October 6, 2021 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
They are not peaceful protesters. They are death-threat squads. The US attorney general is absolutely right. He must act
Don’t let the Republicans con you.
United States Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday that federal prosecutors would “hold strategy sessions” with federal, state and local law enforcement officials to address “the increasing threats targeting school board members, teachers and other employees in the nation’s public schools,” according to an Associated Press report.
In a memo, Garland said the US Department of Justice has been monitoring “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff. … 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.”
Local school boards are being squeezed from both sides. They are asking Merrick Garland for help out of desperation. They are not alone. The whole country is being squeezed.
The memo came at the “urgent request,” the Associated Press said, of the National School Boards Association. The group represents school board members nationwide. It asked the president for “federal assistance to investigate and stop threats made over policies including mask mandates, likening the vitriol to a form of domestic terrorism.”
Senate Republicans grilled Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco about Garland’s order during a hearing Tuesday. They made it sound like the death-threat squads in question are merely exercising their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech instead of what they are really doing, which is criminal. Don’t let them con you, though.
The Republicans would rather have a national debate about the proper role of the federal government in the proceedings of local school boards. They would rather have a debate that effectively obscures the real problem, because addressing the real problem head-on exposes the GOP’s true motive, which is this: advancing lawlessness for the purpose of sabotaging the principle of equal treatment under law.
The sources of anarchy are twofold. On the one hand are shadowy nonprofit groups like so-called Parents Defending Education. It’s funded by the very obscenely rich. (We don’t know who they are, because the US tax code allows them to act secretly.) In turn, it pays for the “protests.” On the other hand are local police departments that cannot or will not stop them. Local school boards are being squeezed from both sides. They are asking Garland for help out of desperation.
Here’s the tip jar!
They are not alone. The whole country is being squeezed. Elected officials keep implementing mask mandates, but police keep refusing to enforce them. The same thing for vaccine mandates. Governors, county executives and mayors keep ordering cops to get shots, but cops keep saying no. (This is in spite of the fact that the covid is the country’s No. 1 cop killer.) Lawlessness is being abetted by elected Republicans. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said in a fundraising email, according to the Times, that President Joe Biden “declared war” on the rule of law. That’s true — if “rule of law” means forcing one’s enemies to obey the law while reserving the right to ignore it, because it’s understood laws don’t apply to white people who enact them. In that case, the president not only should declare war on it. He must.
I don’t mean to suggest there’s some kind of coordination between the very obscenely rich paying for the death-threat squads and the local law enforcement officers who refuse to stop them. But I do think the camps are sympathetic. The “protests” have rapidly escalated to include much more than mask mandates. They now include anything the “protesters” don’t like, which now includes the teaching of the history of slavery in the United States. The death-threat squads claim to be protesting “Critical Race Theory,” but K-12 teachers don’t teach that. The anti-CRT rhetoric, like all authoritarian rhetoric, has only one coherent goal. That’s silencing perceived enemies. Local law enforcement is complicit. The attorney general is right to respond.
Steve Bannon, a pardoned criminal, has likened the “protests” to the old Tea Party. “This is the Tea Party to the 10th power,” he said. “The path to save the nation is very simple. It’s going through the school boards.” A better analogy, though, is the last decade’s “gun-rights” movement. It sprang into action after the election of the first Black president. It went into overdrive after his reelection. The point was never the Second Amendment. The point was creating a system of unequal justice in which the in-group, the white people with guns, are protected by the constitution and the law while the out-group, meaning people like the former president, are punished by the law.
The result? The in-group gets to intimidate, harass and even promise to murder while the out-group is told nothing can be done about it.
Today’s death-threat squads may not be “the Tea Party to the 10th power,” but they are, as Bannon said another time, “shock troops.” It’s a matter of time before they bring long guns to their “demonstrations.” It’s a matter of time before local law enforcement looks the other way. When that happens, you can rest assured the GOP will portray them as concerned parents exercising their First and Second Amendment rights. They are advancing lawlessness to undermine the rule of law. “We” get to act in any way we want to. “They” have to live with it.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.