Sen. Josh Hawley on Wednesday pressed Attorney General Merrick Garland on the FBI memo urging agents to probe the alleged nexus between racially motivated violent extremists and “radical-traditional Catholics.”
“How many informants do you have in Catholic churches across America?” Hawley, R-Mo., repeatedly asked during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Garland responded that the FBI does not launch investigations based on religion or on other activities protected by the First Amendment.
Hawley repeatedly cited a memo the FBI’s Richmond, Virginia, office published on Jan. 23, which urged agents to develop “sources with access,” including in “places of worship,” to probe an alleged relationship between “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists” and “radical-traditional Catholic ideology.”
The FBI told The Daily Signal in a statement on Feb. 9 that it was rescinding the memo after FBI whistleblower Kyle Seraphin published it Feb. 8 on UncoverDC.com. The national FBI office claimed that the memo “does not meet the exacting standards of the FBI,” and promised to remove the document from its database and to “conduct a review of the basis for the document,” but it refused to answer further questions about the move.
The FBI memo cited the discredited Southern Poverty Law Center, including a list of organizations the SPLC brands “radical traditional Catholic hate groups.” As I explain in my book “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” the SPLC took the program it used to bankrupt organizations associated with the Ku Klux Klan and weaponized that program against conservative groups, partially to scare donors into ponying up cash and partially to silence ideological opponents. The SPLC places conservative groups on a “hate map” along with KKK chapters.
Hawley quoted from the memo, noting that it advocated for “‘the exploration of new avenues for tripwire and source developments’ against traditionalist Catholics, including those who favor the Latin Mass.”
“Attorney general, are you cultivating sources and spies in Latin Mass parishes and other Catholic parishes around the country?” the Missouri lawmaker said.
“No, the Justice Department does not do that,” Garland responded. “It does not do investigations based on religion. I saw the document you have. It is appalling. It is appalling. I’m in complete agreement with you. I understand that the FBI has withdrawn it and is now looking into how this could ever have happened.”
Hawley asked Garland to explain how it happened, and the attorney general said, “That’s what they’re looking into.” He repeated his statement that the document is “appalling.”
“I will tell you how it happened,” the senator responded. “This memorandum, which is supposed to be intelligence, cites extensively the Southern Poverty Law Center, which goes on to identify all of these different Catholics as being part of hate groups.”
“Is this how the FBI, under your direction and leadership, is this how they do their intelligence work?” Hawley pressed. “They look at left-wing advocacy groups, to target Catholics? Is this what’s going on? Clearly, it is. How is this happening?”
“The FBI is not targeting Catholics, and as I’ve said, this is an inappropriate memorandum, and it doesn’t reflect the methods that the FBI is supposed to be using,” Garland responded. “It should not be relying on any single organization without doing its own work.”
Hawley asked again, “How many informants do you have in Catholic churches across America?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t believe we have any informants aimed at Catholic churches,” Garland responded. “We have a rule against investigations based on First Amendment activity, and Catholic churches are obviously First Amendment activity. I don’t know the specific answer.”
“You don’t know the specifics of anything, it seems,” Hawley said. “But apparently on your watch this Justice Department is targeting Catholics, targeting people of faith, specifically for their faith views. Mr. Attorney General, I’ll just say to you, it’s a disgrace.”
President Joe Biden has yet to address the memo or the fact that the organization it cited, the Southern Poverty Law Center, has suggested that the Catholic Church itself should be considered a “hate group.”
FBI whistleblowers have told The Daily Signal that the FBI repeatedly trained staff not to cite the SPLC, and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised in 2018 that the Justice Department will not partner with groups such as the SPLC. It remains unclear why the FBI’s Richmond office did not follow this guidance.
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