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Opinion How Fox News and Republican officials devised one Biden smear

Likenesses of Fox News personalities drape the side of News Corp. headquarters in Manhattan in March 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

For three months, Republican officeholders and Fox News personalities have been shouting it from the rooftops.

“The attorney general announced the FBI would investigate moms who dared to complain at school board meetings as potential terrorists,” Fox’s leading prime-time host, Tucker Carlson, announced last week.

“Biden and his cronies are calling the parents domestic terrorists,” contributed Florida’s lieutenant governor, Jeanette Nuñez, on Fox News last Sunday.

“I’m glad that the Biden administration labeled us domestic terrorists, because that was a wake-up moment for a lot of parents,” commentator Matt Walsh said on the channel last week.

“Parents who are complaining about the schools are being branded as extremists, or even domestic terrorists,” host Laura Ingraham inveighed. “Merrick Garland gets involved, Justice Department gets involved.”

“The Biden administration … has said that they are considering parents who speak out regarding education issues for their children to be domestic terrorists,” proclaimed Elise Stefanik, the No. 3 House GOP leader, on Fox News.

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There’s just one wee problem with the whole Biden-says-parents-are-terrorists claim, reported dozens of times on Fox News airwaves and echoed at each link down the Republican media food chain: It’s horse excrement. Biden never said it. Attorney General Merrick Garland never said it. No senior (nor even junior) official in the Biden administration has ever been shown to have said it. Yet Fox News presents it as unchallenged fact, week after week. (In response to my request, a Fox News spokeswoman provided me no instance of a Biden official calling parents domestic terrorists.)

It would be easy to overlook this one drizzle of disinformation in the torrent of falsehood the GOP-Fox axis produces. The network, which “informs” the majority of Republican voters, has painstakingly constructed a parallel universe in which vaccines kill you, Biden stole the election, Biden is senile, grade schoolers are being force-fed critical race theory, the FBI orchestrated the Jan. 6 insurrection, and the country is in an apocalyptic spiral of open borders, rampant crime and runaway inflation.

But let’s pause to dissect this particular smear, because the Biden-says-parents-are-terrorists fiction fits with a narrative sometimes described on Fox as Biden’s “war on parents.” It also sanitizes violence.

Fox’s Carlson and others have objected to the Jan. 6 insurrectionists being (accurately) labeled as domestic terrorists. If they can make it appear that Biden is “labeling anyone who disagrees with his policies … as domestic terrorists” (Fox’s Rachel Campos-Duffy), or that Biden is saying all “Trump supporters are effectively domestic terrorists” (as one of Carlson’s guests put it), then it’s just more condescension from liberal elites about “deplorables.”

“They are trying to turn half of the country into second-class citizens,” J.D. Vance, a Republican Senate candidate in Ohio, told Fox, with “Attorney General Garland going after parents as domestic terrorists.”

The basis for the smear is Garland’s Oct. 4 memo saying that, because of a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff,” the FBI would develop “strategies for addressing threats” with state and local authorities. It said nothing about parents being labeled domestic terrorists.

Fox News has reported that the administration “requested” a Sept. 29 “letter from the National School Boards Association calling parents domestic terrorists.” The administration denied this allegation (which was based on a third-hand remark in an NSBA email released under the Freedom of Information Act) and, in any event, the NSBA-written letter (it has since apologized for the language) also didn’t call parents domestic terrorists. It said that certain “heinous actions” of violence and threats against school officials “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) claimed an FBI email provided by a “whistleblower” showed “troubling attempts” by DOJ and the White House “to use the heavy hand of federal law enforcement to target concerned parents.” This email also didn’t mention parents; it was about tracking “threats” against educators.

In reality, DOJ is doing what you’d expect: targeting people who threaten or commit violence, whether at school board meetings or at Capitol insurrections — not angry parents. “The Justice Department supports and defends the First Amendment right of parents to complain as vociferously as they wish,” Garland testified to Congress.

But the smear goes on.

Kellyanne Conway tells Fox that Americans “see the Democrats calling parents domestic terrorists.”

Lara Trump tells Fox that Biden should apologize for choosing “to label … parents as domestic terrorists.”

Sean Hannity solicits “reaction to the memo of the Department of Justice to look at parents … being investigated as domestic terrorists.”

House Republican Whip Steve Scalise tells Fox that Biden’s DOJ is telling parents “that they’re domestic terrorists if they go to the school board meeting to say, ‘Stop teaching your kids to hate America.’ ”

“Parents don’t like being told that they’re domestic terrorists,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) tells Fox.

Indeed not. But thanks to Republicans and Fox News, millions of Americans can now add this to their long menu of lies digested.

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