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Does the DOJ have a role in monitoring school board meetings?

Does the DOJ have a role in monitoring school board meetings?

United States Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a directive to the FBI to monitor school board meetings to address what is said to be an increasing level of intimidation and violence against educators and administrators.

Garland said in his letter that it is not the Department of Justice’s intent to stifle “spirited debate.”  There are two problems with the AG’s order.

First, I know of no precise legal definition of “spirited debate.”  As a spokesperson for both the Chicago and Detroit Boards of Education during intense union negotiations and teacher strikes, I have faced crowds of angry parents – the kind of yelling fist-shaking folks you see in the current television reports.  I never had the back-up of the FBI.  When some of the community activists got a bit too rowdy – or too threatening – they were handled by the local constabulary – much like you see today on the television screens.

So, what constitutes “spirited debate?”  Is shouting down the speaker beyond the threshold of “spirited debate?”  Or does the use of profanities?  Or verbal THREATS of violence?  I have endured all of those on occasion – especially when I worked with the Chicago and Detroit Boards of Education — but even the harshest and loudest words never triggered police action.  I never really took the threats seriously.  I was caught up in violent protests on several other occasions – and the local police dealt with it.  I never felt the need for the FBI.

And that is the next point.  “Spirited debate” is determined by the sensitivity of the person at whom the shouts and fists are directed.  While I let the shouts and threats roll off me like water on a duck’s back, a more timid person may be terrified.  And that is the problem.  

What Garland is doing is shrinking the legal definition of free speech – limiting it.  And because his spirited debate exceptions are arbitrary and situational, any enforcement would be arbitrary.  Would such enforcement be more severely deployed against individuals of a specific ideological or racial background – as we see in the dramatic differences in law enforcement in violent demonstrations and riots?

The injection of federal law enforcement is another slippery slope that incrementally limits traditional freedoms and expands the regulatory power of the central government in Washington.

The second problem with Garland’s letter is that it begs the questions: Why is the issue on the federal level at all?  What role can the FBI and the DOJ play that the local police, prosecutors and judges cannot?  There are no legitimate civil rights issues.  School board members are not federal employees.  

We have more than enough local and state laws to address those who take up violence or intimidation.  Activists who continue to disrupt meetings can be arrested and dragged off – again, as you see in the media reports.  Making specific death threats are crimes.  Creating a disturbance in front of a public official’s house is a crime.  Physically attacking a person is a crime.  All of which can be handled by local police.

There is NOTHING that the FBI can do that the local police cannot do – and do do.  

One could reasonably argue that the involvement of the FBI may, itself, be a source of intimidation against those engaging in “spirited debate”.

So, there ‘tis.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.


  1. Dan Tyree

    The DOJ should only go after criminals and antifa thugs. Leave the school boards alone. But hey, how else can communism gain control?

  2. frank stetson

    “The injection of federal law enforcement is another slippery slope.”
    but paying citizens bounties to track down rape victims and incest victims, and their doctors, and anyone who might have lent a helping hand, for the crime of having a life-saving abortion —– well, that’s not slippery, that’s sleazy. And then we expand the concept to cover all violations, yippeoiokayeemfker.

    While I think I have your answer to your, and others, rant about this, I do wonder how you can be upset at one of these and give the other a pass. I don’t know what Constitutional law Texas has broken, but shit, there has got to be something wrong about that. I see a day in Texas where we pay bounties on all crimes, have bounty hunters everywhere, concealed carry too, and we all just start spending all our spare time tracking each other down for driving infraction bounties. Now there’s a law that’s not gonna end well.

    You, and many others, make some fine points here, although, on it’s face, monitoring is not exactly censoring or limiting free speech any more than you seem to feel that intimidation and threats are appropriate forms of free speech in public areas against public officials. Sorry, threats are not lively conversation, they are threats. Threats against public officials are a crime; it’s a criminal act. Waiting for after the violence to react may be shortsighted IF one can easily act to avoid violence. Sort of like the rationale for concealed carry although I didn’t expect to circle back to that. I think we call that good police work and good guys with guns.

    Of course, these crimes would not be federal. I think you may have missed some of the finer points here. The Garland Memo, or it’s backgrounder, states that the FBI action would take place in an DOJ taskforce consisting of DOJ, FBI, and other agencies in order to assess if and how federal enforcement tools can be deployed to help prosecute these potential crimes. Assessment, federal tools, local enforcement. Sort of like using the FBI finger-print database to catch a local criminal, locally. Plus training assistance.

