When the U.S. House passed the USA PATRIOT Act in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, privacy watchdogs, including myself, negotiated for a sunset clause to many of its provisions. We knew that as important as these powers were to quickly address the new threat of global terrorism, the longer they remained on the books the more likely they would be abused for non-terrorism purposes.
We were correct in our concern, but at the time none of us foresaw that such powerful tools would be used to thwart dissent at local PTA meetings. We now know otherwise.
Just last week, the National School Boards Association sent a letter to President Biden calling for a “joint collaboration among federal law enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement,” to “examine appropriate enforceable actions against these crimes and acts of violence.”
The “crimes and acts of violence” of such grave concern to NSBA were not incidents where ISIS operatives were threatening school board members, or of suicide bombers showing up at PTA meetings. No. The NSBA is requesting that the USA PATRIOT Act, and other anti-terrorism laws and investigative tools, be employed against parents showing up at local school board meetings to oppose policies being implemented by local school boards.
For evidence of the terror activity that would justify a response akin to 9/11, the NSBA cites an incident in which one “individual yelled a Nazi salute in protest to masking requirements,” and another where a person caused a school board meeting to call a recess “because of opposition to critical race theory.”
It would be easy to brush aside the NSBA’s absurd request as the irrational ranting of a far-left policy support group (which it is). The fact that the Biden Administration is taking the group’s request seriously, however, is not the least bit comical.
Consistent with the scorched earth policy by which this administration has been pursuing those who participated in the January 6th demonstrations on Capitol Hill (even those who did so peaceably), Biden’s Attorney General, Merrick Garland, quickly saluted in support of the NSBA’s absurd demands.
On Monday, our country’s top law enforcement official issued a memo stating that the Department of Justice “takes these incidents seriously and is committed to using its authority and resources to discourage these threats.” The plan of attack for launching the federal law enforcement juggernaut against concerned parents voicing opposition to local school board decisions on matters such as critical race theory, now will include a “series of measures designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.”
To make certain his point was made clear to school board opponents, Garland placed the FBI in charge of the effort.
We long ago moved beyond a public arena that is simply uncomfortable as a place in which to debate politics or public policy. Ever since “punching a Nazi” became an acceptable, in fact celebrated tactic of the so-called progressive Left, mobs online and in real life have stalked, beaten, harassed, and intentionally ruined the lives of anyone they perceive to be a foe, even innocent social media users whose only transgression was to post something the woke mob does not like.
Since at least January 20, 2017, when mobs of disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters roamed the streets of our nation’s Capital protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration, it has been clear that virtually no one was safe from the ire of “woke” mobs. Last year’s widespread violence in cities across the country, and the Biden Administration’s extreme reaction to the January 6th demonstrations on Capitol Hill, made the situation far worse.
Now, by inserting the U.S. Department of Justice and invoking federal criminal laws to deal with local school policy disagreements, the already dangerous environment is being ratcheted up to a new and unprecedented level. The goal, however, is clear: intimidate by threat of federal prosecution speech and actions that oppose the Left’s increasingly extreme agenda.
By effectively criminalizing dissent, this President, this FBI, and this Department of Justice are deliberately undermining one of the key pillars of our democratic republic – “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” That is language enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution. Tragically, it obviously means little to this administration and to those outside groups relying on the government to do their bidding.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.