Attorney General Merrick Garland is responding to far-right threats against school board members and teachers over mask requirements and other issues with an announcement that federal law enforcement will get involved.
“There has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation’s public schools,” Garland wrote in a memorandum released Monday. “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.”
As a result, Garland is directing the FBI and U.S. attorneys’ offices to meet in the next 30 days with law enforcement leaders at every level to “discuss strategies for addressing this disturbing trend.” That could mean prosecutions against people who make such threats to school officials and workers, Garland made clear.
Garland’s move comes days after a call for help. “America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat,” the National School Boards Association (NSBA) wrote to President Joe Biden, saying the organization “respectfully asks for federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation.”
In its letter, the NSBA details more than 20 cases of threats, harassment, and more, including an Illinois man arrested in September for aggravated battery and disorderly conduct for allegedly striking a school official at a meeting, and a Michigan man who protested masking with a Nazi salute.
”We are coming after you,” the NSBA quoted a letter mailed to an Ohio school board member. “You are forcing them to wear mask—for no reason in this world other than control. And for that you will pay dearly.” The letter also calls the school board member a “filthy traitor.”
This harassment is ongoing and widespread:
“This is the line we will die on. Shirley, come out.”
The Republican outrage machine quickly ramped up to paint Garland’s response as government oppression of parents.
“Now Joe Biden is deploying the FBI against parents who have concerns about Critical Race Theory being taught to their children,” tweeted Sen. Josh Hawley. “This is a remarkable and dangerous abuse of power.”
”Parents who have concerns” are one thing, Josh. Parents—and people who aren’t parents who show up at school board meetings because Republicans have set this up as the new culture war—who threaten and trespass and form mobs are another thing, and that’s what the NSBA was asking for help with and Garland is addressing. No one is threatening to abuse power by prosecuting a parent asking questions. Someone ought to take a look at the author of the “We are coming after you … you will pay dearly” letter.
And Hawley’s objection shows the way Republicans are actively linking public health policies and teaching about race into a single culture war. While many of the incidents of threats and violence center on masks and vaccines, Hawley rolls them up into “critical race theory.” (Which, once again, is not being taught to grade-school children.)
The far right is targeting public education, using masks and race to whip people into a froth. It’s a direct cause of school board members and teachers getting assaulted and harassed and threatened. And now that it’s gotten widespread and serious enough for the federal government to get involved to try to put a stop to it, Republicans are playing the victim. Add another item to their “it would be pathetic if it wasn’t so dangerous” list.
Update: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will not be outdone by Josh Hawley: