Sen. Chuck Grassley said Attorney General Merrick Garland’s stubborn refusal to retract the “domestic terrorism” memo authorizing federal law enforcement to target frustrated parents who speak out against local school boards will have a “chilling effect” on parents’ willingness to hold their children’s education system accountable.
In a Senate floor speech delivered on Monday, the Iowa Republican explained how Garland made an “extraordinary” admission that he “instructed the FBI to get involved with local school boards” and doesn’t have any plans of rescinding his memo directing that action.
“If there is a reason for law enforcement to be involved, it’s probably something local law enforcement can handle. So the direction will have the effect of intimidating parents who speak out about their children’s education. Make no mistake about it. The attorney general should withdraw that memo,” Grassley said.
The National School Boards Association sent a letter to the Biden administration last month begging for federal law enforcement to use domestic terrorism laws to target parents who oppose anti-science mask mandates for children and the infiltration of racist curriculum in schools. The NSBA claimed that federal action was warranted to “deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation.”
Most of the incident examples the NSBA used to justify intervention by the Biden administration did not escalate to a level that even yielded arrests or charges on the local level, yet mere days after the letter was sent, Garland directed the FBI and state attorneys to address “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.”
“Attorney General Garland has since testified that he gave the Department of Justice this instruction because of what he read in the National School Boards Association letter to President Biden from just five days earlier. This is an extraordinary deployment of federal law enforcement, when we have problems like a historic murder surge and an open southern border,” Grassley said.
Dozens of state school board associations reported that they were not consulted before the NSBA sent its letter to the administration, and some have even voted to withdraw their membership from the national chapter whose President Viola Garcia and CEO Chip Slaven colluded with the White House before releasing their official demands. The emails also show that the NSBA’s board of directors, much like the state school board associations, was not consulted about the plea before it was made public.
“The White House helped write a letter to itself comparing parents who love their kids to domestic terrorists — but the actual members of the National School Boards Association had nothing to do with it,” Grassley said before noting that 17 state attorneys general have written to Garland to state that “there has been no spike in violence against local school boards.” “So, the idea that parents pose any sort of federal threat to local school boards is all just made up — what looks to be by the White House — for political purposes.”
Garland previously told Grassley that he would not rescind the memo despite an apology from the NSBA. This lack of clarification on behalf of parents, Grassley noted, is going to have a “chilling effect” on their willingness to keep speaking out at school board meetings.
“That memo stands, as far as he’s concerned. He says he doesn’t see how it could be interpreted to mean the FBI will go after impassioned parents. He says there are lines in Constitutional law that law enforcement can’t cross. Well, that’s true, but he’s been working with the Constitution his entire adult life. However, most parents and most school board members aren’t experts in the First Amendment,” Grassley noted.
“These parents are reading the attorney general’s own words to mean that when they speak passionately at local school board meetings, they could get in trouble with the feds,” Grassley continued. “So parents are going to stop speaking up at local school board meetings. And that’s what’s known as a chilling effect. That might be what some at the White House or the National School Boards Association wanted all along, but it’s a horrible thing for democracy, and it should never happen in the United States of America.”
During the same Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, Grassley accused Garland of moving the DOJ “as far left as it can go” and targeting “parents [who] are trying to protect their children.” The Republican also criticized the DOJ for refusing to answer GOP members’ letters, questions, and demands even though Garland previously promised to be transparent in his confirmation hearing.
“Attorney General Garland has said how he wanted to de-politicize the Department of Justice. Now he wants federal prosecutors parsing what parents say to their local school board members,” Grassley said in his floor speech. “This is because he thinks there’s a disturbing spike in violence by parents, but he’s not actually sure if that’s right. And this instruction is going to scare parents out of speaking their minds at local school board meetings. But the attorney general won’t change his instruction to the FBI.”
“Mr. Attorney General,” Grassley continued, “parents are not domestic terrorists, and you have only one reasonable choice. Withdraw your memo and focus on the real threats. Stop being a pawn for the White House by politicizing the Department of Justice.”