Featured Image

(LifeSiteNews) — A House Weaponization Committee report published Monday reveals that FBI employees are still discussing how to disseminate a bureau-wide memo identifying so-called “Radical Traditionalist Catholic Ideology” as a magnet for “violent extremists.”

The House Judiciary Committee yesterday shared the findings of its investigation into a bombshell memo issued by the FBI Richmond, Virginia Field Office earlier this year that targeted Catholics who attend the Traditional Latin Mass for surveillance, in particular those who attend Masses offered by Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) priests.

The memo, leaked by FBI whistleblower Kyle Seraphin, was promptly and widely decried as a violation of the First Amendment due to its assertion that “increasingly observed interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists (RMVE) in Radical Traditionalist Catholic (RTC) Ideology… presents new opportunities for threat mitigation” via “tripwire and source development.”

The document identifies “Radical Traditional Catholics” as often holding “anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, and white supremacist ideology,” and as typically rejecting Vatican II as a “valid council.”

As the House Judiciary Committee put it, the memo in fact “singled out Americans who are pro-life, pro-family, and support the biological basis for sex and gender distinction as potential domestic terrorists,” its report noted.

While the memo was swiftly retracted by the FBI after public backlash and denounced by its leadership as failing to meet the “exacting standards” of the Bureau, the newly released Judiciary Committee report shows the “disturbing” finding that the FBI is still discussing how to create a Bureau-wide memo about concerns regarding links between RTCs and RMVEs.

The House report entitled “The FBI’s Breach of Religious Freedom: The Weaponization of Law Enforcement Against Catholic Americans” shares excerpts of interviews with FBI employees regarding the memo, including Stanley Meador, the special agent in charge at the FBI’s Richmond Field Office in Virginia.

The House Committee shared in its report that one of the co-authors of the leaked internal memo “was coordinating with the Counterterrorism Division” on an “external” product (to be disseminated Bureau-wide) known as a Strategic Perspective Executive Analytic Report (SPEAR), which had a pending release for February 2023. 

On February 6, 2023, the Counterterrorism Division “suggested making the document into an Emerging Intelligence Report (EIR),” plans for which Meador said appeared to be based in the RTC memo.

The House Committee report noted that while it is “concerning” that “the FBI wanted to further infringe on religious liberties Bureau-wide, equally concerning is that there are discussions still taking place with FBI Richmond” on how to create this external memo sounding the alarm about RTCs.

The Committee report shared the following dialogue with Meador as evidence of this:

​​Q: Do you know if the FBI is still pursuing an external product based upon the [memorandum]?

A: There—I know internally there have been some discussions… throughout the months of a desire to still try and get this information out somehow, but… I’ve not seen anything as a result of that.

Q: What information [about]?

A: The subject – I think just a general subject, RMVE connection—

Q: An RTC?

A: Yeah.

“Despite the shortcomings of the Richmond memorandum and the widespread criticism for its creation, the FBI still apparently desires to convey the outrageous message that some Catholic Americans with traditional beliefs pose a domestic terror threat to our country,” the House Committee remarked.

The Committee found this revelation to be especially “disturbing” because of the lack of support for the FBI’s concern, since the memo was found to have relied on only a single investigation of one person and on “biased sources” for supporting context, including reports by the far-left Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

As the Committee report pointed out, the SPLC “identifies the broad term ‘Christian identity’ as a hate group – a term that could arguably encompass millions of Americans with sincerely held religious beliefs… The fact that the FBI would accept and circulate the SPLC’s partisan spin is highly concerning and undercuts the FBI’s assertion that it is unbiased and politically neutral.”

According to the committee report, one of the co-authors of the RTC memo had reached out in late 2022 to other FBI field offices for “operational intelligence,” and reportedly found “similar cases” in both the Milwaukee Field Office and the Portland Field Office, although the Portland investigation had closed, since its subject was recently deceased. 

