“An assault on religion and Christianity”: Right-wing media melt down over a withdrawn FBI memo about religious domestic extremism

Josh Hawley on Hannity

Right-wing media are fearmongering that the FBI is waging “an assault on religion and Christianity” after an internal memo was leaked from the FBI about investigating potential radicalization at select traditionalist Catholic churches in Virginia. However, the memo was withdrawn and the FBI has reiterated that it does not open investigations “based on the religious beliefs—to include Catholicism—of the subject involved.” 

In February, internal documents leaked to a right-wing former FBI agent revealed that the FBI had attempted to develop insider sources in select traditionalist Catholic churches in Richmond, Virginia, to investigate possible radicalization. On April 10, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) issued a subpoena for FBI Director Christopher Wray to release the records on these probes, accusing the bureau of seeking to “enlist Catholic houses of worship as potential sources to monitor and report on their parishioners.”

The internal memo makes reference to the FBI’s interest in identifying “Radical-Traditionalist Catholics,” who are described as having an “adherence to anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ and white supremacist ideology.” Christopher Dunham, the FBI’s acting assistant director of congressional affairs, has said that the report “did not meet the FBI's exacting standards and was withdrawn,” and “upon learning of the document, FBI Headquarters removed it from our internal system. The FBI also initiated a review — which is now ongoing.” Dunham also stressed to Jordan that the bureau “does not categorize investigations as domestic terrorism based on the religious beliefs—to include Catholicism—of the subject involved."

But in reaction to the news, right-wing media freaked out about the memo, calling it “an assault on religion and Christianity” and an example of the government’s “targeting of faithful Catholics,” while others pressured the FBI to instead target “Antifa and the trans radicals”:

  • During the April 11 episode of Hannity, Fox News host Sean Hannity described the memo as “an assault on religion and Christianity.” Hannity also asked guest Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) if Attorney General Merrick Garland was lying during his Senate testimony about “sending agents into Catholic churches.” 
  • On the April 11 episode of Fox News’ Outnumbered, radio host Ben Ferguson said the FBI’s memo is an example of what “communists used to do, which is target people you want to take out,” and criticized the organization for “go[ing] after an entire religion.” 
  • During the April 11 episode of Fox & Friends, Fox News media contributor Leo Terrell called the FBI’s probe into Catholic churches “a war by the extreme left against religion” and claimed that “the far left have weaponized the FBI.” 
  • Radio host Benny Johnson tweeted on April 11: “Why is the FBI targeting Catholic churches? If they want to root out domestic terrorism, they should probably start with Antifa and the trans radicals. Not Christians.”
  • The Federalist’s April 11 article, titled “House Weaponization Committee Subpoenas FBI Director Over Agency Targeting Catholics,” described the memo as a “targeting of faithful Catholics by the premier U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agency” and attacked the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops for not speaking out against the FBI. 
  • “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander sent out a Telegram message on April 10, calling the FBI “apostates” and warning his followers to “be careful of Feds infiltrating the Church and our political movements. They’re here to break us up.” 
  • Alexander also called the FBI “sickos” for “spying on Catholics while they fake worship.” 
  • In reference to the FBI memo, Fox News contributor Tomi Lahren tweeted, “The assault on Christianity continues! The FBI sought to develop sources in Catholic churches to combat domestic terrorism?! You’ve got to be kidding me!” 
  • Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk attacked the FBI for investigating domestic extremism in Catholic churches, asking if it would investigate “radical trans groups like the one that assaulted Riley Gaines? Or militant pro-abortion groups like Jane's Revenge? Or Treehouse Antifa that attacked Cop City?”