June 5, 2023

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Justice Dept. threatens to sic FBI on parents as domestic terrorists

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The U.S. Attorney General is threatening to treat concerned school patrons like domestic terrorists, but parents say they aren’t backing down. 

For more than a year, concerned parents across the state have rallied at board meetings, speaking on behalf of their children. Their concerns range from student mask mandates, canceled extracurricular activities, and critical race theory seeping into classrooms. Parents say they are loud and forceful, but not violent or threatening. 

For Gardner-Edgerton parent Amanda Walker, the threatening letter hardened her resolve. She attends local board meetings regularly advocating against universal masking.

“It made the parents who religiously go decide we will keep going,” she said. “There’s a huge group of us that go every single time. It’s not stopping us.”

But some parents have been intimidated into silence.  Dave Trabert, CEO of Kansas Policy Institute, told the Kansas City Star that some parents in Gardner-Edgerton tell him that they won’t speak for fear of being targeted.  KPI owns the Sentinel.

In a memo issued last week, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the FBI to use its authority to identify threats and prosecute concerned parents. The memo cites a spike in “intimidation and threats of violence.” 

U.S. AG directs FBI to examine contentious school board debates

Garland issued the memo on the heels of a request from the National School Board Association. NASB asked President Biden to determine whether recent incidents at board meetings across the nation involving parents would have them labeled as domestic terrorists. NASB’s letter doesn’t list any quantitative data, but it strings together 24 incidents it suggests violate federal laws like the Gun Free School Zone Act, the PATRIOT Act, and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

“An individual was arrested in Illinois for aggravated battery and disorderly conduct during a school board meeting. During two separate school board meetings in Michigan, an individual yelled a Nazi salute in protest to masking requirements, and another individual prompted the board to call a recess because of opposition to critical race theory,” NSBA’s letter to Biden lists.

The Kansas Association of School Boards is a member of NASB. Its executive director Mark Tallman told The Sentinel NASB’s letter simply asks how to take action to enforce laws if federal officials find that the acts listed in the letter are deemed acts of terrorism or hate crimes.

NSBA letter suggests concerned parents are domestic terrorists

“I am not an attorney and KASB has not taken an official position, but my personal opinion is that if laws are being broken, those laws should be enforced so that the governmental process can operate as intended,” Tallman said.

Several Kansas school board members told The Sentinel they disagree with calling in the feds. Spring Hill USD 230 school board member Nels Anderson said he was appalled by NSBA’s letter to Biden.

“It appears to be a direct shot across the bow to take away local control of schools. As with all school boards the past two years, we have had our fair share of passionate parents on both sides speaking at our meetings and not once have I felt personally threatened,” Anderson said. 

“We have had some forms of cyberbullying against a member that went across the line, but I’m not sure I would call that terrorism. Otherwise, we’ve had the normal random threats of a lawsuit, but that is to be expected. There are already laws against personal threats against a person. We don’t need special school board rules.”

Wichita board member feels threatened

However, Ben Blankely, a Wichita USD 259 board member, said he reported targeted threats to his employment and to his personal safety to the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office. He encourages local law enforcement to work with the FBI on NSBA’s request.

“That incident was very frightening to my entire family,” Blakely said. “My father encouraged me not to run for public office again and my spouse keeps a baseball bat in our home. I continue to receive threatening messages after each school board meeting… This is a serious problem that should be taken seriously.”

Trabert, who has filed two police reports over threats of violence for expressing his opinion, agrees that threats of violence should be taken seriously and appropriately handled, but says NASB and Garland are wrong to consider parents as domestic terrorists.

Walker says when her group attends school board meetings, they are forceful, but not violent. She is disturbed that the NSBA’s letter and the FBI memo do not define what constitutes breaking the law. 

U.S. Senators seek clarification on FBI memo

“The FBI should not be using the FBI against parents. If someone gets offended, they could almost call that breaking the law. It’s just so open-ended,” she said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, called the FBI memo a war on parents. He and 10 other Senators penned a letter to Garland seeking clarification on the memo.

“We believe parents have the right to voice their concerns, opinions, and frustrations to public servants,” the letter reads. “It is not the job of the federal government to institute a witch hunt against parents effectively penalizing them by investigating dissent.”

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