The story was true. The movie about it was manipulative and offensive. Michelle Pfeiffer, white, blond, and beyond beautiful, played LouAnne Johnson, who had decided that she wanted to teach high school English to Black and Latino teenagers from a poverty-stricken, racially segregated, economically deprived mess of a blighted California city. Those are the Dangerous Minds in question. She believes in those kids. And they think she’s a joke. And then the Hollywood fantasy begins:
Desperate to reach the students, Louanne devises classroom exercises that teach similar principles to the prescribed work, but using themes and language that appeal to the students. She also tries to motivate them by giving them all an A grade from the beginning of the year, and arguing that the only thing required of them is that they maintain it.
In order to introduce them to poetry, Louanne uses the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” to teach symbolism and metaphor; once this is achieved, she progresses on to Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night”. Louanne rewards the students liberally, using candy bars, reward incentives, and a trip to a theme park. Her methods draw the attention of the school authorities who try to force her to remain within the curriculum.
And of course everything goes wrong. She can’t protect her favorite student. The gangs get him. He dies, but then there’s this:
Louanne announces to the class her intention to leave the school at the end of the academic year. The students immediately break down, begging her not to leave. Overwhelmed by their unbridled display of emotion, she decides to stay.
They have a white savior! And she’s drop-dead gorgeous too! White folks always save the day!
That’s the fantasy Hollywood sold America in 1995. But that’s not now. This time the parents are the dangerous minds:
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday directed federal authorities to hold strategy sessions in the next 30 days with law enforcement to address the increasing threats targeting school board members, teachers and other employees in the nation’s public schools.
In a memorandum, Garland said there has been “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation’s public schools.”
Threats of violence, or death, or just dismemberment, or even just major vandalism, to coerce another, are each a crime, so the issue is actual crimes:
To address the rising problem, Garland said the FBI would work with U.S. attorneys and federal, state, local, territorial and tribal authorities in each district to develop strategies against the threats.
“While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views,” he said.
That was a carefully measured reaction to what has been happening:
The action is in response to an urgent request last week from the National School Boards Association. The group, which represents school board members around the country, asked President Joe Biden for federal assistance to investigate and stop threats made over policies including mask mandates, likening the vitriol to a form of domestic terrorism.
The association asked for the federal government to investigate cases where threats or violence could be handled as violations of federal laws protecting civil rights. It also asked for the Justice Department, FBI, Homeland Security and Secret Service to help monitor threat levels and assess risks to students, educators, board members and school buildings.
They called this domestic terrorism. Merrick Garland didn’t use that term. He knows better. He knows Fox News is out there, but this is getting absurdly serious:
The group’s letter documented more than 20 instances of threats, harassment, disruption, and acts of intimidation in California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio and other states. It cited the September arrest of an Illinois man for aggravated battery and disorderly conduct for allegedly striking a school official at a meeting. In Michigan, a meeting was disrupted when a man performed a Nazi salute to protest masking.
“We are coming after you,” a letter mailed to an Ohio school board member said, according to the group. “You are forcing them to wear masks – for no reason in this world other than control. And for that you will pay dearly.” It called the member “a filthy traitor.”
And who has the guns here? But of course most of this is already criminal behavior:
In making the announcement Garland said the Justice Department would use its authority and resources to discourage the threats and “prosecute them when appropriate. In the coming days, the Department will announce a series of measures designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.”
That’s it. That’s all. That’s probably too late:
School board members are largely unpaid volunteers, parents and former educators who step forward to shape school policy, choose a superintendent and review the budget, but they have been frightened at how their jobs have suddenly become a culture war battleground. The climate has led a growing number to resign or decide against seeking reelection.
And that would make room for the QAnon Trump Oath Keepers and Proud Boys and science-hating Evangelicals, and scattered white supremacists here and there, to gain control of school boards everywhere. That’s what’s coming:
In a statement, Chip Slaven, NSBA interim executive director and CEO, praised the Justice Department’s swift action and pointed to the detrimental impact the threats of violence and intimidation have had on the education system.
“Over the last few weeks, school board members and other education leaders have received death threats and have been subjected to threats and harassment, both online and in person,” Slaven said. The department’s action “is a strong message to individuals with violent intent who are focused on causing chaos, disrupting our public schools, and driving wedges between school boards and the parents, students, and communities they serve.”
No, that sent a different message:
Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education, an Arlington, Virginia-based group formed in January, took the school board group and the Justice Department to task. In a statement emailed to The Associated Press she said: “It is shameful that activists are weaponizing the US Department of Justice against parents. This is a coordinated attempt to intimidate dissenting voices in the debates surrounding America’s underperforming K-12 education – and it will not succeed. We will not be silenced.”
And maybe someone really should die? She didn’t say that. She just wants certain people to worry that they might die. Anyone who mandates those masks in schools, or anywhere else, really should worry about that. She’s allowed to say that. She will not be silenced.
The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman sees a pattern here:
Republicans in Congress have seen the threat of mob violence, and they are going to do something about it.
They’re going to defend the mob, and make sure law enforcement doesn’t crack down too hard on it.
