Republican attorneys general join fight to allow intimidation and harassment of school boards

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The Republicans’ first claim is that there is no problem. There is no outbreak of threats and harassment and intimidation against school board members and other education leaders. 

Well, guys, since those are the behaviors Garland’s memo said the Justice Department was concerned about, if they don’t exist, no one has to worry about a federal response to anything that happens at school board meetings.

Garland’s memo explicitly said “While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.” That’s it. People opposed to schools requiring masks or teaching about racism can be as spirited in their debate as they like, right up until they cross the line into criminal threatening or intimidation. 

The Republicans’ second and third claims are that Garland’s moves “Violate the First Amendment rights of parents to address school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff on educational matters by seeking to criminalize lawful dissent and intimidate parents into silence”; and, “Intrude on the well-recognized First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of their children by intimidating parents away from raising concerns about the education of their children.”

It’s as if it is impossible to distinguish between getting up and saying, “I do not want my child taught that racism exists and is wrong, and I demand my family’s right to spread COVID-19 by refusing to have my child wear a mask in school” in a lawful manner and engaging in the kind of threats and harassment described by Jennifer Jenkins, a member of the Brevard School Board in Florida.

I don’t reject people coming here and speaking their voice, they do it all the time,” Jenkins said at a recent board meeting. “We don’t stop them from doing that. I don’t reject them standing outside my home. I reject them following me around in a car, following my car around. I reject them saying that they’re ‘coming for me’;’ that I need to ‘beg for mercy.’”

She continued, “I reject that, when they are using their First Amendment rights on public property, they’re also going behind my home and brandishing their weapons to my neighbors, that they’re making false (Department of Children and Family) claims against me to my daughter, that I have to take a DCF investigator to her playdate to go underneath her clothing and check for burn marks.”

That is what Garland is responding to. That is what the 17 Republican state attorneys general—at least two of whom are running for Senate—are characterizing as “the First Amendment rights of parents.” 

The attorneys general use variations on the term “domestic terrorism” 10 times, suggesting that the Justice Department intends to treat innocent parents as domestic terrorists for merely expressing opinions about their children’s education. In fact, Garland’s memo nowhere uses that term or anything close to it. He speaks specifically of “harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence”; “threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views”; “the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel”; and “violence, threats of violence, and other forms of intimidation arid harassment.” A letter from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) calling on the Biden administration for help did use the term “domestic terrorism” twice, but Garland very much did not, in what could be construed as a rejection of the NSBA’s push on that front.

Although, when you read Jenkins’ description of what she and her family have been through and watch this compilation from All In with Chris Hayes, domestic terrorism starts to sound like an apt term.

This is explicitly what Republicans are defending. They really think this stuff is … fine. Great, even. Because it’s keeping their base angry and engaged; because they really oppose public health measures; and they really oppose teaching about racism or the contributions of Black, Indigenous, Latino, or Asian people to the United States. Just because this is who they are. But spare us the outrage about innocent parents intimidated by the big bad government. The truth is right there on video and in the words of the victims of the real intimidation campaign—the one coming from rage-filled Republicans and directed at school board members.

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