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FBI Accused of Attempting to Infiltrate Churches, Sparking First Amendment Concerns

by | Apr 14, 2023 | Law Enforcement, News, Politics, Religion, The Church, US | 0 comments

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A recent letter from Congressman Jim Jordan, Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, to FBI Director Christopher Wray has raised concerns over the FBI’s handling of domestic violent extremism investigations against Catholic Americans and its impact on First Amendment rights. The letter sheds light on the FBI’s controversial methods, including the use of undercover agents and plans to engage with Catholic parishes for intelligence gathering purposes.

The letter, dated April 10, 2023, claims that a document produced by the FBI’s Richmond Field Office, entitled “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities,” relied on at least one undercover agent to produce its analysis. The document suggests that the FBI proposed engaging with Catholic parishes to develop sources among the clergy and church leadership in order to inform on Americans practicing their faith.

The document in question categorized Catholic Americans based on theological distinctions and, according to the letter, relied on the Southern Poverty Law Center to suggest that certain kinds of Catholic Americans may be domestic terrorists. The Committee on the Judiciary has requested documents and information from the FBI relating to the document and its methods, but the Bureau has not been forthcoming.

The limited information provided to the Committee suggests that the FBI sought to use local religious organizations as “new avenues for tripwire and source development,” contacting local Catholic parishes and diocesan leadership to “sensitize these congregations to the warning signs of radicalization and enlist their assistance to serve as suspicious activity tripwires.”

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This information has been met with outrage, as it suggests that the FBI sought to enlist Catholic houses of worship as potential sources to monitor and report on their parishioners, raising First Amendment concerns. Americans should be free to exercise their fundamental rights without worrying about potential surveillance or informants in their places of worship.

While the FBI claims to have “numerous” and “rigorous” policies to protect First Amendment rights, the Committee on the Judiciary argues that the Richmond document and the information provided to date directly contradict these assertions. The document’s contents, including the proposal to develop sources in Catholic churches, were reviewed and approved by two senior intelligence analysts and even the local Chief Division Counsel.

The House Committee on the Judiciary has subpoenaed the FBI for the requested documents and information, as the agency has not responded to earlier voluntary requests. The Committee is authorized to conduct oversight of the Justice Department and FBI, including with respect to the agencies’ use of law-enforcement and counterterrorism resources and their policies to protect civil liberties, in order to inform potential legislative reforms.

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