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The Justice Department scrambles to address school board threats

The Justice Department is taking threats against school boards seriously. So why is Sen. Josh Hawley complaining?


In recent months, there have been unsettling intimidation campaigns, largely from the far-right, targeting election officials and public health officials. But let's not forget about education officials, who are dealing with the same scourge.

As my MSNBC colleague Ja'han Jones explained last week, the National School Boards Association requested federal law enforcement assistance to address the escalating instances of harassment and acts of intimidation local officials are having to deal with.

As The Associated Press reported this morning, the Justice Department appears to be taking the matter seriously.

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday directed federal authorities to hold strategy sessions in the next 30 days with law enforcement to address the increasing threats targeting school board members, teachers and other employees in the nation's public schools. In a memorandum, Garland said there has been "a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation's public schools."

The AP's report added that the attorney general intends to direct the FBI to work with U.S. attorneys and federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal authorities to address the threats.

"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," Garland said.

At face value, this seems like common sense: School board officials are dealing with highly unusual and provocative threats; they're seeking out assistance to prevent acts of violence; and the Justice Department is exploring ways to protect public safety.

And yet, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri responded to the attorney general's initiative this morning with a tweet that read, "Now Joe Biden is deploying the FBI against parents who have concerns about Critical Race Theory being taught to their children. This is a remarkable and dangerous abuse of power."

Just so we're clear, local education officials are dealing with threats of violence. The Justice Department wants to protect spirited debate while preventing physical attacks. And a GOP senator is outraged — not by the threats, but by the attorney general's eagerness to address a potentially violent intimidation campaign.

To the extent that reality matters, the Justice Department didn't express any interest in "parents who have concerns."

Hawley was wrong on Jan. 6, when insurrectionists with "concerns" launched a violent attack against the U.S. Capitol. Nine months later, the Missouri Republican doesn't appear to have learned much from the experience.

Update: True to form, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is also pushing back, publishing a tweet of his own accusing Garland of "weaponizing the DOJ by using the FBI to pursue concerned parents and silence them through intimidation."

What we're dealing with, evidently, is a dynamic in which school board officials nationwide are confronting violent threats, and ambitious Republicans are at least pretending to be outraged by the Justice Department's willingness to protect public safety.