Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday accused Attorney General Merrick Garland of "weaponizing" the Department of Justice against parents by directing the FBI to address nationwide alleged threats of violence against school boards and teachers.
"Attorney General Garland is weaponizing the DOJ by using the FBI to pursue concerned parents and silence them through intimidation," DeSantis tweeted.
"Florida will defend the free speech rights of its citizens and will not allow federal agents to squelch dissent," he said.
Garland on Monday issued a memorandum announcing that the DOJ is "committed to using its authority and resources" to investigate alleged threats of violence against school officials. The attorney general directed the FBI and U.S. attorney offices to meet with federal, state, and local law enforcement leaders within 30 days to develop strategies against an alleged "increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers in our nation's public schools."
"Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation's core values," Garland said in a statement. "Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety."
The attorney general's directions are a response to a letter the National School Boards Association sent to President Joe Biden declaring school leaders are "under immediate threat." The letter cited several instances of protesters against school mask or vaccine mandates confronting school officials and in some instances engaging in disorderly conduct or making threats against schools.
The letter cited more than 20 examples of disorderly conduct or protests at school board meetings that involved intimidation, threats, or violence, likening these incidents to "domestic terrorism" or "hate crimes."
Critics counter that the acts of violence or threats described are already illegal, and that local law enforcement is capable of handling such crimes, as demonstrated by arrests already made. They, like DeSantis, say that the NSBA's request for federal intervention and Garland's response are meant to intimidate parents and dissuade them from protesting over mask mandates, critical race theory, transgender policies, and more.
DeSantis has continually taken the side of parents in the debates over school mask requirements and other coronavirus restrictions. As governor, he required that schools that implement mask mandates give parents the ability to opt their kids out from face-mask requirements, an order that is being contested in court.