Top Senate Republicans are probing the FBI’s now-rescinded memo on “radical-traditionalist Catholics,” seeking assurances that the agency will disavow targeting religious groups based on information from the Southern Poverty Law Center and other “unreliable sources.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member, demanded an unredacted copy of the internal Jan. 23 intelligence report from the FBI‘s Richmond field office as well as all relevant correspondence and policies.
The bulletin, posted last month on the conservative news site UncoverDC.com by former FBI agent Kyle Seraphin, warned about “violent extremists” adhering to “radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology” and cited a list of nine SPLC-identified “RTC hate groups,” saying they present opportunities for “threat mitigation.”
“The report suggested infiltrating the Church to find informants and gather information,” said the Wednesday letter from the two Senate Republicans to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
“Although the FBI withdrew this report quickly after public scrutiny was focused upon it – which was obviously the right move – its drafting, approval, and release proves yet again the crisis brewing within the FBI and its leadership, which time and again has failed to rein in such blatant bias,” the senators said.
The FBI retracted the document shortly after it was posted on Feb. 8, saying it did not meet the bureau’s “exacting standards.”
The senators also asked for answers on how the report was able to gain approval; whether those involved would be subject to disciplinary action, and whether the agency is using other reports that rely on the SPLC.
“Can you assure us that no further action, investigative or otherwise, will be taken regarding traditional Christians or other religious groups, where SPLC or similar unreliable sources are used or where the basis of the action is constitutionally protected activity rather than specific threats of violence?” the senators asked.
The Senate inquiry came as the latest call for answers on the much-denounced bulletin, which has heightened concerns on the right about the politicization of the Justice Department and FBI.
House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan previously demanded all documents and communications from the FBI related to the leaked report, while 20 Republican attorneys general condemned the document as a “religious attack” on Catholics.
Attorney General Merrick Garland denounced the report and insisted that the “FBI is not targeting Catholics” under grilling Wednesday from Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“The Justice Department does not do that, it does not do investigations based on religion,” Mr. Garland said. “I saw the document you sent. It’s appalling. It’s appalling. I’m in complete agreement with you. I understand the FBI has withdrawn it, and it’s now looking into how this could ever have happened.”
The department has charged more than 20 pro-life activists with offenses related to protests at abortion clinics since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June while making only two arrests in the 81 attacks on pro-life offices and pregnancy centers.
The document, whose sources include left-wing publications Salon and The Atlantic, says “RTCs” are characterized by the rejection of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II); disdain for most popes elected since then, and “frequent adherence to anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, and white supremacist ideology.”
The senators said that the SPLC “reportedly offers no instances of violence to back up its claims that traditional Catholics are aligned with white supremacist groups, and SPLC is notoriously inaccurate and irresponsible in its labeling of “hate groups.”
Mr. Seraphin, who was suspended without pay from the FBI in June 2022, said that while he was with the FBI, “We got briefings that SPLC was not legitimate when I was at Quantico,” according to the right-wing Daily Signal.
The SPLC is known for its “hate map” lumping neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan outfits with mainstream conservative groups like the Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom.
“And this invites the question of why the FBI would ever use SPLC as a source when it consistently shows bias against conservative organizations,” said the senators.
In 2012, gunman Floyd Lee Corkins II attacked the Family Research Council building in Washington, D.C., shooting and wounding a security guard, after seeing the group listed on the SPLC website as anti-gay.