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• U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland told federal agencies to work to address criminal threats against school officials and staff.
• Garland’s instructions underscore that “spirited debate” is protected by the Constitution.
• An August National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin has fueled some claims that those who oppose coronavirus safety restrictions were labeled domestic terrorists, but that is not the case.
Concerns about the safety of public school employees and school board members prompted the National School Boards Association to request federal assistance.
In response, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the FBI to work with state and local officials to address threats.
The memo has generated misinformation online — with some parents claiming they’re being unfairly targeted for voicing their opinion.
"Parents who challenge school curriculums are domestic terrorist(s)," reads the image of one Oct. 13 Instagram post by Grant Cardone, an entrepreneur and speaker.
In a caption, Cardone wrote: "Apparently I have a new title; ‘domestic terrorist’ and I’ll accept it (if) that means I’m standing up for my Kids. Parents will no longer be able to exercise free speech, opinions or controls over what your kids are taught at school. I’ve been telling you for years, the school system was broken."
He went on to say he was choosing to homeschool his children. "Call me a terrorist if you want but I’ll fight for my kids."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Facebook owns Instagram. Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Have parents who contest school curriculums been labeled "domestic terrorists" or barred from challenging school curriculums? No.
Garland’s Oct. 4 memo ordered the FBI to work with state and local officials to brainstorm ways to address "threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff," and to establish procedures for threat "reporting, assessment and response."
In a statement, the Justice Department clarified that the overall effort was "designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel."
The word "terrorist" did not appear in either the memo or the Justice Department statement.
In addition, Garland clearly indicated that parents can challenge school curriculums or voice opinions that differ from that of their local school officials.
"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," reads the memo.
Parents in some school districts have directed their hostility at school board members — most often due to the issue of masking in schools.
In August, a school board in Tennessee voted in favor of students wearing masks in class, which prompted a large group of parents to gather in protest. Some shouted things like "we can find you, and we know who you are," as a board member walked to their car.
In Virginia, the police "have investigated threats to shoot Virginia Beach School Board members," the Virginian-Pilot reported. Masks were at the heart of that incident as well: The threats emerged after social media users discovered members of the board were not wearing masks — which were required in "instructional settings" at the time — at a gathering.
So the memo about school board meetings did not mention domestic terrorism. Where could that be coming from?
The claims appear to be linked to a bulletin from the National Terrorism Advisory System, which warned of a "current heightened threat environment" in the U.S.
The bulletin from Aug. 13 mentioned several factors at work, including the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and threats from foreign and domestic terrorists.
"These actors are increasingly exploiting online forums to influence and spread violent extremist narratives and promote violent activity," reads the bulletin. "Such threats are also exacerbated by impacts of the ongoing global pandemic, including grievances over public health safety measures and perceived government restrictions."
Although the bulletin made reference to ongoing frustration some have expressed about pandemic safety restrictions, experts say it did not designate anyone a domestic terrorist.
The U.S. departments of State and Treasury have the authority to designate groups as terrorists; the National Terrorism Advisory System does not.
An Instagram post claimed that "parents who challenge school curriculums" were labeled "domestic terrorists."
The FBI was ordered to work to address criminal threats against school officials and staff. Garland’s memo underscored that "spirited debate" is protected by the Constitution. A bulletin about the level of threat environment in the U.S. fueled some claims that those who oppose coronavirus safety restrictions were labeled domestic terrorists, but that is not the case.
We rate this claim False.
NBC News, "Parents Protest School Mask Mandate Shouting ‘Will Not Comply’ At Board Members," Aug. 11, 2021
National School Boards Association, "Letter to President Biden concerning threats to public schools and school board members," Sept. 29, 2021
The Virginian Pilot, "Profanity, screaming, threats: Hampton Roads school boards become battleground," Oct. 9, 2021
The Virginian Pilot, "Social media threats against Virginia Beach School Board members prompts police investigation," July 15, 2021
NJ Spotlight News, "Threats to NJ school board members over masks, COVID-19 rules," Oct. 8, 2021
U.S. Justice Department, "Justice Department Addresses Violent Threats Against School Officials and Teachers," Oct. 4, 2021
U.S. Justice Department, "Memorandum: Partnership to address threats against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff," Oct. 4, 2021
PolitiFact, "Rick Scott wrongly warns FBI coming after loud parents at school board meetings," Oct. 11, 2021
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "National Terrorism Advisory System: Summary of Terrorism Threat to the U.S. Homeland," Aug. 13, 2021
PolitiFact, "DHS didn’t deem supporting Trump to be terrorist behavior," Oct. 12, 2021
State.gov, "Executive Order 13224," accessed Oct. 18, 2021
State.gov, "Foreign Terrorist Organizations," accessed Oct. 18, 2021
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