The FBI is not targeting opponents of critical race theory
CLAIM: “Attorney General Merrick Garland has instructed the FBI to mobilize against parents who oppose critical race theory in public schools, citing ‘threats.’”
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. In a memo Monday, Garland directed federal authorities to address a rise in criminal conduct targeting school board members and public schools employees, following a request from the National School Boards Association. Garland did not single out critical race theory in his memo, and a Department of Justice press official said the claim amounted to misinformation.
THE FACTS: Garland’s memo stated the FBI would work with U.S. attorneys and federal, state and local authorities to develop strategies to combat what he called “a disturbing spike” in violent threats facing educators, administrators and school boards. The trend was highlighted in a Sept. 29 letter from the NSBA to President Joe Biden requesting federal assistance to investigate mounting threats and crimes against educators and school officials.
The Justice Department also issued a statement saying it would launch efforts to address criminal conduct and would pursue strategies to assist with threats that wouldn’t be considered federal crimes.
Following the statements, an activist known for speaking out against critical race theory — a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism — shared the erroneous claim that the FBI was specifically targeting public school parents who oppose such race education.
This is not the case.
Wyn Hornbuckle, the Justice Department’s deputy director of media affairs, told The Associated Press the claim was misleading and stated that the Attorney General’s guidance and the Justice Department’s efforts are focused on rooting out criminal threats of violence for any reason, not targeting a particular ideology.
“There has been misinformation circulated that the Attorney General’s directive is an effort to silence those with particular views about COVID-related policies, school curricula, or other topics of public discussion. This is simply not true,” Hornbuckle wrote in an email.
Critical race theory, developed by scholars during the 1970s and 1980s, centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.
The concept has drawn condemnation by conservative commentators, lawmakers and former President Donald Trump, and critics say it shouldn’t be added to school curricula.
There is little to no evidence that critical race theory itself is being presented to K-12 public school students, though some ideas central to it have been, such as lingering consequences of slavery. In its letter, the NSBA stated that critical race theory “remains a complex law school and graduate school subject well beyond the scope of a K-12 class.”
And the NSBA’s letter did not specifically focus on threats surrounding critical race theory, either. It asked for the federal government to investigate any cases where threats or violence could be handled as violations of federal civil rights laws — no matter what prompted them.
Additionally, the association asked for the Justice Department, FBI, Homeland Security and Secret Service to help monitor threat levels and assess risks to students, educators, board members and school buildings.
“NSBA and school board members don’t want to stop parents from expressing their First Amendment rights,” the NSBA said in a statement emailed to the AP. “We want to stop the death threats, threats to family members, and other harassment and acts of intimidation that school board members are facing.”
The group documented more than 20 instances of threats, harassment, disruption and acts of intimidation across multiple states. While the letter did cite several threats it had flagged in response to false assertions that school boards were adopting critical race theory curriculum, the majority of the threats it documented were in response to coronavirus-related restrictions, including mask and vaccine requirements in schools.
“NSBA and school board members nationwide want to hear from parents and value their opinion, especially during this critical time during the pandemic,” the NSBA statement added. “Our letter to President Biden was about stopping dangerous and threatening acts that school board members and other education leaders are receiving during in-person meetings, online, and through the U.S. mail.”
The AP has also debunked misleading claims about the content of the NSBA’s letter.
Associated Press writer Terrence Fraser in New York contributed to this report.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.