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Here’s Right Way to Deweaponize FBI


FBI whistleblower Kyle Seraphin revealed in February he existence of a memorandum within the FBI’s field office in Richmond, Virginia, that labeled Catholics as potential domestic terrorists. Last Monday, almost a full year after Seraphin’s disclosure, the House Judiciary Committee released a report on it.

The House committee’s report, titled “The FBI’s Breach of Religious Freedom: The Weaponization of Law Enforcement Against Catholic Americans,” details how the FBI “abused its counterterrorism tools” to target Catholics. But there are some key issues that Capitol Hill—and most media—missed completely.

The FBI stigmatized a vast number of United States citizens as potential “radical traditional Catholic” terrorists based upon the existence of one criminal case involving a man who self-described as such a Catholic. The FBI’s version of the facts, detailed in an “intelligence note,” describes a man who likely suffers from mental illness—hardly a cross section of the Catholic population.

The most shocking aspect of this, one that largely escaped public attention, is that the FBI memo states the subject wasn’t even Catholic. He was taking catechism lessons in the hopes of becoming a baptized Catholic, but he was neither baptized nor confirmed.

The FBI never explained what “threat” the agency sought to “mitigate” by targeting Catholics. The intelligence note offers no history or example of political violence associated with conservative Catholics who prefer the Latin Mass. It simply asserts, baselessly, that they pose a threat as potentially violent domestic terrorists.

Moreover, the FBI’s denigration of Catholics is not limited to Latin Mass worshippers. Rather, the bureau appears to have issues with the Catholic faith in general. The “intelligence note” laments a purported “intelligence gap” when seeking to identify factors leading to violence, “which may include increased religiosity and/or adherence to extreme religious teachings.”

Hence, the FBI literally claims that increasing one’s religiosity makes one a greater domestic terrorist threat.

The FBI never bothered to explain precisely what tenets of Catholicism or “extreme religious teachings” of the Catholic Church lead to political violence because, of course, there are none. Adherents of the faith who embrace extreme Catholic religiosity tend to become nuns in the streets of Calcutta.

The House Judiciary Committee also fails to address the most fundamental issue posed by the FBI’s abuse of Catholics’ civil liberties. The FBI labeled an amorphous and impossibly ill-defined faith community as potential terrorists without pointing to a single historical or current example of a “radical-traditionalist Catholic” associated with any form of political violence, the preeminent and unnegotiable element required by the domestic terrorism statute (18 U.S.C. § 2331).

No political violence = no domestic terrorism. Contrast this to the Black Lives Matter riots that engulfed the United States in the summer of 2020. The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project filed a federal lawsuit to force the FBI to provide evidence that the government conducted any investigation of BLM during that season of political violence and domestic terrorism. To date, the bureau has produced no such evidence.

In the pre-woke FBI, it took more than simply labeling a U.S. citizen as a potential domestic terrorist to open an investigation. Back then, the bureau was required first to show that an individual sought to engage in criminally violent or life-threatening acts to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or government.

Today’s FBI, however, blissfully bypasses the most fundamental elements of the domestic terrorism violation when it comes to labeling large swaths of peaceful, law-abiding citizens (non-Catholics as well as Catholics) as potential terrorists. According to the Judiciary Committee report, the FBI’s targets are Americans who dare hold such disfavored political viewpoints as “pro-life, pro-family” and “support the biological basis for sex and gender distinction.”

Perhaps the clearest indication that the FBI itself knows it has ventured into constitutionally impermissible territory is its flippant use of a “First Amendment caveat.” The wordy exercise in psychological projection is worth reading in full, especially as this caveat is relied upon in similar exercises elsewhere:

Potential criminality exhibited by certain members of a group referenced herein does not negate nor is it a comment on the constitutional rights of the group itself or its members to exercise their rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The FBI does not investigate, collect, or maintain information on U.S. persons solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment.

Obviously, the First Amendment implications of labeling an entire mainstream religious group are top of mind for in-house FBI lawyers. That should have been a cause for pause as opposed to further activity and laughable legalese.

Also, notice the looseness of the term “potential criminality.” The bureau now needs not rely on actual evidence of past criminality to determine threat levels. The standard now appears to be speech alone.

As the FBI continues to invent a new alphabet soup of terminological groupings, such as Radical Traditional Catholics and Racially Motivated Violent Extremist, and to open investigations for activities such as sporting Gadsden or Betsy Ross flags, the agency has reached apex weaponization as an ideological entity as opposed to a crime-fighting one.

Today’s FBI routinely opens domestic terrorism investigations targeting Americans who never have demonstrated any propensity toward political violence.

These civil liberty violations occur not merely because of inept or corrupt FBI leadership. Ideologically weaponized FBI employees at all levels gravitate toward FBI units, such as domestic terrorism squads, that allow them to indulge their political ideology. Working drugs or health care fraud apparently lacks that satisfying special sauce that working politically charged violations bring for the ideological agent. To such weaponized employees, political dissent in and of itself constitutes a threat to their preferred social order.