    Gee, that sounds a little more palatable unless you object to local agencies having access to federal tools?

    Think that is the explanation of how this one will roll, Larry. Does that help? No need to respond on the Texas part, I got your drift, you support the law by holding your nose on a few items. Think I got it, right?

  3. Joseph S. Bruder

    Since Larry likes to mischaracterize things like this, here is the text of Garland’s memo:

    In recent months, 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. 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.

    Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core
    values. Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper
    education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.

    The Department takes these incidents seriously and is committed to using its authority
    and resources to discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them
    when appropriate. In the coming days, the Department will announce a series of measures
    designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.

    Coordination and partnership with local law enforcement is critical to implementing these
    measures for the benefit of our nation’s nearly 14,000 public school districts. To this end, I am
    directing the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with each United States Attorney, to
    convene meetings with federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial leaders in each federal judicial
    district within 30 days of the issuance ofthis memorandum. These meetings will facilitate the
    discussion of strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members,
    teachers, and staff, and will open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting,
    assessment, and response.

    The Department is steadfast in its commitment to protect all people in the United States
    from violence, threats of violence, and other forms of intimidation arid harassment.

    Words not in the memo: “monitor” and “school board meetings”… the entire memo is about working with state and local authorities to make sure that teachers, principals, administrators and staff are safe and not threatened.

    Places where those words are found:

    FOX News article: “USA Today op-ed blasts Biden DOJ for getting involved in school board meetings”

    A different FOX News article, mentions school board meetings, but also brings in a totally unrelated recall election topic: “Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Friday sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking him to clarify what his recent memo on “harassment” and “intimidation” of school officials by parents means, including whether recall election efforts amount to intimidation that should be investigated by the police. ”

    Yet another FOX New article titled “GOP senators push back on DOJ ‘policing the speech of citizens”: “SEN. MARCO RUBIO: THE FBI SHOULD BE FOCUSED ON ORGANIZED CRIME, NOT PARENTS AT A SCHOOL BOARD HEARING”… same article, quoting DeSantis: “Attorney General Garland is weaponizing the DOJ by using the FBI to pursue concerned parents and silence them through intimidation. ” Of course, “DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw told Fox News in a statement that it was too early to tell what steps the governor would take in response to the DOJ’s order but that he was closely monitoring the situation”, so at least somebody is monitoring something, although not necessarily the meetings themselves.

    There’s a YouTube video of Josh Hawley saying “FBI is now monitoring school board meetings”… Some website called “whatfinger” brings in another hotbutton topic with: Sebastian Gorka on the DOJ allegedly monitoring school board meetings: “The parents are being shut out of these meetings because they are finally challenging the bigotry, the racism of Critical Race Theory.” And other than PBP’s title on this article, I didn’t really find much more.

    So, Larry, first of all, you’re being lazy by using FOX News hype to create a whole article out of a false premise (I believe you like to call that a “straw man” argument). This one theme is being adapted and expanded by Republican extremists into right-wing propaganda, and you’re running with it. And secondly, as usual, you are carrying hod for the Republican extremists who are only trying to create another scandal by selectively misunderstanding or deliberately misquoting (or dare I say, just making up total bullshit) based on a memo with an entirely different meaning.Next time, at least read the source before you go off half-cocked in your battle against Democrats.

    I wonder why you don’t defend the AG for trying to protect public servants? (Answer: because you didn’t read the memo first). Why don’t you condemn the violence, intimidation, and threats of the anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers? (same answer)… People who are getting vaccinated and wearing masks, and advocating those measures to protect the lives of their children are not the people making threats against public servants (in or out of school board meetings). Larry, you are showing that your priorities are not good intentions, they’re to sow mistrust and fear among your “conservative” Trumpian (i.e. gullible) readers.

  4. Frank stetson

    I am a little surprised that Larry did not stand up and walk this one back. Sure looks like he was 100% wrong on this one v


    • Joseph S. Bruder

      Larry is a hod-carrier for the Trump/Republican Party. He will not admit to errors in judgement or facts, no matter what evidence or logic he is confronted with. Just like the 90% of Republicans in Congress who are still toeing the line about Trump not losing the election (or whatever variant of that you choose), someday Larry’s tombstone will say “Trump: Best President Ever.”