Saturday, August 19, 2023

The Federal Bureau of Intimidation? (Opinion)

EDITTOON WKD - ELZ 4-22 | Opinion |

After news leaked out earlier this year about the existence of an internal FBI memo targeting “radical-traditionalist Catholics” as potential domestic terrorists, FBI Director Christopher Wray hastily assured Congress it was merely a highly regrettable blunder initiated by only a single overzealous FBI field office in Richmond, Virginia. 

Indeed, as recently as last month, he reaffirmed this talking point

But we now know that Director Wray’s assurances weren’t accurate. Pressured by the House Judiciary Committee to provide more details about what happened, the FBI released a less-redacted version of the memo. 

It disclosed that at least two other offices located on the other side of the nation, in Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles, had contributed to the drafting of the Richmond office’s memo.

Even if Wray’s earlier comments had been accurate, it would have been a serious matter. 

It’s extremely concerning that any component of the nation’s preeminent law enforcement institution could somehow conclude that a nexus exists between a traditionalist Catholic faith and a propensity toward committing terrorist acts — and that this hypothetical threat somehow justifies attempts to infiltrate Catholic parishes to keep tabs on these potential evildoers, as the memo recommends. 

Aside from the shortage of credible evidence substantiating this link between terrorism and Catholic belief, a rudimentary understanding of the First Amendment should have been more than enough to deter anybody working for the FBI from stumbling down this constitutionally prohibited rabbit hole.

We still don’t know if the Richmond memo is reflective of an agency-wide FBI suspicion that Catholics are potential criminals, courtesy of the content of their faith, and certainly we should hope and pray this isn’t the case. 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is currently pressing the FBI for more information that hopefully will clarify this crucial point.

But the wording of the memo gives additional reason for concern. While it ostensibly targets only “radical-traditionalist” Catholics, two of the four issues the memo cites where these individuals’ beliefs might coincide with violent right-wing terrorists are “abortion rights” and “LGBTQ protections.” 

What is being implied here? 

With respect to the sanctity of human life and the proper expression of human sexuality, traditionalist Catholics align completely with the settled Church teachings that all Catholics are called to uphold. 

Therefore, the FBI memo appears to imply that being pro-life or believing that sexual activity should take place only in the context of a marriage between a man and a woman constitutes a potentially grave threat to public security.

It’s also disturbing that the FBI officials who crafted the memo utilized the Southern Poverty Law Center as their source for identifying nine radical-traditional “hate groups” in the U.S. 

The far-left activist center has been repeatedly denounced for its indefensible campaigns to collectively demonize individuals and groups who disagree with its progressive viewpoints as purveyors of hate.

Then there is the memo’s Orwellian recommendation that FBI agents attempt to recruit traditionalist Catholic parishioners to keep tabs on “radical traditionalists” in their ranks. It should go without saying that such Soviet-style information-gathering tactics, within houses of worship, are completely unacceptable.

As Catholics, we must hope that the memo was indeed mainly the misguided creation of a single FBI office. 

But combined with the FBI’s ongoing participation in the Biden administration’s weaponization of the Department of Justice against pro-life advocates, it’s not paranoid to be concerned that the FBI is on its way to becoming an agency of intimidation wielded against the Catholic faithful of our nation whenever we speak out against destructive social agendas like legal abortion and gender ideology.

The FBI’s treatment of Pennsylvania pro-life advocate Mark Houck is another notable case in point. 

After the Department of Justice somehow concluded he ought to be prosecuted because of a minor altercation with a local abortion activist in Philadelphia —  even though local prosecutors earlier had judged that no legal action was warranted — a squad of heavily armed FBI agents arrived at Houck’s home to cart the Catholic husband and father off to jail in front of his horrified wife and seven children. 

At his trial in January, a jury exonerated Houck after deliberating for less than an hour. In light of that outcome, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that the federal prosecutors who initiated Houck’s show trial knew from the outset there was little chance of a conviction. 

But by proceeding as they did, they wanted to send a chilling message to pro-life advocates everywhere.

One final thing to remember: Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision, abortion activists have unleashed a wave of violence against pro-life pregnancy centers and Catholic churches and other houses of worship. 

Given this context, which should make it easy for federal law enforcement officials to judge who really poses a serious threat of criminal misconduct, actions like the Richmond FBI memo and the arrest and prosecution of faithful Catholics like Mark Houck are even more repugnant. 

They need to come to a permanent end, starting immediately.