Judicial Watch Sues for FBI Records of Investigations of Parents Spurred by October 2021 Merrick Garland Memo
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice for all FBI communications from bureau officials using several systems and databases regarding investigations carried out after an October 4, 2021, memo from Attorney General Merrick Garland instructing investigators to target American parents due to an alleged “increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers in our nation’s public schools” (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:23-cv-01856)).
Judicial Watch is following up on the controversial October 4, 2021, memo by Garland instructing federal law enforcement to “open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response” on possible criminal threats to local school board members over politically charged issues such as Critical Race Theory and other extremism.
Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit after the Justice Department and FBI failed to respond to a February 17, 2023, FOIA request for:
Records and communications (internal and external) of the below named Federal Bureau of Investigation employees or former employees regarding 1) school board threats 2) meetings with U.S. attorneys’ offices in accordance with Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Oct. 4, 2021 memo, which directed the FBI to partner with local law enforcement and U.S. attorneys to identify parental threats at school board meetings 3) EDUOFFICIALS 4) National School Boards Association (NSBA) 4) Moms for Liberty 5) Turning Point USA
- Christopher Wray, Director of the FBI
- Paul Abbate, Deputy Director of the FBI
- Carlton L. Peeples, SAIC, Birmingham Field Office
- Jay Greenberg, SAIC, St. Louis Field Office
- Calvin A. Shivers, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigative Division, FBI Headquarters
- Brian M. Cohen, Unit Chief and Senior Program Manager, FBI Headquarters
- Timothy Langan, Executive Assistant Director, Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch, FBI Headquarters
- Kevin Vorndran, former Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, FBI Headquarters
The request also asked that the FBI search the following systems/databases for responsive records:
Electronic Surveillance (ELSUR), Microphone
Physical Surveillance (FISUR) and Technical
Surveillance (TESUR) records/indices
Investigative Data Warehouse (IDW), including IDW-S,
SPT, and DOCLAB-S sub-systems/indices
Data Integration and Visualization System (DIVS)
Law Enforcement National Data Exchange (N-DEx)
Among the records being sought by Judicial Watch are those concerning “Moms for Liberty,” a nationwide advocacy group working empower parents to defend their parental rights.
Another group likely to be of interest to the FBI is Turning Point USA, a conservative organization that educates and organizes students. It initiated a project to report indoctrination of school children, “school board watchlist.”
In a March 21, 2023 report on the Garland memo, the House Judiciary Committee’s Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government cited FBI data which states that 25 inquiries under the threat tag “EDUOFFICIALS” had been opened since the bureau began tracking the alleged incidents.
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on October 21, 2021, Garland said that he based his memo off of a letter from the National School Board Association (NSBA) (formerly available on its website, now available here) that labeled parents as “domestic terrorists.” The National School Boards Association later issued an apology for the letter. In November 2021, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee questioned the completeness of Garland’s testimony.
The House committee report concluded that Biden administration officials “colluded” with school board association leaders “to create a justification to use federal law-enforcement and counterterrorism resources against parents.”
“The Biden administration sicced the FBI on political opponents – parents who objected to left-wing and sex propaganda being forced on children at schools,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The American people deserve to know the full details of how and why their government surveilled Americans accused of being ‘domestic terrorists’ simply for exercising their First Amendment rights to protect their children at school board meetings.”
Judicial Watch filed a related lawsuit in December 2021 for all FBI records related to the October 4, 2021, memorandum issued by Attorney General Garland targeting parents with objections to Critical Race Theory in schools. In March, the DOJ stated that no responsive records had been located. An additional search is being conducted and the DOJ is to begin producing material by mid-August.