Garland’s Conflict of Interest in the DOJ Intimidation of Parents

The potential problem underscores how little thought went into the offensive memo issued in the AG’s name.

As our Brittany Bernstein reported last week, parent groups are alleging that Attorney General Merrick Garland is laboring under a family financial conflict of interest as he directs the FBI to investigate people — mainly parents — who are protesting against the use of public schools to indoctrinate children in critical race theory and other far-left dogma. A week ago, I wrote about Garland’s memo laying out this initiative.

The potential conflict stems from the fact that Garland’s son-in-law, Alexander “Xan” Tanner, the co-founder and president of an outfit called Panorama Education, has a very lucrative gig pushing some of the indoctrination materials.

Brittany cites to some extensive reporting by the Washington Examiner’s Jerry Dunleavy, which describes how “Panorama pushes race-focused surveys and conducts trainings on systemic oppression, white supremacy, unconscious bias, and intersectionality — all under the rubric of ‘Social-Emotional Learning [(SEL)].” The reporting includes an eye-opening look at some of the relevant materials — such as “SEL as Social Justice — Dismantling White Supremacism Within Systems and Self.”

Jerry followed up with another Examiner dispatch on Monday, which notes that the enterprise run by the attorney general’s son-in-law recommends a book of progressive essays for teachers. That book starts out with a ditty by Bill Ayers, the former terrorist and self-proclaimed “small-c communist.” Ayers writes, for example:

You should know that the system you’ll be joining hates Black and Brown and poor kids. . . . I have facial evidence that the system is organized to miseducate these children, and it includes the shameful lack of resources, enforced racial segregation, the dumbed-down and Eurocentric curriculum accompanied by a stifling top-down pedagogy, and arcane rules and routines that result predictably in social shaming and widespread exclusions.

These materials elucidate that the issue of Garland’s conflict, while relevant, is tangential. The attorney general may well have an ethical conflict in that his official actions potentially inure to the financial benefit of close family members and, therefore, create an appearance of impropriety. But I’d be surprised if Garland gave this appearance even the slightest thought before issuing his memorandum.

The Biden Justice Department’s embrace of progressive indoctrination, under the guise of safeguarding public-school administrators from “threats, intimidation, and harassment” is driven by ideology, not financial enrichment. If Garland had been alert and savvy enough to recuse himself, there is every reason to believe the exact same memorandum would have been issued by deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco, or whoever is the next official down the pecking order who has no conflict. (I am not implying that DAG Monaco has one; I have no idea if she does.) DOJ’s wayward position results from its progressive orientation, not self-dealing.

On that score, as I noted when Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, his personal ties to Ayers were substantial when the former was an up-and-coming community-organizer-turned-Chicago-pol and the latter a terrorist-turned-educator. Obama blurbed Ayers’s book, A Kind and Just Parent?, which compared the U.S. criminal-justice system to apartheid South Africa. (Obama described the book as “a searing and timely account.”) Much of this information was brought to light by frequent NR contributor Stanley Kurtz, who has written widely on the Obama/Ayers alliance, including their joint effort to push left-wing radicalism on our schools.

The Biden administration regards the Obama/Biden administration as its model, and, as I argued in the aforementioned column from last week, Biden and Garland are running the Justice Department accordingly.

The Garland memo is a slipshod job by DOJ standards — a one-page screed that essentially rubber-stamps the claims of Democratic activists rather than offering a developed legal position. This is only natural, because developing such a position would have required addressing such inconveniences as the Justice Department’s lack of jurisdiction to intrude on interactions between parents and local schools in the absence of any federal crime, and its failure to grapple in a meaningful way with the First Amendment protection of dissent — even dissent that rises to the level of intimidation or harassment if the use of force is not involved.

The relevance of Garland’s potential conflict is that it underscores how little thought went into the offensive memo issued in Garland’s name, which is a patent effort to frighten and coerce parents into standing down by abusing the Justice Department and FBI’s raw power to conduct investigations.

As our Caroline Downey has reported, the vast majority of the incidents cited by the National School Boards Association (on which Garland relied in issuing his memo) did not involve threats of violence — which, to repeat, is a separate issue from the fact that the rare incidents that did involve violent threats appear to have been issues for state and local law-enforcement agencies, not the federal government.

The attorney general and his Justice Department did not think this through because the memorandum was not a good-faith effort to inform. It was an abusive effort to intimidate.