This is why virtually all FACE Act prosecutions target pro-lifers, while countless attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers and Catholic churches go uninvestigated.

This is why the FBI pointed long arms at pro-life activist Mark Houck’s terrified children.

This is why geriatric grandmothers who committed misdemeanor trespass at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, have taken FBI investigative priority over child predators and spies.

This is why a Republican internet prankster was sentenced to seven months in prison (the case is now on appeal) for posting a social media meme joking that Democrat votes might be texted while a Democrat who posted the identical meme suggesting Republican votes might be texted never was bothered by law enforcement.

Even in cases that don’t result in criminal prosecution, the FBI’s legally questionable activities can have a punitive effect on law-abiding Americans.

Keep in mind that the FBI’s anti-Catholic intelligence note was uploaded to the FBI’s databases under domestic terrorism file number 266H-RH-2893090. Anyone mentioned in this context case could fall prey to financial ruin in legal fees and soul-crushing anxiety as a result of this baseless domestic terrorism case. Even if they are spared financial and emotional devastation, being falsely labeled as a terrorist in the FBI databases is a grotesque abuse of federal authority—with malicious negative consequences.

When a person noted under that domestic terrorism file number is the subject of a background check in seeking federal employment or to purchase a firearm, or seeks any other form of public benefit that requires an FBI check, it will be noted that his or her identity has been identified in a domestic terrorism case.

This will require additional scrutiny, potentially extended bureaucratic delays, and possible denial of entitled government benefits. The person’s business may be denied contracts without explanation or subjected to unending IRS audits, and may even find himself and employees subject to law enforcement screenings at airports.

One of the first questions that comes to mind is why it took almost a year for a report from Congress to largely rearticulate what already had been known.

The purpose of congressional oversight is to inform legislation and fix problems that have been identified. Now that the House Judiciary Committee has finished its investigation and released its report, what meaningful accountability measures are being taken to address these abuses? Who has been held accountable? What has changed at the FBI as a result?

Lawmakers don’t seem to understand the urgency. A constitutional republic cannot stand without an even-handed rule of law. If lawmakers fail to deweaponize the FBI, the republic may not survive our generation.

Congress should embrace its oversight responsibilities and force an immediate audit of the genesis of all current FBI domestic terrorism cases. What percentage of cases target conservatives? How many cases involve the targeting of persons who never have demonstrated any propensity to engage in political violence?

Most importantly, who in the FBI is responsible for the bureau’s stomping on the civil liberties of peaceful political dissidents (in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 241), and when will he, she, or they be held accountable?

At the beginning of the year, this and much more was what Americans were promised. They were promised a full-scope investigation into the FBI and other weaponized agencies that would stop the weaponization. This effort, to be funded at the same levels as the House’s select committee on Jan. 6, was to be supported by a committee modeled after the Church committee of the 1970s, a massive undertaking that examined abuses across the intelligence community.

In launching that committee, Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said:

We want to focus on that because we want it all to stop. We want the double standard to stop. This idea that if you’re a pro-life activist, you’re gonna get your door kicked in, you’re gonna get arrested and handcuffed in front of your seven kids and your spouse for simply praying in front of an abortion clinic and telling the guy who was harassing your son to knock it off.

You’re gonna have the FBI raid your home, but the protests that went on at Supreme Court justices’ homes in the aftermath of the leak of the [Supreme Court’s] Dobbs opinion, oh, no problem there. Americans are sick and tired of it. And what we want, we don’t want to go after anyone. We just want it to stop. And we want to respect the First Amendment to the Constitution that the greatest country in the world has.

That’s what this committee is all about. And that’s what we’re going to focus on. That’s what we’re going to do.

I agreed then, and I agree now. The weaponization of federal law enforcement for partisan purposes is an existential threat to freedom. It needs to stop if we hope to pass along any semblance of America to the next generation.

But vague standards and constant cable news appearances aren’t an adequate measure of success. The only real standard is whether Congress actually deweaponizes the FBI and the other intelligence agencies. And so far, the agencies have skated this entire Congress without any real investigations.

The truth is, this job always has been too big for one existing committee or person. That’s why no real reform efforts are underway, and the FBI continues apace, fully funded and with no accountability. Indeed, the bureau is being rewarded with a massive new headquarters the size of the Pentagon.

Lawmakers have wasted enough time failing to prioritize deweaponization. Americans can’t afford to let them waste more time by failing to unite and make changes. And change is certainly what voters expected in 2022 when they flipped control of the House to the GOP.

Congress already has the information it needs to begin deweaponization efforts immediately. History will judge this Congress by that simple measure, not by its analysis and rhetoric regarding the problem.

This commentary originally was published by RealClear Politics

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