Labor Watch

Criticizing Teachers Union Allies? You Might Be a “Domestic Terrorist.”


After a year of teachers unions demanding public school closures and mask mandates that are far stricter than in comparable international settings and the exposure of radical-left social indoctrination in public school as endorsed by teachers unions, parents have taken to expressing their disgust at school board meetings. In many ways, this is “what democracy looks like.”

But now the Biden administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) is asking the FBI to investigate what it claims is “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” against school officials.

For his part, the Manhattan Institute’s Chris Rufo, a prominent critic of critical race theory and related curricula, wrote that he “read every citation in the report and found only one example of violence against a school official, which is condemnable, but hardly ‘domestic terrorism.’” So what gives?

The National School Boards Association

The Biden DOJ’s directive to convene FBI meetings cannot be considered outside the context of a constitutionally troubling letter from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and its network of allies. The group describes itself as “a federation of state associations and the U.S. territory of the Virgin Islands that represent locally elected school board officials.”

Before the Justice Department’s action, NSBA sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking the feds to investigate school board meeting protesters under the PATRIOT Act, the controversial anti-terrorism law passed after 9/11, among other federal criminal laws. Among the supposed “threats or actual acts of violence” the association claimed warranted FBI investigation for domestic terrorism were a most likely sarcastic Nazi salute made in protest of mask mandates and opponents of critical race theory going over their public comment time, requiring a school board in Michigan to recess one of its meetings.

Notably, those are acts are not only not terrorism, but may be speech protected by the First Amendment depending on the circumstances. It is hard to see NSBA’s and the Justice Department’s actions as anything other than attempts to chill the constitutionally protected speech of critics of the teachers unions, critical race theory curricula, and hyper-restrictive COVID policies demanded by the unions.

Teachers Unions’ Allies

Most of NSBA’s revenue comes from dues paid by members of the association, but it also accepts outside support. Most notably, it received five-figure sums from the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, in 2019 and 2020. Unsurprisingly, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and the country’s most prominent teachers union official, endorsed the Justice Department’s move.

NSBA’s view of what constitutes “domestic terrorism” suggests that that NEA funding indicates ideological alignment. Max Eden of the American Enterprise Institute took note of some radical-left associations of the group:

Parents should also realize that NSBA takes a far brighter view of domestic terrorism when it comes from the Left. NSBA’s 2019 annual conference featured a keynote address from Angela Davis, a woman who bought and allegedly supplied the shotgun used by her Black Panther lover to kidnap and murder a judge. Davis’ letters to her lover expressing unequivocal solidarity with his commitment to political violence (i.e., “domestic terrorism”) are a matter of well-established public record. And Davis’ record is a source of pride for NSBA, which boasted that she “draws upon her own experiences in the early seventies as a person who spent eighteen months in jail and on trial, after being placed on the FBI’s ‘Ten Most Wanted List.’”

Voter Suppression, Liberal Style

Why would a representative organization for school boards, many of which are elected from strongly Republican and conservative jurisdictions, side with the radical left and demand that conservative activist parents be investigated as terrorists? Easy: The teachers unions and their allies have manipulated the constitutional processes by which school boards are elected, making the union-endorsed “Apple Ballot” near-tantamount to election even in right-leaning jurisdictions.

Back before it became perfidy for a liberal to suggest that liberals were in any way participants in manipulating elections processes to advantage themselves, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website wrote:

Scheduling local elections at odd times appears to be a deliberate strategy aimed at keeping turnout low, which gives more influence to groups like teachers unions that have a direct stake in the election’s outcome.

Even when the elections are held in conjunction with federal general and midterm elections, “nonpartisan” races can also allow the well-organized teachers unions to effect a favorable outcome. This is how one ends up with the situation my colleague Jon Rodeback described in the public schools in Washington County, Maryland last year. The county is solidly Republican, voting 59.4 percent to 38.4 percent in favor of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump over Joe Biden in 2020 and is represented by Republicans in the Maryland General Assembly. But its “nonpartisan” school board—elected by the extremely nonproportional “plurality at-large” (multiple nontransferable vote) method, which rewards organized interests that can endorse “slates” of candidates—is captured by the teachers unions. As a result, Washington County (like most of Maryland) did not open its schools until late in the 2020–2021 school year.

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Precious little evidence supports the Biden administration’s and NSBA’s claims that there is some epidemic of violence against school officials that warrants sending the FBI after critics of the teachers unions’ ideologies. Instead, in occasionally raucous public meetings, local governments are obligated by law to abide by the First Amendment.

But fearing dissent against the teachers unions’ agenda, a teachers union–backed interest group petitioned a teachers union–backed administration to intervene on the flimsiest pretext, which it did. To paraphrase an epigram, if it doth prosper, none dare call it corruption.

Michael Watson

Michael is Research Director for Capital Research Center and serves as the managing editor for InfluenceWatch. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he previously worked for a…
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