Republicans are really pushing the outrage over the idea that federal law enforcement would pay attention to crimes being committed against local educators and education officials—at least if those crimes are being committed in the name of “concerned,” and conservative, parents. Reporting from The Wall Street Journal, and a responding tweet from Rep. Jim Jordan, really shows how the outrage machine works.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Oct. 4 that the Justice Department would take action to address “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.” Republicans have responded aggressively by trying to turn this into an attempt to silence parents, because apparently Republicans think it’s impossible for their base to express opinions without criminally harassing, intimidating, or threatening people.
Now, the WSJ has reported on an internal FBI email creating a specific tag (“EDUOFFICIALS”) to track potentially criminal actions against school board members and educators.
The email, signed by Timothy Langan, the FBI’s assistant director for counterterrorism, and Calvin Shivers, the since-retired assistant director of the FBI’s criminal division, explains, “The purpose of the threat tag is to help scope this threat on a national level, and provide an opportunity for comprehensive analysis of the threat picture for effective engagement with law enforcement partners at all levels.”
From the way Republicans are responding, you would think the FBI had sent out a directive readying a special prison for parents merely expressing polite disagreement with school policies.
“Merrick Garland testified that the FBI wasn’t targeting parents,” Jordan tweeted. “We now know the FBI is ‘tagging’ parents they consider threatening. The Attorney General has some explaining to do.” Multiple FBI and Justice Department officials have already explained in congressional testimony: Parents have free speech rights to express disagreement, including vigorous disagreement. They do not have the right to commit crimes just because they’re parents.
Yes: “You are teaching my kids that racism is bad and that makes them feel bad about being white and I’m really angry! How dare you! I’m going to vote you out/sue the schools/tell all my friends you suck.”
No: “You’re going to get knifed, you [expletive]. You’re going to get a [expletive], you’re dead.”
School board members have reported having false child abuse allegations called in to the Department of Children and Family, and having people go to their homes and brandish weapons at their neighbors. That’s the stuff the FBI is concerned with, and trying to learn the scope of.
The way Jordan puts it, it sounds like the FBI is subduing parents while fitting them with physical tags like wildlife to be tracked across the landscape. Kind of different from the reality, in which acts of intimidation, harassment, or threats will be tagged with, you know, a word on a computer screen. And it’s totally possible that the FBI will conclude that there’s not a big national problem. The tag is supposed to help assess that: “The creation of a threat tag in no way changes the long-standing requirements for opening an investigation, nor does it represent a shift in how the FBI prioritizes threats,” the bureau said in a statement.
This would be an incredibly stupid response to a routine “let’s see if there’s widespread crime here” action by law enforcement, if it wasn’t actually Republicans being cynical and dishonest. Gym Jordan knows what’s going on here. He’s counting on his supporters not to know. And The Wall Street Journal offered an invaluable assist.
Dan Froomkin lays out the way this is being turned from from ‘well, yeah, threats are illegal” to an outrage:
Republicans don’t consider themselves bound by truth or decency or integrity. But without a complicit media—in this case, a Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper—and social media companies, they wouldn’t get nearly as far as they do at spreading their lies.