That’s the clear message being sent from up and down the right – politicians, pundits, and conservative media – in response to a memorandum from the Department of Justice laying out an effort to address the rising tide of angry threats directed at school boards and education officials.
The memorandum itself may have been restrained to the point of banality but it presented a perfect opportunity for Republicans to reemphasize to their supporters that 1) the Biden administration is tyrannical; 2) conservatives are oppressed and afflicted; and 3) mob intimidation is an appropriate response to any public policy they disagree with.
Yes, there’s a pattern here:
Local officials who heretofore did their jobs with little notice becoming the target of right-wing rage. It began with public health officials who are defending their communities from covid-19 by implementing shutdown orders and mask mandates, and found themselves targeted online, over the phone, and even at their homes by a relentless campaign of threats and harassment.
Then it was election officials, who have been threatened by Trump supporters convinced of the existence of a far-reaching conspiracy to steal the 2020 election.
And now it’s teachers, principals, and school boards, whipped up by a campaign of race-baiting meant to convince white people that their children’s schools are a hotbed of radical teachings, combined with festering anger about the supposed oppression of having to wear a mask when indoors in large groups.
At times that anger has boiled over into angry shouting at school board meetings.
These folks were already upset about Critical Race Theory making white kids feel guilty and telling them they should hate America. There will be no more talk about Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks! America never was and is not now or ever will be racist in any single way!
That was a great way to stir up the base, but the mask thing is better, except for the current simple matter of law:
Officials have also been subject to threats and harassment. Which is illegal.
So the Justice Department put out its memo, which says that “While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence.” Attorney General Merrick Garland instructed the FBI to work with U.S. Attorneys to convene meetings with federal, state, and local officials that will “facilitate the discussion of strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”
But that solves nothing:
A reasonable person would respond that convening meetings to facilitate discussion might or might not wind up producing anything at all, but it’s hardly a Stalinist purge. A Republican senator or a conservative media personality, on the other hand, would see it as a golden opportunity for some grade A demagoguery.
And so it goes:
Fox News promptly sent a wave of histrionic, dishonest rants to its viewers. Laura Ingraham, for instance, is telling conservative parents that the government wants to “label you a potential domestic terrorist. Unbelievable.”
It is indeed unbelievable, because Ingraham was lying (the word “terrorist” appears nowhere in the DOJ documents, applied to parents or anyone else). Meanwhile, a Fox host asked, “What is at the root of this attempt to criminalize parents?”
Meanwhile, at a Senate hearing, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) raged that the Justice Department is attempting to “intimidate” and “silence” parents. And on an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show, Hawley accused the government of “sending FBI agents to try to silence voting, taxpaying parents, trying to silence them.”
That doesn’t seem to be the case, but that’s a damned good line! I say you’ll die if you require those masks. I know where you live! It’s a free country. I’m allowed to say that!
The law says no, but Waldman sees this:
That faux outrage not only stirs up the base; it can also be a way for Republicans to exercise power over policy even when they lack the formal authority to do so. Recall that in 2009, when the Department of Homeland Security under Barack Obama issued a report warning that right-wing extremist groups were seeking to recruit current and former members of the military, Republicans raised such a stink that DHS withdrew the report and apologized.
But things have changed:
There is certainly a long history in the United States of law enforcement at all levels identifying real or not-so-real threats, then using the excuse of those threats to target and oppress innocent people. But the victims have not been polite suburban moms; they’re more likely to have been racial and ethnic minorities or people with leftist views. The Fox News audience has little to worry about.
But here’s the real problem: Threats of violence against public officials are now simply part of the Republican repertoire. Even if most people who vote GOP would never threaten their local school principal, Republican politicians know that a number of their supporters would. And one level below that – the furious mob, screaming over a lie they’ve been told on Fox – is seen by those politicians not as a dangerous threat to society but as an instrument for them to regain power.
So they’ll do what they can to protect that mob, condemn its targets (whatever they are), and find any excuse they can to portray themselves as the courageous and the oppressed. The result is likely to be more mobs and more violence.
Expect that, given this response:
The White House defended the Justice Department from complaints it was being politicized after Attorney General Merrick Garland escalated his federal agency’s response to threats against public school officials and teachers.
Threats of violence against public servants are illegal, which includes public school board members and educators, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki. Republican lawmakers have expressed concern the department would target parents who are concerned about public schools’ policies.
Psaki said President Joe Biden supported the parents’ right to protest.
“He doesn’t stand for the fundamental right – I assume you don’t either – for people to take violent action against public servants. And that’s what the threats are about,” she told reporters.
But that’s the real issue here. Do all of us have the right to take violent action against public servants? Many say yes, and all there is seems to be this:
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco told the Senate Judiciary Committee this week that her department was not seeking to censor parents’ right to free speech with their law enforcement reaction. Instead, she insisted it was working to improve communication between local and state agencies regarding the threats.
That was the idea:
Garland issued a memo a day earlier requesting FBI representatives and federal prosecutors talk with local and state police within 30 days about strategies to address the “disturbing trend.” Possible proposals include a training program and a new federal task force.
“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” he wrote. “Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.”
But maybe they should die, each and every single one of them.
Now what? Maybe we need Michelle Pfeiffer again. These are dangerous minds.