By Tyler O’Neil
Editor’s note. This appeared at the Daily Signal.
Virginia’s Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, expressed shock at the FBI Richmond bureau’s memo on “radical-traditional Catholic ideology” that cited the leftist Southern Poverty Law Center and demanded “full transparency and accountability” in the FBI’s review of how the bureau compiled and published the internal report.
The FBI memo urged agents to probe the supposed nexus between “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists” and “radical-traditional Catholics,” citing the SPLC and including a list of SPLC-designated “hate groups” for agents to target.
Some of Virginia’s representatives in Congress also addressed the memo—which the FBI announced it would remove from its database last week—although Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., did not condemn it.
“Religious freedom is a foundational tenet of our great nation, and the governor was stunned by the news reports on the FBI memo,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter told The Daily Signal in a statement Thursday. “While he is encouraged that the FBI removed the document, he believes there must be full transparency and accountability from FBI leadership as part of the review under way.”
The FBI publicly announced that it was rescinding the memo after FBI whistleblower Kyle Seraphin published it on UncoverDC.com on Feb. 8. The national FBI office claimed that the memo “does not meet the exacting standards of the FBI” and promised to remove the document from its systems and “conduct a review of the basis for the document,” but it refused to answer further questions about the move.
As I explain in my book “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” the SPLC took the program it has used to bankrupt organizations associated with the Ku Klux Klan and weaponized it against conservative groups, partially to scare donors into ponying up cash and partially to silence ideological opponents. The SPLC places conservative groups on a “hate map” with KKK chapters.
After the SPLC fired its co-founder amid a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal in 2019, a former staffer claimed that the SPLC’s accusations of “hate” are a “cynical fundraising scam” aimed at “bilking northern liberals.” Critics across the political spectrum have voiced opposition and alarm at the organization’s hate group smears. A terrorist even targeted an SPLC-designated “hate group” in Washington, D.C., in 2012, and he told the FBI he used the “hate map” to find his target. The SPLC condemned that act of terror, but kept the target on the list and the map.
The SPLC has also suggested that the Catholic Church itself holds a position on human sexuality that would qualify it as a “hate group.”
For those and other reasons, the Catholic bishop of Richmond, the Most Rev. Barry Knestout, condemned the FBI memo and called on all of Virginia’s representatives in Congress to speak out against it.
“I call on all national representatives from the commonwealth of Virginia in the House and Senate to exercise their role of oversight, to publicly condemn this threat to religious liberty, and to ensure that such offenses against the constitutionally protected free exercise of religion do not occur again,” Knestout said in a statement Monday. “Racism, religious bigotry, violence, and discrimination have no place in our church or teachings.”
The Daily Signal reached out to every Virginia representative in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.
Kaine did not condemn the memo or comment on the SPLC. Instead, he appeared to endorse the memo’s central claim.
“There is a memo suggesting that violent extremist groups are trying to infiltrate certain radical traditionalist Catholic organizations. That should be cause for concern,” Kaine told The Daily Signal.
Two of Virginia’s Republican congressmen condemned the memo.
“As an ardent supporter of protecting religious liberty, I am certainly opposed to the implication of labeling widely held traditional Catholicvalues as ‘extreme’ and was pleased to see the FBI retract this offensive language,” Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., told The Daily Signal.
“I strongly condemn the targeting of Roman Catholics by the FBI and the radical Southern Poverty Law Center,” Rep. Ben Cline, R-Va., said. “Their egregious actions are an attack on religious liberty, and Congress must hold accountable those responsible to ensure this never happens again.”
The other members of Virginia’s congressional delegation—Republican Reps. Jen Kiggans, Bob Good, and Morgan Griffith, and Democratic Reps. Bobby Scott, Abigail Spanberger, Don Beyer, Jennifer Wexton, and Gerry Connolly—did not respond to The Daily Signal’s requests for comment. Neither did Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.
President Joe Biden, a self-described “devout Catholic,” did not respond to requests for comment about the memo and about the SPLC’s suggestion that the Catholic Church’s catechism makes it a “hate group.”