by Jorge Gomez • 6 min read
A leaked memo reveals the FBI had efforts underway to identify and treat Catholics as “potential terrorists.” A whistleblower recently leaked a report produced by the agency’s Richmond, Virginia field office titled “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities.” That document allegedly stated that the agency vowed to spy on “radical traditionalist Catholics and their ideology.”
The report relied upon information from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a discredited and radical organization known for labeling political opponents as “hate groups” or “extremists.” It also referenced multiple left-leaning sources, citing them as evidence of the emergence of white supremacy among “radical traditionalist Catholics.”
The document sparked national controversy and drew sharp criticism from groups across the country. Catholic League President Bill Donohue condemned the memo, saying:
“There hasn’t been a wave of virulent anti-Catholicism in the West like what we are currently witnessing in at least a hundred years…They are being monitored and persecuted for their faith by government bodies. That this is going on in what are called democracies is mind-boggling.”
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and 19 state attorneys general sent a letter demanding answers from the FBI and Justice Department. They didn’t mince words, writing that “anti-Catholic bigotry appears to be festering in the FBI, and the Bureau is treating Catholics as potential terrorists because of their beliefs.” They also urged these federal agencies to “desist from investigating and surveilling Americans who have done nothing more than exercise their natural and constitutional right to practice their religion in a manner of their choosing” and to “reveal to the American public the extent to which they have engaged in such activities.”
The FBI retracted the report, saying it did not meet the agency’s “exacting standards” and that there would be an internal review. The FBI National Press Office issued a statement vowing to continue its work “while upholding the constitutional rights of all Americans and will never conduct investigative activities or open an investigation based solely on First Amendment protected activity.”
This anti-religious animus isn’t just festering at the FBI. It’s taking hold across multiple federal agencies, including the Department of Defense. First Liberty obtained a screenshot of an unclassified slide from a U.S. Army training presentation titled “Religious Extremism” that purports to identify religious “extremist groups.” Not surprisingly, the list includes Al Qaeda, Hamas, and the Ku Klux Klan. But what’s shocking is that Evangelical Christianity is at number one.
What’s more, Senate Democrats recently passed a resolution condemning “white religious nationalism.” Co-sponsored by more than 30 senators, the resolution linked some religious groups to racist ideologies, arguing that “one of many heinous elements of white nationalism is its perversion of religion to make their hateful message more palatable.”
On cue, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter to criticize Super Bowl ads run by the Christian organization “He Gets Us.” She wrote: “Something tells me Jesus would *not* spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads to make fascism look benign.”
Something tells me Jesus would *not* spend millions of dollars on Super Bowl ads to make fascism look benign
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 13, 2023
These are just some among many recent examples showing that labels like “Christian nationalist, “religious extremist” and the like are frequently being used to crush people of faith. As our experts have explained, the problem with these terms is that they have no settled definition. They are broadly used to demonize public prayer and virtually any other commonplace religious activity.
This is simply a part of the political warfare that aims to wrongly paint religious people as racists and white supremacists. Americans who exercise their constitutional rights and who want to live, work and express views consistent with their faith are accused by political forces of being fascists, theocrats and authoritarians.
Treating religious Americans as “extremists” is dangerous. It’s a direct attack on religious freedom. We would be wise to remember that power-hungry tyrants are known for vilifying the faithful. In search of complete control and authority, religious people have always been the first ones on the target list.
Make no mistake. Radicals want to normalize the use of these “extremist” labels to chip away and destroy religious freedom, one of the building blocks of our Republic. We simply can’t let that happen—and First Liberty will keep fighting to make sure Americans are free to live out their religious beliefs without being persecuted, mistreated or censored.