Department of Homeland Security Counterterrorism Coordinator John Cohen said on Nov. 3 that the DHS hasn’t found evidence of rising violence against educators—refuting the ostensible reason that Attorney General Merrick Garland launched an ongoing investigation into the matter.
Cohen’s remarks came during a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on domestic terrorism in response to questions from Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who asked about Garland’s decision last month to open an investigation into violence against educators. The probe comes at a time when parents groups have increased pressure on school boards over the teaching of critical race theory and the imposition of mask mandates, among other issues.
Garland cited a “disturbing spike” in harassment and threats of violence as his reason for opening the probe, but Cohen said at the hearing that his department has found no evidence of widespread violence.
Cohen said: “We did reach out to state and local law enforcement. There have been some sporadic instances of violence at school board meetings and in educational facilities. However, the information that we received is that state and local law enforcement were not seeing widespread action.”
Responding to questions from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Cohen said the DHS hasn’t seen any quantifiable evidence of a rise in death threats.
Cohen’s statements mark the latest development undermining Garland’s reason for launching an investigation—an action critics accuse of being politically motivated and chilling free speech.
Last month, Garland admitted that the evidence underpinning his claims of rising threats of violence was a letter from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent to the Biden administration—a letter characterizing protesting parents as domestic terrorism threats and calling for the FBI to use statutes such as the Patriot Act.
Since then, the NSBA has retracted and apologized for the letter. A group of 17 state attorneys general has also called for Garland to rescind his memo, saying it “chills lawful dissent.”
Nevertheless, the federal probe continues. Garland defended his actions at an Oct. 27 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, saying that the NSBA’s follow-up apology letter “does not change the association’s concern about violence and threats of violence.”
Republican lawmakers demanded answers in a Nov. 1 letter to the DOJ, requesting internal emails and other records related to the probe.
Lawmakers also questioned FBI Assistant Director of Counterterrorism Timothy Langan about the matter at the Nov. 3 hearing.
Stefanik asked why the Department of Justice hadn’t closed the investigation, given that the NSBA has retracted its letter, but Langan said that question would have to be referred to the DOJ. Stefanik then asked Langan whether he thinks the investigation should be closed, to which Langan replied that he “doesn’t want to speak for the AG.”
Langan also said he didn’t know whether any state or local governments had reached out to federal authorities for assistance dealing with threats of violence against educators.
When Stefanik raised questions about the status of a series of meetings Garland directed federal law enforcers to hold across more than 94 state, local, and other jurisdictions, Langan said he didn’t know how many had taken place.
The FBI official said the district U.S. Attorneys’ Offices were to coordinate those meetings, which is why he didn’t have much information.
Later in the hearing, Stefanik pointed out that Garland’s memo directed the FBI to work “with” the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices to hold the meetings.
“So the FBI is directing this,” she said.
Langan maintained that the U.S. attorneys are the ones handling the meetings.
“The FBI’s not directing this. It’s the U.S. Attorney’s Office that, in my understanding, was going to direct and format the meetings—and we would react,” he said.