Brian Burch, the president of Catholic Vote, is demanding that Congress investigate the recent FBI memo urging agents to probe the alleged nexus between racially-motivated violent extremists and “radical-traditional Catholics,” citing the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Burch warned against a “pattern of anti-Catholic bigotry” at the Department of Justice that represents “the new Inquisition” against Roman Catholics. He told The Daily Signal in a phone interview Tuesday that he is in contact with multiple members of Congress, urging an investigation.
“We’d like to understand what’s happening here. How far up does this go?” he asked. “American Catholics, and frankly fairminded Americans deserve answers about whether or not the Department of Justice has breeched a historic norm whereby Catholics and those who believe what Catholics believe are no longer given the protections of equal justice under the law.”
“It’s a very dangerous slippery slope we’re on, where holding to unpopular political speech that poses no violent threat becomes grounds for criminal action by the federal government,” Burch warned.
The FBI issued a rare public retraction last week after an FBI whistleblower published the memo. The document, “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities,” characterizes radical-traditional Catholics or “RTCs” by “the rejection of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) as a valid church council; disdain for most of the popes elected since Vatican II, particularly Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II; and frequent adherence to anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, and white supremacist ideology.”
The memo suggests that the FBI should monitor these Catholics through “the development of sources with access,” including in “places of worship,” and it cites a list of “hate groups” published by the SPLC.
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The FBI announced that it would retract the document, telling The Daily Signal that the memo “does not meet the exacting standards of the FBI.”
“The Southern Poverty Law Center is no neutral partisan objective source of analysis when it comes to extremism or hate groups,” Burch explained. “The pattern of abuse and misrepresentation by the Southern Poverty Law Center has been well-documented in ‘Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center,’ a book that should be more widely read to understand the danger they pose.”
As I explain in my book “Making Hate Pay,” the SPLC took the program it used to bankrupt organizations associated with the Ku Klux Klan and weaponized it against conservative groups, partially to scare donors into ponying up cash and partially to silence ideological opponents.
After the SPLC fired its co-founder amid a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal in 2019, a former staffer claimed that the SPLC’s accusations of “hate” are a “cynical fundraising scam” aimed at “bilking northern liberals.” Critics across the political spectrum have voiced opposition and alarm at the organization’s hate group smears.
In 2012, a terrorist targeted the Family Research Council’s headquarters in the nation’s capital, entering the lobby with a semiautomatic pistol and then shooting and wounding a guard. The man told the FBI that he found the conservative organization on the SPLC’s “hate map” and intended to kill everyone in the building. That man pleaded guilty to committing an act of terror and received a 25-year prison sentence. The SPLC condemned the attack, but has kept the Family Research Council on its hate map ever since.
“The really worrisome thing here is that it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish the Southern Poverty Law Center from the Department of Justice,” Burch said. He called the SPLC a “discredited political extremist group that seeks to unfairly paint their opponents as unworthy of First Amendment protection,” warning that it is now “inciting government law enforcement agencies to enforce its political agenda.” (While the SPLC claims that it does not oppose its opponents’ free speech rights, SPLC spokesman Mark Potok said in 2009, “our aim in life is to destroy these groups,” to “so mortally embarrass these groups that they will be destroyed.”)
Yet the Justice Department’s “pattern of anti-Catholic bigotry” extends far beyond one memo, the Catholic Vote president argued.
“It’s not merely a leaked FBI memo, it’s a pattern inside the Department of Justice that fails to prosecute crimes of vandalism, desecration, and domestic terrorism, combined with their hunting down peaceful pro-life protesters, including initiating raids of their homes and their families,” he said. “A jury unanimously acquitted an innocent man who was pursued by an aggressive pro-abortion Department of Justice that claims to be impartial.”
Burch was referring to two trackers CatholicVote maintains, reporting that there have been 81 attacks on pregnancy centers and 127 attacks on Catholic churches since the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade in early May. While the FBI first announced an investigation into these attacks last month, it has prosecuted pro-life Americans who protest abortion facilities, such as Mark Houck. The FBI raided Houck’s house to arrest him last September, but a jury found him not guilty of all charges last month.
Yet Burch added that the memo “reveals something deeply concerning about the inner workings of the Department of Justice and the FBI. They repeatedly cite the discredited Southern Poverty Law Center, along with an article from The Atlantic that compared the rosary to an AR-15.”
“These are the dangerous musings of hard-left-wing ideologues with no understanding of the Catholic faith whatsoever,” he warned. “They go after the Catholic Church for what we believe but the way in which they’re behaving is the new Inquisition where they deem those they disagree with heretics and call for their elimination from public life.”
Burch praised Attorney General Jason Miyares, R-Va., for demanding answers from the FBI regarding the memo. He also praised Bishop Barry Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond, Va., who called on all members of Congress from Virginia to “publicly condemn this threat to religious liberty.”
The Catholic Vote president noted that the Republican-majority House of Representatives “is already investigating the weaponization of the FBI,” adding that “the specific threats against Catholics deserved just as much scrutiny” as other examples of the Biden administration using the Justice Department to threaten political opponents.
LifeNews Note: Elizabeth Troutman is a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. Tyler O’Neil is managing editor of The Daily Signal and the author of “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center.” This column originally appeared at Daily Signal.