The FBI and Religious Espionage

Hands folded in prayer, holding a rosary, resting on the back of a pew in a church.

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

Nationwide Effects of State Decisions

One of the biggest dangers our country faces today is the creeping fascism of people like Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump and other right-wing extremists. So far, most of the damage has been confined to the conservative red states, but that may not always be the situation. In a current anti-abortion case, the results would affect every state – even those that have upheld a woman’s right to choose.

An anti-abortion group, The Alliance Defending Freedom, has filed a suit that would force the FDA to revoke its approval of mifepristone, claiming it is unsafe. Mifepristone is one part of a two-drug regimen that can be taken in the first 10 weeks of a pregnancy to end it. This is currently the most common form of abortion used in the country.

A judge in Texas is preparing to make a ruling in this case, but just because he’s in Texas doesn’t mean his decision would only impact Texas. If he rules the FDA must revoke its approval, the pill would become unavailable in the entire US. According to Bloomsburg Law:

Medical associations have defended the safety of mifepristone, a drug that studies show is safer than and sends fewer people to the emergency room than Tylenol and Viagra. Many attorneys say ADF’s argument is without merit, though note Kacsmaryk’s track record suggests he’s likely to give a sympathetic ear.

“This would be the first time a court has ever taken a drug off the market over the objection of the FDA and a drug sponsor. It’s just totally unprecedented,” said Greer Donley, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Of particular concern in this instance is that the ADF chose to file their petition in this particular court in order to get this particular judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, who is a Trump appointee and known to be sympathetic to conservative causes.

The federal trial court judge in the Northern District of Texas has halted federal action meant to protect asylum seekers and tossed rules expanding teen access to birth control. He also rejected a policy that stopped doctors from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Kacsmaryk now has the opportunity to strip a common drug used in medication abortions of its federal approval and block regulators from enforcing a Labor Department rule that permits private-sector employers to consider environmental, societal, and governance factors when choosing investments for 401(k) plans.

Deliberately filing a case in a district where the plaintiff is most likely going to get a sympathetic judge is known as judge shopping. Kacsmaryk’s court is popular for conservatives to file in, not only because of his own conservative leanings, but because any appeals of his rulings will go to the 5th District Court, which is also notoriously conservative, and from there it goes to our conservative-loaded Supreme Court.

The courts are likely to become one of the biggest battlegrounds in the fight against creeping fascism. President Biden needs to push through as many judicial nominations as he can while we hold the Senate to counter the large number of judged Trump was able to appoint. As for judge shopping, unfortunately, I don’t know of a solution for that. Hopefully, someone more educated in the law will have some ideas.

Want to Know Which Books are Being Banned in Florida?

A little girl is standing in a room full of empty bookshelves, some with cobwebs on them. The caption is "GOP-Approved School Library"

With Ron DeSantis’ “moral crusade” trying to outlaw anything that might be offensive to white Christians men, Florida is becoming a pretty scary place. What makes it worse is that he wants to be President and what he’s doing in Florida now is what he wants to do to the entire United States. Because of this, his actions and actions taken by officials in Florida counties and cities deserve close attention.

Among his worst offensives is his rampage on books in schools. PEN America a literary freedom advocacy organization published a list showing 176 books that had been banned in Duval Country, Florida. This list was published on December 6th, 2022, so there may be more books on it now, as if the current list isn’t long enough.
They report:

PEN America on Tuesday presented a joint letter with We Need Diverse Books and authors and illustrators of 176 books removed from classrooms in Duval County, Florida, in January 2022 for “review.” They have been kept in storage for 10 months with little indication of when they might return to classrooms.

The removed titles were part of the Essential Voices Classroom Libraries Collection, purchased by the district in 2021. This collection “features characters representing a variety of ethnicities, religious affiliations, and gender identities,” and includes children’s picture books such as Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, Dim Sum for Everyone! by Grace Lin, and Berenstain Bears and the Big Question by Stan and Jan Berenstain.

Looking through the titles, I keep wondering what could be offensive about some of these books. Yes, they celebrate the lives or accomplishments of women or non-whites, talk about how non-white or non-Christian families might celebrate certain holidays, contain stories about non-white families or families that might look different than the so-called “ideal”, or relate tales from other countries. But why should that be considered offensive? Right, it shouldn’t.

This is just one example of the new fascism that right-wing extremists want to force us to live under. If we don’t find ways to stop what’s happening in Florida, even if Ron DeSantis himself never become President, others with his same ideals just might, with disasterous results. If you’re part of a school board or are a parent active in your schools, fight for your kids to be able to read books like those on this list. And even if you’re not, do whatever you can to help defeat candidates who want to bring this kind of creeping fascism to the US. We have too much to lose.

Vikings Valhalla Season 2 Episode 3 Review

This was an enjoyable episode, but aside from Leif and Harald starting their trip to Constantinople, it didn’t feel like very much happened. I didn’t even realize that nothing had happened in Kattegat until I was re-reading the recap I wrote the other day.

Novgorod was the main focus of any real movement in the episode. Leif saw his first book and an astrolabe, learned that Mariam is ill and wants to go to the doctors in Constantinople, and arranged not only for her to travel, but for her to tutor him in reading and mathmatics on the way. I like how they’re showing him gaining the skills to eventually be able to travel to North America.

