Throughout his testimony yesterday, Attorney General Garland insisted that his memo regarding the federal investigation and prosecution of parents protesting local school board decisions applies only to violence and the threat of violence. Yet, the very first line of his memo speaks not just of violence and its threat, but also of “intimidation” and “harassment.”
Garland tried to reconcile the language of his memo with his testimony. I understood him to say that under Supreme Court case law, the federal statutes criminalizing intimidation and harassment apply only where the threat of violence is present. Any extension beyond that would violate the First Amendment.
But under Garland’s argument, the words “intimidation” and “harassment” that he used in his memo are superfluous. They add nothing to “threat of violence.”
It’s highly unlikely that someone as learned in the law as Garland would have used three different sets of words to describe just one thing. Garland either meant to describe three different things the DOJ wants to investigate and possibly prosecute — in other words, not just the threat of violence — or he had some other purpose in mind.
What other purpose? To cause unhappy parents not to show up at school board meetings or, if they do show up, to be polite.
Sen. Hawley made this point effectively. He noted that a concerned parent reading Garland’s memo would not be aware of the Supreme Court law Garland mentioned. A concerned parent would assume that the words harassment and intimidation, consistent with their every-day meanings, extend to behavior less severe than the threat of violence.
A concerned parent would also understand that “harassment” and “intimidation” are open-ended concepts. A federal government under the influence of an association of schools boards, as ours clearly is, would likely construe them broadly.
Indeed, as several Senators noted, the U.S. Attorney in Montana has issued a memo under which the ban on harassment means that concerned parents can be prosecuted for repeated phone calls, however many the prosecutor decides that is. (Garland claimed he hadn’t seen the memo. If so, that’s more evidence that he’s just a figure head.)
Thus, I think there are only two plausible interpretations of the opening to Garland’s memo. Either he intends that the DOJ investigate and possibly prosecute parent behavior that involves no threat of violence or he at least wanted to make parents fearful of such investigation and prosecution in order to chill them from expressing vehement dissent.
In either case, as Sen. Cotton said at the hearing, Garland should resign in disgrace.