A memo that Attorney General Merrick Garland issued Monday, to address a rise in criminal conduct targeting school personnel, is being misrepresented online. 

THE CLAIM: “Attorney General Merrick Garland has instructed the FBI to mobilize against parents who oppose critical race theory in public schools, citing ‘threats.’”

THE FACTS: A memo Garland issued Monday, to address a rise in criminal conduct targeting school personnel, is being misrepresented online.

Garland did not single out opponents of critical race theory. Rather, he stated that the FBI would work with U.S. attorneys, as well as federal, state and local authorities, to develop strategies to combat what he called “a disturbing spike” in violent threats facing educators, administrators and school boards.

The trend was highlighted in a Sept. 29 letter from the National School Boards Association to President Joe Biden requesting federal assistance to investigate mounting threats and crimes against educators and school officials. After Garland's memo, an activist known for speaking out against critical race theory — that's a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism — shared the erroneous claim that the FBI specifically was targeting public school parents who oppose such race education.

Wyn Hornbuckle, the Justice Department’s deputy director of media affairs, told The Associated Press the claim was misleading and stated that the attorney general’s guidance and the Justice Department’s efforts are focused on rooting out criminal threats of violence for any reason, not targeting a particular ideology.

“There has been misinformation circulated that the Attorney General’s directive is an effort to silence those with particular views about COVID-related policies, school curricula, or other topics of public discussion. This is simply not true,” Hornbuckle wrote in an email.

Critical race theory, developed by scholars during the 1970s and 1980s, centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society. The concept has drawn condemnation by conservative commentators, lawmakers and former President Donald Trump.

The National School Boards Association’s letter did not specifically focus on threats surrounding critical race theory. It asked for the federal government to investigate any cases where threats or violence could be handled as violations of federal civil rights laws — no matter what prompted them.

“NSBA and school board members don’t want to stop parents from expressing their First Amendment rights,” the NSBA said in a statement emailed to the AP. “We want to stop the death threats, threats to family members, and other harassment and acts of intimidation that school board members are facing.”

The group documented more than 20 instances of threats, harassment, disruption and acts of intimidation across multiple states. While the letter did cite several threats it had flagged in response to false assertions that school boards were adopting critical race theory curriculum, the majority of the threats it documented were in response to coronavirus-related restrictions, including mask and vaccine requirements in schools.