April 16, 2024

FBI under pressure as Senate, House members seek answers for ’discriminatory’ anti-Catholic memo

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Texas and 18 other Republican lawmakers are putting more pressure on FBI Director Christopher Wray to answer for a memo originating from an FBI field office that allegedly targeted “radical traditionalist Catholic ideology.”

Republicans from both chambers wrote to Wray Thursday over a leaked internal memo produced by the FBI’s Richmond, Virginia, Field Office on Jan. 23, 2023, that “identifies ‘radical-traditionalist Catholic[s]’ as potential β€˜racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.’”

While the memo was rescinded, the lawmakers said the “formation and issuance of such an advisory to FBI agents and field offices raise numerous concerns” for the Congress, especially because of the “slow rate of investigation and response” to attacks on pregnancy resource centers and churches since Roe v. Wade was overturned last summer.

“Targeting people on the basis of their religious beliefs and affiliation violates the Constitution,” the lawmakers wrote. “While the FBI claims it β€˜does not investigate, collect, or maintain information on U.S. persons solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment,’ the fact that such a document was able to be published and released in the first place is of great concern.”

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“As you know, the document alarmingly asserted that β€˜racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) in radical-traditionalist Catholic (RTC) ideology almost certainly presents opportunities for threat mitigationΒ through the exploration of new avenues for tripwire and source development,'” the letter said.

“It also suggested that the FBI relies on attendance at RTC or β€˜traditionalist Catholic houses of worship’, as well as β€˜language indicative of adherence to RTC ideology in social media postings’ for its assessments,” they wrote. “We are concerned that the FBI does not have processes in place to ensure that Catholics are not the subject of FBI suspicion or investigation simply because of how and where they worship or what they believe.”

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The lawmakers note that the memo “singled out traditional Catholics for their pro-life views, accusing RTCs of β€˜hostility towards abortion-rights advocates’ in the aftermath of the DobbsΒ decision…”

“This specific call out to pro-life views is of even greater concern, considering the slow rate of investigation and response to the violent attacks that a number of pro-life pregnancy centers and Catholic Churches have experienced since the DobbsΒ decision was leaked in May of last year,” they wrote.

The lawmakers also called out the FBI’s purported reliance on the “biased data” from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The memo cited data from the SPLC on organizations it classifies as “hate groups,” “despite its overt political bias and previous pushback from Congress,” the lawmakers said.

“While the SPLC claims to be a group working to expel hate, it is in fact perpetuating hate against people of faith because of their religious views,” the lawmakers said. “It should go without saying that violence and threats toward any person or group of people should be taken seriously.”

DOJ, FBI TARGETING CATHOLICS AS ‘VIOLENT EXTREMISTS’ UNDER SCRUTINY BY STATE AGS: ‘BIGOTRY’ IS ‘FESTERING’

Last week, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and 19 GOP state attorneys general demanded answers from Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland on the memo. Earlier Thursday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan also sent a letter to Wray asking for answers as part of the panel’s investigation into the bureau’s alleged misuse of domestic violent extremism resources for “political purposes.”

The FBI did not immediately respond to a Fox News Digital’s request for comment but offered this statement in previous reporting:

“While our standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products, this particular field office product – disseminated only within the FBI – regarding racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism does not meet the exacting standards of the FBI. Upon learning of the document, FBI Headquarters quickly began taking action to remove the document from FBI systems and conduct a review of the basis for the document. The FBI is committed to sound analytic tradecraft and to investigating and preventing acts of violence and other crimes while upholding the constitutional rights of all Americans and will never conduct investigative activities or open an investigation based solely on First Amendment protected activity.”

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The lawmakers requested that the FBI provide “all documents and correspondence related to the origin and purpose of the document,” and to provide “a detailed explanation of what actions will be taken to educate all field offices on the Constitutional protections of the First Amendment, and to clarify that the free exercise of religion and religious beliefs do not equate to extremism, and are therefore not a basis for targeting or tracking.”

Fox News Digital’s Brooke Singman contributed to this report.

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