After the FBI’s Milwaukee Field Office emailed agents from other field offices about recent intelligence products, including the Richmond memo, two agents reportedly took issue with using SPLC as a source. One agent responded to the email thread, “Is anyone really asking for a product like this? Apparently, we are at the behest of the SPLC.” Another agent, apparently from Milwaukee, replied, “yeah, our overreliance on the SPLC for hate designations is… problematic.”

While the FBI’s internal review found that the Portland and Milwaukee offices did not contribute to the memo at issue, the FBI has still not been able to confirm whether these field office investigations “also included self-described RTC subjects,” the House Committee report noted.

FBI interviewed SSPX priest and choir director to inform on parishioner

According to the House Committee report, “A whistleblower also revealed that the FBI interviewed a priest and choir director of an SSPX-affiliated church in Richmond” in November and December 2022, “the same time the analysts started drafting the memorandum,” in order to “inform on the parishioner under investigation.” 

“This information, which the FBI has refused to disclose, confirms that the FBI directly communicated with Catholic clergy and staff about parishioners practicing their faith,” the report went on to note.

Unsubstantiated basis for targeting entire faith group  

One of the House Committee’s weightiest criticisms of the FBI memo is that, as the FBI itself reportedly concluded, its link “between ‘radical- traditionalist Catholics’ and RMVEs lacked ‘sufficient evidence or articulable support’ to justify the FBI’s attempt to conduct investigative activity on Catholic parishes.

This is largely because its very use of the term “radical traditionalist Catholic” was borrowed from the original subject under investigation, rather than based on a thorough assessment of a cohesive group that merited being labeled as “RTC.”

As the committee report explained, the subject “self-identified” as a “radical traditionalist Catholic Clerical Fascist” on social media, and this is “how the analysts learned of the term ‘RTC’ – the terminology they maintained in the subsequent memorandum without fully understanding its meaning.”

According to the committee report, the FBI also found that its employees who were responsible for the memorandum “lacked professional judgment” and “lack[ed]… training and awareness” of Domestic Terrorism (DT) terminology, causing them to utilize amorphous and ill-defined terms such as “RTC” and “far-right.”

Proposed corrective measures ‘not sufficient’

The House Committee noted that the FBI has proposed a few “corrective actions” in response to the memo: The employees involved will be “admonished;” their supervisors will “ensure deficiencies are addressed;” additional training on  “analytical tradecraft standards” and “DT [Domestic Terrorism] terminology” will be required; and the SAC and FBI Headquarters “will need to review and approve intelligence products involving ‘sensitive investigative matter[s]’ such as protected First Amendment activity.”

However, the apparent continued “desire” to disseminate information on “radical-traditionalist Catholics” may call into question the real intention and resolve of the FBI to correct its infringement upon First Amendment rights.

The House Committee pointed out in its report that while these “corrective measures are warranted, they are “not sufficient,” since the institution can only be held accountable through independent bodies.

“It is not enough for the FBI to investigate itself and remedy its own wrongdoings, especially when it involves law-enforcement overreach involving fundamental religious freedoms,” the committee wrote.

Republican U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri also recently slammed FBI Director Christopher Wray for failing to ensure anti-Catholic initiatives would not be repeated in the FBI under his watch.

“You haven’t done a darn thing. You haven’t fired anybody,” Hawley told Wray on Tuesday regarding the RTC memo, calling the effort behind it “one of the most outrageous targetings.”

“It gets worse,” continued Hawley, alluding to the fact that as the House Committee report revealed, Meador testified that he hadn’t identified any problems with the memo before it was leaked, and in fact supported it. 

As the committee report observed, “Most concerning of all” is that if Seraphin hadn’t sounded the alarm about the memo, it “would still be operative in FBI systems, violating the religious liberties of millions of Catholic Americans.”

Given the recently published revelations about continuing concern in the FBI over “Radical Traditionalist Catholic Ideology” and its alleged attraction for “violent extremists,” it is unclear just whether the FBI will in fact halt the efforts behind the RTC memo.