Facts Matter: FBI was not directed to spy on school parents

  • When Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the FBI to help local authorities investigate cases of violence against school leaders, he did not suggest the FBI would spy on parents who speak up about masks.

    When Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the FBI to help local authorities investigate cases of violence against school leaders, he did not suggest the FBI would spy on parents who speak up about masks. Associated press, sept. 9

Updated 10/23/2021 2:55 PM

A memo Attorney General Merrick Garland sent earlier this month to the FBI cited "a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff."

The recent rise in threats has resulted from debates in the nations's 14,000 public school districts involving COVID-19 mask mandates, vaccines and quarantine rules. Garland directed the FBI to work with local officials to address the issue.


Some Republican leaders saw it as overreach.

"Merrick Garland says he's going to use the Justice Department to spy on parents at school board meetings." U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said during an interview on Fox News.

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy made similar statements, claiming the FBI would be getting involved in local school board meetings.

Russell Dye, a spokesman for Jordan, told the Post the congressman believes that in order to identify and prosecute the threats, "the only reasonable explanation is to have the FBI/DOJ watch what parents say at meetings and intimidate them into silence."

That is a misrepresentation of Garland's memo, according to The Washington Post. There is nothing in the directive that has the FBI spying on parents who speak up at school board meetings, and it recognizes "spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution."

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Instead, the memo has federal and local officials meeting to address violence against school board members, administrators and staff members.

Garland said the purpose of the meetings is to "open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response."

Study doesn't show masks don't work

Recent online posts claim a 2018 study shows face masks do not work.

But researchers involved with that study said these posts misrepresent what it concluded, according to The Associated Press.

The study focused on health care workers who were assigned to wear either N95 masks or medical masks at 137 sites over four flu seasons.

"The study was not designed to assess whether N95 masks work or not. What we were trying to do was to say that we know N95s work. We don't know how much better they are than medical masks," University of Florida professor Derek Cummings told the AP.

The study concluded both masks protect equally against the spread of flu viruses. But social media posts highlighted only a line from the study's conclusion, stating, "neither N95 nor MM resulted in superior protection."


"We found there was not a difference between wearing a respirator and wearing a medical mask in that study," Trish Perl, co-author of the study, told the AP. "We didn't say masks don't work or N95 masks don't work."

Date stamp is fake

A photo of a package of a COVID-19 vaccine from drugmaker AstraZeneca shows a stamp that purports to say it was manufactured on July 15, 2018. The photo is part of an article shared on Facebook by "The Hal Turner Radio Show."

"If COVID-19 didn't become an outbreak until late in 2019, and the outbreak wasn't even named 'COVID-19' until Feb. 11, 2020, then how could AstraZeneca have been manufacturing 'COVID-19 VACCINE' in July of 2018?" the article reads.

The photo is fake, according to PolitiFact. The image was altered to include the false manufacturing date on the box flap.

The photo of the vaccine first appeared on Facebook on Nov. 12, 2020, without the fake date.

An AstraZeneca spokesperson confirmed in a statement that the fake date stamp had been digitally added to the image of the vaccine.

Shatner photo altered

Actor William Shatner, best known for portraying Capt. James Kirk in the "Star Trek" series, took an Oct. 13 ride to the edge of space aboard Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft.

After Shatner's 10-minute, 17-second flight, some social media posts appeared to show side-by-side photos of Shatner and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos wearing the same space jacket as a way to claim the journey didn't happen.

"Daily reminder space is fake," read a tweet that included the two photos with red circles indicating the matching folds in the jackets.

The images are fake, according to Reuters, but it wasn't done by Blue Origin. The photo of Bezos is the official portrait released by Blue Origin. But the photo of Shatner is not, a company representative told Reuters.

The manipulated photo of Shatner uses part of an image taken at the 2017 Hollywood premiere of "Star Trek: Discovery," with his head superimposed on a more recent image of Bezos' jacket.

The photo of the actor doesn't match the official portrait issued by Blue Origin.

• Bob Oswald is a veteran Chicago-area journalist and former news editor of the Elgin Courier-News. Contact him at boboswald33@gmail.com.

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