In a hearing on Wednesday, Republicans fiercely criticized Attorney General Merrick Garland over a memo he issued on Oct. 4 that detailed the Justice Department’s intent to examine and address threats of violence against public school officials.
GOP lawmakers accuse Garland of squelching parents who disagree with school leaders about coronavirus policies and race-based lessons.
Attempting to illustrate that the threats do not warrant Justice Department involvement, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) referenced a letter from the National School Boards Association that listed examples. “They involve things like insults,” Cruz said. “They involve a Nazi salute – that’s one of the examples.”
Slamming his hands on dais and raising his voice, Cruz continued: “ My God! A parent did a Nazi salute at a school board because he thought the policies were oppressive.”
Cruz then asked Garland if doing a Nazi Salute at an elected official was protected by the First Amendment, to which Garland replied that it was. His comments quickly went viral, with one clip on Twitter, drawing criticism from observers who said Cruz was endorsing the use of the Nazi salute.
“Just Ted Cruz defending Nazis,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) tweeted.
Cruz later clarified his comments, saying that he “was defending the right of citizens to denounce authoritarian policies.” Claiming he meant, “to OPPOSE Nazies (or petty tyrants), not to support them.”
Suddenly very concerned about conflicts of interest, Cruz also accused Garland of having other motivations when writing the memo, stating that Garland’s son-in-law would financially benefit from critical race theory being taught in more schools.
“Did you seek and receive a decision from an ethics advisory at the department of justice?” asked Cruz, “Yes or no? Just answer it directly, you do know how to answer a question directly.”
After being repeatedly interrupted by Cruz, Garland stated that the memo was aimed at violence and threats at schools and could not possibly have a conflict of interest.
Cruz was then scolded by Sen. Dick Durbin for going over his time limit, and ended stating that, “Apparently ethics are not a terribly high priority in the Biden justice department”.
Cruz wasn’t the only Republican who attacked Garland, sensing an opportunity to frame his memo as a threat to free speech and representing federal government overreach into areas better handled by local authorities and parents, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-ARK) also grilled Garland, ending his questioning by saying: “Judge, this is shameful. This testimony, your directive — your performance is shameful. Thank God you are not on the Supreme Court. You should resign in disgrace, judge,”
School board meetings around the country have become increasingly bitter in recent months as parents debate coronavirus policies, gender issues, and lessons that deal with racism. Like the parent using the Nazi salute, there have been numerous instances of conservative figures invoking Nazim and the Holocaust to challenge mask and vaccine mandates.
Cruz’s home state has seen several recent public displays of antisemitism. A neo-Nazi group recently traveled to Austin, wearing clothing with swastikas, KSTX reported. That same week, an Austin high school with a large Jewish population was graffitied with swastikas and racial slurs.