A document obtained by the House Judiciary Committee has shed new light on the FBI’s surveillance efforts that specifically targeted traditional Catholics as potential domestic terrorists. The findings in the document, obtained through a subpoena, run contrary to FBI Director Christopher Wray’s previous testimony which suggested that the surveillance was limited to the efforts of a single field office.
The subpoenaed document disclosed that the FBI Richmond Field Office had coordinated with various field offices nationwide to develop a memo indicating traditional Catholics as potential security threats. Earlier claims, notably by Director Wray on July 12, 2023, before the Committee, stated that the extent of the efforts was limited to just one field office.
However, the newly disclosed document contradicts this, showing that both the FBI Portland and FBI Los Angeles field offices had a hand in, or at least contributed to, this assessment.
Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Representative Mike Johnson (R-LA), the Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government, issued a letter to Director Wray pointing out these discrepancies and demanding clarification.
The letter expressed concerns over the FBI’s use of its law enforcement capabilities to potentially infringe on the First Amendment rights of Americans and questioned the initial concealment of this wider coordination.
This oversight request came after persistent attempts by the Committee to gain information on a specific document from the Richmond Field Office, dated January 23, 2023. The FBI had been slow to respond to requests for this document according to the House Committee. After issuing a subpoena on April 10 and threats of contempt proceedings in July, the Committee finally received a version of the Richmond document with fewer redactions on July 25.
The less redacted version of the document revealed interactions between the FBI’s Richmond Field Office with the Portland and Los Angeles field offices. These interactions showed that individuals and communities related to the traditional Catholic movement had been under surveillance, raising concerns about the scope and intention behind these operations.
The Committee’s letter emphasizes the need to understand the full scope of the FBI’s assessment of traditional Catholics as potential domestic terrorists. It also invites Director Wray to amend his prior testimony, ensuring accuracy and completeness in light of the new findings.
On April 10, 2023, the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed FBI Director Wray for records related to the FBI’s handling of a field analysis suggesting the development of sources within traditionalist Catholic chapels in Richmond, Va., to monitor signs of radicalization and potential domestic violent extremism.
Jordan criticized the FBI for investigating “Catholic Americans” for domestic violent extremism. He highlighted that the FBI had used at least one undercover agent for its analysis and had proposed outreach to Catholic parishes to develop sources within the clergy and church leadership.
Earlier in the year, when questioned about the FBI assessment, Christopher Dunham, the Acting Assistant Director of Congressional Affairs, had responded that the report did not meet the FBI’s standards and was subsequently withdrawn.
He emphasized that the FBI was not anti-Catholic and did not target individuals based on their religious beliefs. CBS News revealed that the report had initially been approved by several FBI supervisors, including a top lawyer at the Richmond field office. The report had sourced information from an undercover employee and suggested leveraging existing sources or initiating new assessments to develop new sources.
When questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee in early March, Wray was “shocked” at the report, stating that it was immediately withdrawn and did not meet FBI standards. He reiterated that the FBI would not target or monitor individuals based on their religious beliefs.