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Attorney General Garland Shatters Youngkin’s Claim That DOJ Wants to ‘Silence Parents’

While much of the attention on Capitol Hill was focused on the House vote to hold Steve Bannon in contempt [1] for refusing to testify to the January 6 committee, the House Judiciary Committee heard from Attorney General Merrick Garland on multiple topics – including one near and dear to a candidate for Governor of Virginia.

Garland’s DOJ has been taking it on the rhetorical chin from GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin for moving to coordinate federal and local law enforcement regarding violent threats against school board members and other school employees. Youngkin has even gone so far [2] as to claim the DOJ is “trying to silence parents standing up for their kids.”

In testimony yesterday, Garland shattered that myth (Reuters [3]):

“We are only concerned about violence,” Garland told lawmakers repeatedly. “The Justice Department supports and defends the First Amendment right of parents to complain as vociferously as they wish about the education of their children.”

The National School Boards Association in a Sept. 29 letter to President Joe Biden urged federal law enforcement to provide assistance to local boards to deal with the threats.

The letter cited a series of incidents, including an arrest during a board meeting in Illinois for aggravated battery and another in which someone shouted a Nazi slogan in Michigan during a meeting to protest the use of masks in schools to slow the spread of COVID-19.

US News and World Report [4]had more on Garland’s specific concerns.

“Parents have been complaining about the education of their children and about school boards since there were such things as school boards and public education,” Garland said, facing a deluge of criticism from Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who accused him of opening a “snitch line on parents.”

“This is totally protected by the First Amendment,” he said. “True threats of violence are not protected by the First Amendment. Those are the things we are worried about here. Those are the only things we are worried about here. We are not investigating peaceful protests or parent involvement in school board meetings. There is no precedent for doing that and we would never do that. We are only concerned about violence and threats of violence against school administrators, teachers, staff.”

“I want to be clear that the Justice Department supports and defends the First Amendment right of parents to complain as vociferously as they wish about the education of their children about the curriculum taught in the schools.”

Garland continued: “That is not what the memorandum is about at all, nor does it use the words ‘domestic terrorism’ or ‘Patriot Act.’…I cant (sic) imagine any circumstance in which the Patriot Act would be used in the circumstances of parents complaining about their children, nor can I imagine a circumstance where they would be labeled as domestic terrorism.”

In other words, the AG made it clear he was only looking to prevent violence, based on actual threats, the GOP nominee’s refusal to acknowledge them notwithstanding.

Lest we forget, as Governor, Youngkin would appoint the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, and thus have control over the State Police. Do we really want that power entrusted to someone who either can’t or won’t recognize the difference between parental complaints and threats of violence?

P.S. – Garland also noted that worries about violence were “not only about schools — we have similar concerns about election workers” (Washington Post [5], emphasis added)