The memo referred to ‘radical-traditionalist Catholics’ and claimed ’a growing overlap‘ between them and ’the far-right white nationalist movement.’
A group of 16 Republican U.S. senators is calling on the FBI to explain the decisions that led to the deletion of records connected to a since-retracted agency memo describing the FBI’s interest in investigating strains of “radical-traditionalist” Catholicism for potential ties to extremism.
The FBI memo in question, which was produced by the agency’s Richmond Field Office, was divulged to the press last year before it was retracted last February. While the memo has been retracted, Republican lawmakers have continued to question the internal processes at the FBI that allowed for its creation in the first place.
Senate Republicans sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday calling for answers about the alleged deletion of records pertaining to the FBI Richmond Field Office’s memo. The letter was organized by Sen. Chuck Grassley and signed by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).
“Why did the FBI permanently delete files related to the Richmond internal memo rather than simply removing the memo from distribution, and does FBI have a backup of this information? Was this deletion of records in accordance with FBI policy and federal document retention laws?” the Senate Republicans asked.
Senators Question Wray’s Congressional Testimony
The Richmond Field Office’s memo pertaining to “radical-traditionalist Catholics” (RTCs), states the FBI has observed “a growing overlap between the far-right white nationalist movement and RTCs.” The memo states this “far-right white nationalist” interest in RTC ideology is “demonstrated through the increase in hostility toward abortion-rights advocates on social media sites in the run-up to and aftermath of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.”
The Richmond Field Office’s also claims these so-called RTCs and “Racially-Motivated Violent Extremists” (RMVEs) have “common cause” on issues like abortion, immigration, affirmative action, and the LGBTQ community. The memo also states “RMVE interest in RTCs is likely to increase over the next 12 to 24 months in the run-up to the next general election cycle.”
During a July 12 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) argued that the issues described in the memo suggest a primarily political motive for investigating certain strains of Catholicism.
In their letter to Mr. Wray on Wednesday, the Republican senators alleged other memos relating to RTCs were in the works or had been created within the FBI.
FBI’s Sources Questioned
The report published by the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 5 alleges the analysts who authored the Richmond Field Office memo on RTC ideology relied on sources they knew to be politically biased. Among the sources the House report criticized the memo authors for referencing was the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
The SPLC is a legal advocacy and civil rights organization that researches alleged hate groups. Right-leaning organizations and groups critical of the political left have criticized some of the SPLC’s hate group designations as dubious and politically slanted.
One SPLC report cited in the Richmond Field Office’s RTC memo claimed so-called radical traditionalist Catholics “may make up the largest single group of serious antisemites in America.”
According to the Dec. 5 House report, one of the authors of the RTC memo told an FBI internal review that the SPLC is “known to have a political bias.” Despite that admission, the RTC memo’s authors did not make any caveats about the reliability of their sources and instead submitted their work with a “high confidence” rating.
“The FBI also found that the employees involved in drafting, reviewing, and approving the memorandum failed to adhere to FBI standards. The employees ‘lacked professional judgement’ 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,’” the Dec. 5 House report states.
In their Jan. 31 letter, the 16 Republican senators asked whether the FBI was influenced by the SPLC to target Catholics, and if it still relies on the SPLC as a source in its investigations. The senators called on the FBI to identify any other analytical products that rely on the SPLC as a source, and to identify whether these work products have been redacted or withdrawn or are still in use.
The letter from the 16 Republican senators calls for a response from the FBI by Feb. 14.
NTD News reached out to the FBI for comment but did not receive a response by press time.