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A patently irresponsible FBI memo

Don’t be too seriously Christian or the FBI might start a file on you


A patently irresponsible FBI memo
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A recently leaked Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) memorandum warns that a certain sect of traditionalist Catholics might be the next wave of domestic terrorists, with “extremist ideological beliefs and violent rhetoric” that will lead to alignment with violent white supremacists and others on the “far right.” The authoring agent must have missed the fact that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction.

The memo from the FBI’s Richmond field office warns that this “Radical-Traditionalist Catholic ideology” includes “frequent adherence to anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, and white supremacist ideology.” It predicts an uptick “over the next 12 to 24 months in the run-up to the next general election cycle” and notes an “increasing collaboration of the far-right Catholic media outlet Church Militant ... with the America First/groyper movement.” The memo helpfully explains in a footnote that “groyper” refers to “followers of Nick Fuentes’s alt-right ‘America First’ movement, which is characterized by its white Christian nationalism platform.”

The FBI memo further warns about an “increase in hostility toward abortion-rights advocates on social media in the run-up to and aftermath of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.” It continues by flagging potential “legislation or judicial decisions in areas such as abortion rights, immigration, affirmative action, and LGBTQ protections” that could serve as “catalyzing events” for this partnership between racially motivated violent extremists and radical traditionalist Catholics.

The memo is overwrought, to say the least. Certainly there are times when the needs of law enforcement overlap or run into conflict with the autonomy of religious organizations. At the most extreme, cults can facilitate child abuse, including sexual abuse (as reportedly happened among the Branch Davidians in Waco) or break other laws. In the past two decades, law enforcement and intelligence assets have also targeted mosques and imams that may radicalize believers in Islam and turn them to terrorism against the West. Also, much of the leaked version of the memo is redacted, so prudence cautions against a rush to judgment without knowing if it contains specific intelligence about specific and credible threats.

The ham-handed attempts to explain differences among various Catholic groups are almost painful to read.

But even giving the FBI every benefit of the doubt, the memo is patently irresponsible. It betrays a woeful lack of respect for the First Amendment rights of people of faith to hold and express their deeply held, religiously motivated views on abortion, immigration, or same-sex marriage. It relies heavily on the domestic extremism “research” done by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has a documented history of left-wing bias and mismanagement. And the ham-handed attempts to explain differences among various Catholic groups are almost painful to read.

Plus, frankly, it’s hard to give the FBI the benefit of the doubt these days. Many conservatives have been raising alarm about widespread politicization within the FBI, most recently its pressuring Twitter to censor conservatives’ online speech. This memo fits a longstanding pattern of Biden Administration policies and warnings against “domestic terrorism” from the “far-right” or “alt-right,” which often seem like efforts to wave the bloody shirt of January 6, 2021, to rile up the Democratic base.

The Richmond memo warns about violence against abortion advocates in the wake of Dobbs, yet it has been pro-life facilities that have been recent victims of arson and vandalism. The memo worries about radicalized Catholics lashing out violently after “judicial decisions in areas such as abortion rights,” yet it is Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who belonged to the Dobbs majority, who had a would-be assassin come to his home. And the FBI and the Garland Department of Justice continue to refuse to enforce federal law against left-wing protestors outside the homes of the justices in the Dobbs majority.

Thankfully, FBI headquarters has withdrawn the memorandum, saying it “does not meet the exacting standards of the FBI.” That is an understatement. Perhaps the Bureau will learn from this mistake and exercise greater care before specifically targeting minority religious communities in the future. Will the FBI see a conspiracy when they learn some Baptists don’t drink or dance?

Daniel R. Suhr

Daniel R. Suhr is an attorney who fights for freedom in courts across America. He has worked as a senior adviser for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, as a law clerk for Judge Diane Sykes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, and at the national headquarters of the Federalist Society. He is a member of Christ Church Mequon. He is an Eagle Scout, and he loves spending time with his wife Anna and their two sons, Will and Graham, at their home near Milwaukee.

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