FBI admits to spying on Catholics, calls them ‘extremists’

By Terry Evans
March 6, 2023

The FBI will “never conduct investigative activities or open an investigation based solely on First Amendment protected activity,” the spy agency claimed as it shut down plans by its office in Richmond, Virginia, to launch a new spy operation aimed at Catholics.

It only did so after the plan became public and was hit with a firestorm of criticism. In fact, the FBI has a decadeslong record of just such unconstitutional attacks on freedom of speech, worship, assembly and more.

Its most recent assault dovetails with the partisan drive by Democrats and the middle-class left to paint Republicans, especially those who are Catholics, as dangerous, racists and  opponents of women’s rights. Some 70 million people in the U.S., over 20% of the population, are Catholics.

Ex-agent Kyle Seraphin posted a heavily redacted internal memo from the FBI’s Richmond office dated Jan. 23, revealing plans to spy on and target for “mediation” those Catholic groups that worship with the traditional Latin Mass and have “more extremist ideological beliefs.” The memo refers to these groups as RTCs, FBI-speak for “radical traditionalist Catholics.”

Not only do RTCs have a “disdain for popes elected since Vatican II,” the FBI opines, they are increasingly attracting RMVEs — that is, “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.” That means, the memo says, they’re rife with “anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ and white supremacist ideology.”

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that held Roe v. Wade unconstitutional last year, the FBI memo claimed “legislative and judicial decisions in such areas as abortion rights” may be “catalyzing events” for dangerous activity by “radical-traditional Catholics” and “racially motivated violent extremists.”

The FBI’s national press office confirmed one of their offices had issued the internal document. Plans by the Richmond office to go after Catholics by searching for suspects included “the development of sources with placement” — FBI doublespeak for recruiting or inserting undercover informers among worshippers. Churches in the Richmond area, the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter and the Society of Saint Pius X, were listed as targets.

What the FBI means by “mediation” is spelled out in a statement by Melissa Godbold, who is in charge of its Oklahoma City office: “We are focused on identifying, investigating and disrupting persons” that the FBI decides “incite violence and engage in criminal activity,” without the hindrance of going to trial.

Claims like this were the justification used by the FBI to spy on and carry out Cointelpro operations against the Socialist Workers Party and others for decades.

The “sources” the FBI relied on to justify its plan to assault constitutional freedoms include the highly partisan liberal journals Salon  and The Atlantic, along with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is notorious for branding conservative organizations as “hate” groups.

The memo was so egregious that attorneys general from 20 states sent a letter to FBI boss Christopher Wray and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland condemning the FBI for differentiating “between the Catholics whom the FBI deems acceptable, and those it does not,” and treating the latter “as potential terrorists because of their beliefs.”

Their letter points out, “The FBI has been down this road before, having infiltrated countless mosques” after 9/11, and “disavowed this ignominious practice in 2008.”

But this assault on Catholics by the rulers’ political police isn’t a one-off thing.

Minister acquitted after FBI raid

Last September some 20 armed agents arrested and cuffed Mark Houck at gunpoint at his home in Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, in front of his children. Houck is co-president of The King’s Men, a Catholic men’s ministry, and an anti-abortion campaigner who was involved in an altercation at a clinic in 2021. Despite contacting prosecutors and volunteering to turn himself in, he was the victim of the armed FBI operation.

Facing a possible 11-year jail sentence for allegedly violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, Houck pled not guilty and was acquitted by a jury Jan. 30.

Like the FBI’s now-abandoned spy operation on Richmond-area churches, the arrest of Houck is only one part of its broader targeting of the rulers’ political opponents. Since it was transformed in the late 1930s by the Franklin Roosevelt administration into the capitalists’ central political police agency, the FBI has been unleashed on countless occasions, spying, harassing and disrupting militant workers, communists, fighters for Black rights and opponents of Washington’s wars.

The stakes for working people in opposing similar assaults today and in fighting to defend and extend constitutional freedoms could not be higher.