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The claim: The FBI considers anti-CRT protests a 'domestic terror threat' but setting fires during George Floyd protests a 'peaceful protest'
Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the FBI to look into increased harassment and threats directed toward public school officials after a letter from the National School Board Association raised concerns over those protesting critical race theory.
Posts on social media have latched onto this directive to claim some protesters are treated better than others by the FBI.
An Oct. 6 Facebook post includes two images. The first is a demonstration in North Carolina against teaching critical race theory, often abbreviated as CRT. The second is a person watching a Minneapolis building burn during a protest of George Floyd’s murder by police. The post claims the FBI considers the former a “domestic terror threat” and the latter a “peaceful protest.”
It amassed 1,700 likes and 1,400 shares in two days.
But the post gets the facts wrong. The letter from the school board group asserted that violent conduct by anti-CRT protesters at board meetings may be rising to a form of domestic terrorism and asked several federal departments, including the FBI, to look into it. But there’s no evidence the FBI agrees the conduct rises to a level of terrorism. And, when violence broke out in Minneapolis amid protest over Floyd’s death, the FBI condemned it.
USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user who shared the post for comment.
National School Board Association's letter to Biden
Critical race theory is an academic concept that examines the role systems and policies have in perpetuating racism. It's been around for more than 40 years but recently has been co-opted by conservatives as a synonym for anti-racism work taking place in institutions like schools.
Parents across the country have pushed back against any semblance of this approach in schools, but there's no evidence the FBI has labeled this as domestic terrorism. This description could stem from a misunderstanding of a national organization's complaint to federal law enforcement.
In a letter to President Joe Biden, the school board group raised concerns that school officials across the country are facing physical threats due to “propaganda” alleging CRT is being taught in schools.
The letter lists a number of instances where protests got out of hand, turning to death threats, hate speech or violent altercations at board meetings. It’s these actions the association likens to domestic terrorism.
“As these acts of malice, violence and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” the association’s letter reads.
The letter requests that a “joint expedited review” of the behavior and threats be undertaken by the departments of Justice, Education and Homeland Security. The FBI is part of the Department of Justice.
In an Oct. 4 memorandum, Garland, the attorney general, directed the FBI to work with local leaders across the country to address a “disturbing spike” in harassment and violent threats against school board members, administrators, teachers and staff.
His statement makes no mention of “domestic terrorism” or similar assertions. It encourages free speech while condemning violence.
“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,” Garland wrote in the memo.
The FBI declined to comment for this fact check but has not made any statement or ruling categorizing this speech as domestic terrorism.
Domestic terrorism is defined by the FBI as activities that occur primarily within the U.S. territorial jurisdiction and involve acts that endanger human life in violation of criminal laws and appear to be an effort to intimidate or coerce civilians, influence government policy or affect the conduct of a government via mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.
FBI condemned violence amid George Floyd protests
After Floyd was murdered in May 2020 by former police officer Derek Chauvin, protests erupted all over the country. But the first demonstrations to grab headlines occurred in Floyd’s hometown, Minneapolis.
The FBI's Minneapolis field office released a statement on June 1, 2020, that addressed the unrest.
“With great empathy toward the intense emotions experienced by the community, the FBI works to protect the First Amendment rights of those who wish to peacefully protest,” the statement reads. “However, when peaceful protests are corrupted by criminal acts resulting in the destruction of property and potential physical harm to citizens, the FBI is compelled to investigate and pursue charges where appropriate."
The statement also requested help from the public to identify individuals who participated in violent behavior, like setting fires, inciting violence or assaulting police officers.
While some protests did turn violent, research after the fact shows that those occurrences were the minority.
A study by Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute, an interdisciplinary research center, determined that just 3.7% of Black Lives Matter protests from May to June 2020 involved property damage or vandalism, and only 5% of demonstrations resulted in police making arrests. In 97.7% of events, there were no injuries reported by participants, bystanders or police, the study found.
“These figures should correct the narrative that the protests were overtaken by rioting and vandalism or violence,” the authors of the study wrote in a memo. “Such claims are false.”
Our rating: False
We rate FALSE the claim that the FBI considers anti-CRT protests a "domestic terror threat" but setting fires during George Floyd protests a "peaceful protest." A letter from the National School Board Association asserted that violent conduct by anti-CRT protesters at board meetings may be rising to a form of domestic terrorism. But there’s no evidence the FBI agrees the conduct rises to a level of terrorism. And, when violence broke out in Minneapolis amid protest over Floyd’s death, the FBI condemned it.
Our fact-check sources:
New Bern Sun Journal, May 21, Protestors express alarm over Critical Race Theory at Craven Board of Ed meeting
New York Times, July 3, 2020, ‘They Have Lost Control’: Why Minneapolis Burned
National School Boards Association, Sept. 29, memo
Office of the Attorney General, Oct. 4, memo
Department of Homeland Security, retrieved Oct. 8, National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS)
Federal Bureau of Investigations, retrieved Oct. 8, Domestic Terrorism: Definitions, Terminology, and Methodology
FBI Minneapolis, June 1, 2020, Statement from FBI Minneapolis—Seeking Public Help
Harvard Radcliffe Institute, Oct. 20, 2020, Black Lives Matter Protesters Were Overwhelmingly Peaceful, Our Research Finds
Education Week, May 18, What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack?
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Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: False claim FBI deemed anti-CRT protesters a terror threat