which represents school board members around the country, asked President Joe Biden for federal assistance to investigate and stop threats made over policies including mask mandates, likening the vitriol to a form of domestic terrorism.
The association asked for the federal government to investigate cases where threats or violence could be handled as violations of federal laws protecting civil rights. It also asked for the Justice Department, FBI, Homeland Security and Secret Service to help monitor threat levels and assess risks to students, educators, board members and school buildings.
The group’s letter documented more than 20 instances of threats, harassment, disruption, and acts of intimidation in California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio and other states. It cited the September arrest of an Illinois man for aggravated battery and disorderly conduct for allegedly striking a school official at a meeting. In Michigan, a meeting was disrupted when a man performed a Nazi salute to protest masking.
“We are coming after you,” a letter mailed to an Ohio school board member said, according to the group. “You are forcing them to wear mask — for no reason in this world other than control. And for that you will pay dearly.” It called the member “a filthy traitor.”
The perfect response would have been "That's ridiculous. I bathe everyday." Alas, either because the school board member didn't think quickly enough or feared for his or her safety, there appears to have been no such reply. These folks rarely exhibit any sense of humor. However, Attorney General Merrick Garland in a memorandum
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.”
To address the rising problem, Garland said the FBI would work with U.S. attorneys and federal, state, local, territorial and tribal authorities in each district to develop strategies against 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,” he said.
Any doubt that Garland's instinct is appropriate should be dispelled by comments on Twitter made not only by private citizens, but also public figures intent upon inflaming passions. One guy tweeted "We warned you that the Domestic War on Terror was meant to go after all Middle Americans. Merrick Garland just made it official today." Ex-con Bernard Kerik chimed in "This is nothing more than a federal abuse of power intended to intimidate and threaten parents from confronting radical left-wing school boards." And Representative Ken Buck of Colorado, demonstrating a splendid ignorance of constitutional law, tweeted "AG Garland is using the DOJ to intimidate and silence parents who are exercising their First Amendment rights. This is an egregious and unprecedented abuse of power."
The unruly individuals are trying to intimidate not only council members based on their views but also members of the public with a contrasting point of view. The latter are under threat of violence at the meeting if they speak up. Further, as members of the community, they are not strangers to others at the meeting and would fear retaliation if they comment in opposition to the loud voices at the meeting.
The situation could be partially remedied if only there were a modern teleconferencing platform. Zoom! A great many of the would-be rioters at the meeting develop beer muscles as they are surrounded by people of like mind. At a meeting conducted remotely, they'd still be able to express their views. However, the threat of physical violence would be removed and, if participants express a threat of violence or excess profanity, they can be muted.
Nonetheless, school boards are entitled, as they should be, to hold their meetings conventionally, in-person. Moreover, given the hope of civil war of many a right-winger, the fears of the National School Boards Association is legitimate, and Attorney General Garland has acted none too soon.