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FBI Intel Report on Catholics Reveals Weakness in Law Enforcement

(The following blog post was originally published on January 8, 2024 by online media outlet The Messenger. The Messenger has since closed down, so I am self-publishing as a blog.)

In February 2023, an FBI whistleblower made public the existence of an intelligence product written by members of the FBI’s Richmond Field Office that categorized certain Catholics as potential domestic terrorists. The redacted intel product bore the title, “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities.” This had a chilling effect on all who care about the U.S. Constitution’s protections for religious liberty, including those of us, especially Catholics, who swore an oath to protect the Constitution when we entered federal law enforcement.

On December 4, 2023, a House subcommittee released a report summarizing its investigation into the intel report, stating that the FBI, “Under the guise of tackling the threat of domestic terrorism…painted certain ‘radical-traditionalist Catholics’ (RTCs) as violent extremists and proposed opportunities for the FBI to infiltrate Catholic churches as a form of ‘threat mitigation.’” After public outrage, the FBI pulled the intel report from their databases, conceding what any Catholic or culturally literate person already knew, stating in part that, “this particular field office product…does not meet the exacting standards of the FBI.” A subsequent internal review by the FBI’s Inspection Division and external review by Congress revealed numerous failures, deficiencies, omissions, and substandard practices behind its development and publication.

As a former FBI agent and lifelong Catholic, I was personally outraged by the FBI’s attempt to draw a connection between domestic terrorists and Catholics who have an affinity for the Latin Mass and who adhere to the Church’s unchanged and longstanding teachings on marriage, family, and human sexuality.

The House investigation identified several problem areas in the embarrassing FBI report including, the use of ideologically extreme sources, little investigative source information, and poor oversight, to name a few. But there were deeper, perhaps more troubling, issues in the report that are known to many in the FBI.

First, the domestic terrorism program, in my experience, does not tend field the quantity or quality of agents that other investigative programs field, such as white collar or public corruption which have been and continue to be the “bread and butter” of FBI investigative work. Domestic terrorism was a comparatively inactive program at the FBI for many years and only recently received increased attention and funding. (A well-documented consequence of domestic terrorism’s heightened attention and struggle with competency is the Governor Whitmer kidnapping case in Michigan). 

Historically, domestic terrorism work focused on cultivating sources as a way to keep the agency’s finger on the pulse of domestic extremist groups, most of which have been heavily infiltrated by law enforcement for decades. When an FBI supervisor in the South informed me early in my career that, “The KKK would be dead down here if we didn’t have so many FBI sources keeping it alive,” I was shocked – as an agent, an American, and a Catholic. In recent years, however, domestic terrorism has moved up the threat priority list, which means more money and resources – and more pressure for results. This means ongoing intel collection to justify those resources, which can also result in overzealous intel collection and dissemination habits.

Second, unlike intel analysts in foreign policy (e.g. CIA), from what I’ve seen and heard, FBI analysts are less valued by the consumers of intel products: FBI agents. It seems this has created an unspoken tension, even hostility, that has fueled resentment among some FBI intel analysts. Domestic intel analysts – neither lawyers nor law enforcement – might also be tempted to let their own biases seep into analysis, as seems to have happened in the Catholic report, and/or in an effort to be relevant, search for subject matter outside of the evidence collection process which can lead to misguided or incorrect conclusions.

Third, the FBI, like much of the public sector, has shifted very much to the political left in its hiring practices, part of the larger elite consensus about normative values and politics, which do not reflect those of America. This has been noted by many, including retired FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker and retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent James Gagliano, among others in the FBI with whom I still have contact. Many young public servants, like their peers, regard Judeo-Christian culture and tradition as a punchline.

One of the most troubling examples of religious-values targeting by the FBI was the indictment of Mark Houck, a prolife Catholic and father of seven, who was charged with allegedly violating the FACE (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) Act after an altercation with an abortion clinic escort. Houck’s arrest remains highly problematic given that his case was well-known by local law enforcement, the fact that local prosecutors declined to pursue charges, Houck’s credible claim that he was acting in defense of his 12-year-old son, and the context: the Supreme Court had recently overturned Roe v. Wade. The jury quickly acquitted Houck, but all information suggested the case should never have been brought.

We should not view the unprecedented antisemitism across America, especially on college campuses, the growing ideological biases of public servants, and the FBI’s targeting of Catholics in isolation. As public officials and private citizens alike continue to show disregard for constitutionally protected rights, including religious freedom, ordinary Americans will have to be vigilant, as will whistleblowers who observe violations of law and regulations.

There remain many honorable public servants at the FBI who take seriously their oath to the Constitution. However, the FBI must find more service-minded employees, who, to paraphrase Thomas More in a A Man for All Seasons, will heed seriously the taking of an oath. If FBI agents/analysts continue to target American citizens for their political, cultural, and religious convictions, this should have consequences for the agents/analysts and those who supervise them.

 Jeff Cortese, author of the book Public Corruption in the United States: Analysis of a Destructive Phenomenon, is the former acting chief of the FBI’s Public Corruption Unit. Before his 11-year career with the bureau, he worked as a dignitary protection agent with the U.S. Capitol Police and served on the security detail for the Speaker of the House. Follow him on Twitter @jeffreycortese or find him at his website












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