FBI Hatched Plan To Surveil Catholics, Weaponization Committee Says

FBI director Christopher Wray and other Biden administration officials attend an annual 'Blue Mass' at St. Patrick's Catholic Church / FBI Twitter
April 10, 2023

The FBI hatched a plan this year to cultivate sources inside Catholic churches to investigate religious extremism, House Republicans found.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), the chairman of the House Select Subcommittee on Weaponization, said in a letter Monday that the FBI, using information from an undercover employee, sought to develop sources—including clergy members and church leaders—inside Catholic churches in Virginia.

According to Jordan, the FBI's plan called for the bureau to engage in outreach to "mainline Catholic parishes" to make congregations aware of "the warning signs of radicalization" and to "enlist their assistance to serve as suspicious activity tripwires." The FBI also proposed that agents reach out to Catholic parishes to "develop sources among the clergy and church leadership."

It is unclear whether the FBI planned to surveil the churches through covert means or to make contact with parishes through official FBI channels. But Jordan said that the revelations warrant a subpoena for all information related to the matter.

"This shocking information reinforces our need for all responsive documents, and the committee is issuing a subpoena to you to compel your full cooperation," Jordan wrote to Wray.

Republicans began investigating the matter after the January release of an FBI memo that detailed the bureau's efforts to infiltrate a group of Catholic parishes in the Richmond, Va., area.  The FBI last month produced a limited number of records as part of the probe, one of which discussed "opportunities" for the FBI to "leverage existing sources" or develop new ones who could report on suspicious activity within their parishes.

Jordan asserted that the documents show "the FBI sought to enlist Catholic houses of worship as potential sources to monitor and report on their parishioners."

"Americans attend church to worship and congregate for their spiritual and personal betterment. They must be free to exercise their fundamental First Amendment rights without worrying that the FBI may have planted so-called tripwire sources or other informants in their houses of worship," the Republican wrote.

Republicans formed the weaponization subcommittee earlier this year to investigate the FBI and Justice Department's targeting of conservatives through collusion with Big Tech companies or through the use of illegal surveillance. The subcommittee has investigated the interactions between FBI agents and social media companies, such as Twitter and Facebook.

The committee has also held hearings related to a Biden administration task force that investigated parents who spoke at school boards as potential domestic terrorists. Last month, Republicans released a report that said the FBI disclosed that it opened at least 25 investigations into parents based on tips related to their conduct at school board meetings.