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Congress Subpoenas FBI Director Over Targeting of Virginia Churches

Since the US government is based on a complex system of checks and balances, the Congress (Legislative Branch) has oversight responsibilities over the Executive Branch. Pursuant to those obligations, the House Judiciary Committee, headed by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on April 10 issued a subpoena of FBI Director Christopher Wray. Wray was named to that post by President Trump but has been retained by President Biden.

Suspicion of the FBI has already been high over the past two years due to accusations, now proven to be true, that the agency had “plants” at the infamous January 6 Capitol riot and that some parents expressing concerns at public school board meetings had been branded potential “domestic terrorists” for simply exercising their First Amendment Free Speech rights.

Against that backdrop, the FBI made national headlines again when a whistleblower released documents indicating the agency was targeting some Catholic churches in the Richmond area as potential breeding grounds for “domestic violent extremism.” In addition to guaranteeing free speech, the First Amendment also guarantees freedom of religion.

The actual document from the FBI’s Richmond Field Office was entitled “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities.”

Reports indicate the document was approved by multiple FBI supervisors including their top lawyer in the Richmond office. When the scandal went public, FBI official Christopher Dunham claimed that “the FBI is not anti-Catholic in any way, shape, or form, and does not target people of any faith because of their religious beliefs.”

The document claimed to take inspiration from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and its suggestion “that certain kinds of Catholic Americans may be domestic terrorists.” In recent years the SPLC has been called out for claiming that numerous conservative and/or religious groups they disagree with are “hate groups” and thus need to be censured.

Chairman Jordan’s letter to Director Wray accuses the agency of dragging its feet to provide clear documentation related to the growing controversy.

Jordan’s letter claims:

“On February 16, 2023, we first wrote to you requesting documents and information to inform our oversight. After receiving no response, we reiterated our outstanding requests in a subsequent letter dated March 20, 2023. On March 23, 2023, we received a substandard and partial response consisting of only 18 pages many with significant redactions of “personally identifiable information” or “specific non-public information about [FBI]investigations, sources, and methods” that prevents the Committee from fully assessing the content and context of the documents and obtaining information requested from the Bureau.”

Due to the poor voluntary cooperation, Chairman Jordan has issued a subpoena to force publication of the requested records.

Rep. Ben Cline, (R), who represents Virginia’s Sixth District, is himself a Catholic and posted this to Twitter on April 10: “The FBI attempted to develop sources at local Catholic churches to combat domestic terrorism. @JudiciaryGOP will get answers from Director Wray on this egregious overreach.”

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) tweeted this along with a post of Chairman Jordan’s letter. “I wonder how many undercover employees were attending Easter masses across the nation yesterday. This is just another reason why we must defund the FBI/DOJ. They’ve completely departed from their mission.”

Despite the multiple controversies, the FBI is on track to be rewarded with a new headquarters building in either the Virginia or Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C., which it to be twice the size of the Pentagon.

The actual text of the First Amendment to the Constitution is: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The text of Chairman Jordan’s letter to FBI Director Wray can be read here.
Scott Dreyer

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