ohio Republican candidate for Senate and bestselling author, told Newsmax on Tuesday. "If you told me this would happen 10 years ago, I wouldn't have believed you.
"It looks like Merrick Garland is going to go after moms who are worried about critical race theory and treat them effectively as domestic terrorists in their own country," Vance lamented. "It's just crazy."
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