The FBI and Religious Espionage

In a letter sent to FBI Director and US Attorney General Merrick Garland, Virginia Attorney General and the attorneys general of 19 other states demanded an explanation for a memo recently leaked from the Richmond, VA, office that targets certain Catholic groups as possible domestic threats and suggests recruiting people within the churches to spy on fellow worshipers.

The memo, which became public on February 8, targets Catholics as potential threats due to their religious beliefs and is a cause for concern among the attorneys general.

The [leaked] memo, which distinguishes between acceptable and unacceptable Catholic beliefs and practices, seams to suggest that Catholics who prefer a traditional Latin mass and pre-Vatican II teachings are “radical-traditionalists” who could be “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.” The document further implies that the FBI should develop “sources with access” in “places of worship,” suggesting that the FBI may begin recruiting Catholics to spy on their fellow worshippers.

A full copy of the letter about the memo can be found at the bottom of this page.

The signatories to this letter are not a group of people I would normally agree with about much, as they are the attorneys general of some of the most conservative states in the country. And there are several examples and comments I disagree with in the letter. The main theses of the letter, however, that the FBI should not be defining “appropriate” and “inappropriate” beliefs and practices or targeting individuals because of their religion, are ones I can support wholeheartedly, as long as it’s applied to all religions equally. If someone truly is a threat, then there will be indications of this in their general behavior as well, not just in their religious life.

Saying that “Catholics who prefer a traditional Latin mass and pre-Vatican II teachings are “radical-traditionalists” who could be “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.”” is a pretty sweeping statement. There are likely many older Catholics who may prefer the old ways for reasons that have nothing to do with any kind of extremism.

Of course, part of my concern stems from how easily the FBI could target my faith in a similar way. Because a number of the violent, fascist, white supremacist Heathen groups focus on Odin, the FBI could suggest that Heathens who consider themselves “Odinists” or “Wotanists” could be “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.” The thing is, there are many Inclusive Heathens, who also consider themselves Odinists and are not a threat to anyone. The FBI would be better served by seeking to find those who have white supremacist tattoos or engage in nakedly racist behavior in public, own several weapons, often speak in violent terms and so on – all things that can be observed without taking their professed religious beliefs into account.

Didn’t we learn anything from the fallout of the NYPD targeting Muslims and trying to get eyes into the mosques following 9/11? Or is this a lesson law enforcement will have to keep relearning?

Hopefully, the program suggested by the memo never got off the ground or will be quickly shut down. Either way, people of faith will apparently need to keep an eye on law enforcement if they want to protect their civil liberties.

Letter to Attorney General … by Ezra Hercyk

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