A trio of Florida Republicans are among 20 GOP lawmakers demanding that the FBI explain why it is targeting conservative Catholics for surveillance and intelligence-gathering.
Sen. Rick Scott and Reps. Greg Steube and Bill Posey, of Sarasota and Rockledge, respectively, signed a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray expressing deep concerns about the Richmond field office’s warning about “Radical Traditionalist Catholic Ideology.”
As The Free Press reported last week, an FBI analyst in Richmond recently offered thoughts on “Radical-Traditionalist Catholics” or RTCs, who are known primarily by a fondness for the Latin mass and criticism of the liberal reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. The FBI’s report claimed RTCs can include “adherence to anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ and white supremacist ideology.”
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As its source, the FBI cited the dubious work of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a left-wing, anti-GOP advocacy group.
The FBI analyst suggested infiltrating Catholic parishes with agents to keep an eye on the supposed RTCs, and monitoring social media accounts of Catholics who are alleged RTCs.
In their letter, the GOP lawmakers noted the FBI’s analysis was rescinded once it became public. Still, the fact that it was created at all raised “numerous concerns,” they added.
“In addition to the extreme process flaws that the approval of such an advisory demonstrates, of particular concern is the continued reliance that the FBI apparently places on data and resources from the partisan Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC),” they wrote to Wray.
“We are concerned that the FBI does not have processes in place to ensure that Catholics are not the subject of FBI suspicion or investigation simply because of how and where they worship or what they believe.”
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Continuing, the lawmakers noted, “As you are well aware, the First Amendment protects such speech, beliefs, and actions as part of the free exercise of religion.”
The letter-signers also pointed out that the FBI analyst “singled out traditional Catholics for their pro-life views, accusing RTCs of ‘hostility towards abortion-rights advocates.’”
“This specific call out to pro-life views is of even greater concern, considering the slow rate of investigation and response to the violent attacks that a number of pro-life pregnancy centers and Catholic Churches have experienced since the Dobbs decision [that overturned Roe v. Wade] was leaked in May of last year.
“It is of great concern that the FBI did not have the oversight structure in place to stop this document before it was ever published or utilized,” the lawmakers wrote. “And it is crucial that the FBI develop and maintain policies that prevent such objectively discriminatory practices from being advised or implemented again.”
As for the SPLC, the lawmakers added, they were concerned about the FBI’s continued “reliance” on the group, despite the “biased data” it produces and despite its “overt political bias and previous pushback from Congress.”
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“While the SPLC claims to be a group working to expel hate, it is in fact perpetuating hate against people of faith because of their religious views,” the lawmakers argued. “Official government investigations and tracking should not be based on such biased reporting, which has already led to violent attacks against peaceful faith-based organizations. We call on the FBI to finally stop using data from the SPLC.”
The legislators further noted, “It should go without saying that violence and threats toward any person or group of people should be taken seriously.” They also said they worried about “the rise in violence and hate toward individuals and groups.”
Yet, “personal religious beliefs, or agreeing with the Catholic Church’s teaching on sex and marriage are not violent or extreme. Targeting people on the basis of their religious beliefs and affiliation violates the Constitution,” they said.
“The fact that such a document was able to be published and released in the first place is of great concern.”
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The lawmakers then asked the FBI for all records related to the origin and purpose of the analyst’s report, including names of agents involved and what actions they took in response to it.
They also wanted Wray to explain “what actions will be taken to educate all field offices on the Constitutional protections of the First Amendment, and to clarify that the free exercise of religion and religious beliefs do not equate to extremism, and are therefore not a basis for targeting or tracking.”
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