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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Internal Inquiry Finds F.B.I. Memo on “Radical-Traditionalist” Catholics Violated Standards

An internal Justice Department inquiry has shed light on a memo circulated by the FBI, warning of potential threats from “radical-traditionalist” Catholics. The 11-page document, leaked early last year, has since become a focal point for criticism, particularly from Republicans who allege bias against Catholics and conservatives within the bureau.

The memo, drafted by analysts in the FBI’s Richmond office, was intended to highlight potential risks posed by self-identified Catholic extremists and far-right white nationalists in the lead-up to the 2024 election. However, the Justice Department’s watchdog found that the memo improperly conflated religious beliefs with the likelihood of engaging in domestic terrorism, giving the impression of targeting individuals based on faith.

While the inquiry found no evidence of malicious intent or deliberate targeting of Catholics, it concluded that the memo failed to adhere to analytic standards and displayed errors in professional judgment. FBI Director Christopher A. Wray took swift action in response, tightening approval processes for such reports and reprimanding employees involved in drafting the memo.

The memo was prompted by an investigation into an individual described as a “radical traditional Catholic Clerical Fascist” residing in Henrico County. This individual had a history of violent threats against liberals, racial minorities, and Jews, and was suspected of illegal weapons possession. The FBI’s scrutiny extended to the individual’s interactions with a conservative Catholic congregation, leading to the deployment of a confidential informant within the church.

However, the FBI maintained that the informant’s role was strictly limited to gathering information about the target individual and not about the church or other parishioners. Despite discussions at the bureau’s national headquarters regarding a potential report on the resurgence of interest in the Catholic Church among domestic violent extremists, the effort was abandoned following the memo’s public disclosure.

Former President Donald J. Trump and Republican lawmakers, including Representative Jim Jordan and Senator Charles E. Grassley, seized on the memo to criticize the FBI and the Biden administration. They raised concerns about potential bias and demanded answers from FBI officials, including Director Wray.

However, the FBI maintained that the memo did not reflect its standards and reiterated that there was no intent to target Catholics or any other group based on religion. Director Wray, in testimony before Congress, vehemently denied allegations of targeting Catholics and expressed dismay over the memo’s contents.

Despite the controversy surrounding the memo, the FBI’s actions following its release demonstrate a commitment to upholding professional standards and addressing concerns raised by the inquiry. The swift withdrawal of the memo, along with measures to enhance oversight and accountability, underscores the bureau’s dedication to maintaining public trust and integrity in its operations.

Moving forward, the FBI remains vigilant in addressing potential threats while ensuring that its investigative practices adhere to the highest standards of professionalism and impartiality. The internal inquiry serves as a reminder of the importance of rigorous oversight and accountability within law enforcement agencies, particularly when addressing sensitive issues such as religious beliefs and extremism.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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