Harald is, of course, being Harald. He’s a very brash man, filled with more confidence than sense at times. When Gestr, the slaver, asks if he can provide fighters, Harald boasts he has “the best” – when all he has at the time is Leif. As Yaroslav observes, its quite a motley assortment he ends up putting together – “A prince, a slaver, a blind Pecheneg, a woman scholar, two con men and a noble, on a boat on a sled. What could go wrong?” I suspect we’ll be finding out shortly.

London is still feeling a bit like an afterthought, though learning that Aelfwynn’s brother was the assassian is interesting. I hope something significant happens in this story soon, as I find myself feeling a bit of dread when the setting moves there.

Freydis is settling into her life in Jomsborg, but all isn’t necessarily going well. Gudrid was clearly upset when Freydis invited her to step into the temple, and Jorundr did not approve of her encouragement of Hrafna to participate in the training. Later, when Hrafna went missing, his lack of concern for the girl was unsettling.

Not every episode can be action-packed or full of significant events, so even though this one felt a bit slow, it’s not a drag on the series as a whole.

Vikings Valhalla, Season 2, Episode 3, “Pieces of the Gods” Recap


Leif wakes up and finds himself in Mariam’s room, where she had him brought after finding him in the snow. She tells him if he wants to kill himself with a lighting strike, the iron rod she’s holding would attract the lightning better than his head. He tells her he wasn’t trying to kill himself, but doesn’t think he can explain what happened. He sees books on her desks and comments that he’s never seen one before. She says it’s a book of ideas, and when he asks “Whose?” she responds “Mine”, and that her life’s goal has been to journey to all the great centers of knowledge, including Constantinople. When she coughs again, she tries to pass it off as nothing, but Leif notes that the Greenlanders have a name for that kind of cough – being “squeezed by a ghost.” She explains she wants to go back to Constantinople because they have good doctors there. Leif leaves, but looks at his cross again as he walks away from her home.

Freydis is in the temple. Gudrid comes to see her, but won’t step all the way into the temple. She explains that only those who talk to the gods are allowed inside, as the temple must be kept pure. Freydis counters that in Uppsala, all are welcome to the temple, and Gudrid reminds her they are not in Uppsala. Freydis tells her that no one can own the gods.

The refugees are working at the forest camp making and packing weapons onto the boats for their next raid. Harekr announces to all that Freydis is pregnant, and that this is a gift from the gods and a promise for their future. Everyone cheers.

In Novgorod, Harald tries to buy a boat, but the owner isn’t interested in selling. Harald instead works out a deal where he will use one of the ship’s cargo holds and provide the crew in exchange for use of the boat. The owner, Gestr, will fill the other hold with the slaves he’s taking to sell.

Back in Jomsborg, Freydis is working with the young warriors. In the crowd, a young girl is mimicking her moves with a stick. Freydis notices and calls the girl, named “Hrafna” (which means “raven”) over, asking her to show what she can do. Jorundr objects saying it is forbidden. Only those who are descendants of “The Skuld” can fight, and only after they have completed a ritual journey to the boneyard. Freydis points out that, like Hrafna, she has no ancestors there, but she was welcomed, and claims the ancestors of Jomsborg for herself and all others, including Hrafna. They then spar briefly. Freydis disarms Hrafna after a few exchanges, and praises her for her good skills. Jorundr and Gudrid are not happy.

Leif talks to Harald about his plans for avoiding the Pechenegs on the trip to Constantinople. Harald explains they will start now, while the river is frozen, and by the time they get near the Pechenegs, the ice will have melted and there will be high rapids they can ride, allowing them to stay on the river and not have to portage across land, which is when the Pechenegs usually attack. The two then go find Kaysen and Batu, the men who were running the fighting arena. Harald offers them a job as fighters on the journey. Initially skeptical, they agree to join the crew. Baku tells Harald where to find a guide to the Dnieper River. The man, Kurya, is in jail, and turns out to be a Pecheneg. He is blind, but says he’s run the route so many times he knows every part of it in his mind. Harald offers to get him out of prison and asks what it would cost to have him serve as their guide. Kurya replies, “A coat.”

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News on “The Traitors”

According to Andy Denhard at “Reality Blurred Peacock has announced a Season Two renewal for their great reality show “The Traitors.” In addition, they will be bringing Season One of “The Traitors UK” to the US as well. According to Denhart, the US season was filmed first, but reports are that the UK season, which uses the same challenges and castle, is even better. He speculates that this is because the crew had a chance to work out all the bugs. We’ll see!

Vikings Valhalla Season 2, Episode 2 “Towers of Faith” Recap


The second episode opens with a series of brief scenes, catching us up with our key players. Olaf and Svein have chased down some Heathens, questioning one about the Jomsvikings, before Olaf tells Svein that to be King, he must bloody his sword. Svein kills the man.

Freydis arrives in Jomsborg where she is recognized by several people there and introduced to Harekr and Gudrid, a married couple who are the leaders of Jomsborg.

Leif and Harald arrive in Novgorod. Leif learns about opium and Harald finds his uncle Yaroslav. When Yaroslav’s guards won’t let Harald speak to him, Harald jumps into the fighting arena, and yells that the fight needs “a Viking named Prince Harald Sigurdsson, great-grandson of Harald Finehair and blood relative of Yaroslav the Wise.”

And in London, Earl Godwin is torturing a man who tried to assassinate Emma to find out who else was behind the plot. When the man says he knows nothing more, Godwin has them burn out his eye as the man says he heard someone call his contact “Bear.”

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