Confronted with harassment, threats of violence, and acts of intimidation in many communities, the National School Boards Association recently requested federal law enforcement assistance. This week, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department would, in fact, explore ways to help.
A surprising number of prominent Republicans are outraged — not by the threats and intimidation, but by Garland's willingness to assist scared local education officials.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, for example, published this message to Twitter:
"At his confirmation hearing, Merrick Garland promised not to follow the Obama model of weaponizing [the Justice Department] to target [and] persecute his political opponents. Just a few months in, he's already breaking that promise."
First, the idea that President Barack Obama's Justice Department persecuted the White House's political opponents is utterly bonkers. And second, the idea that Garland's willingness to address threats against educators is part of some partisan political scheme is bizarre.
Alas, the Texas Republican is not alone. At a Capitol Hill hearing yesterday, for example, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas asked Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, "Is it domestic extremism for a parent to advocate for their child's best interests?"
Similarly, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri responded to the attorney general's initiative with a missive 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."
Away from Capitol Hill, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida also pushed back, publishing a tweet of his own that accused Garland of "weaponizing the DOJ by using the FBI to pursue concerned parents and silence them through intimidation."
I'll confess, I didn't see this one coming.
Given the partisan pushback, one might think the attorney general's announcement included highly provocative language that had the effect of triggering GOP fury. In reality, however, it did not.
"In recent months, 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," Garland wrote in a memorandum. "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.
"Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation's core values. Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety."
Imagine reading this and responding furiously.
For what it's worth, the Justice Department intends to hold strategy sessions over the next 30 days to explore how best to protect education officials. Given what we've seen over the last few days, it's likely the GOP backlash will intensify.