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Is the FBI Spying on My California Church?

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Is the FBI Spying on My California Church?

A file photo taken at a Catholic church in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Jan, 17, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

John Seiler

John Seiler

8/21/2023

Updated: 8/21/2023

Commentary
One of the reasons I like writing for The Epoch Times is its commitment to religious liberty. The paper was founded by members of the Falun Gong, a religion severely persecuted in China by the Chinese Communist Party, as described in coverage such as, “Panel: Persecution of Falun Gong Helped Chinese Regime Pioneer 21st Century Surveillance Apparatus.” They know personally the horrors of religious persecution, and defend the religious liberty of all faiths, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
I recently was shocked to find my own government now could be persecuting me by using its own vast “surveillance apparatus” to spy on my church, which is Catholic, right here in Orange County and the rest of California. On Aug. 9, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government, sent a scathing letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray.
They wrote: “The Committee on the Judiciary is continuing to conduct oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) assessment of traditional Catholics as potential domestic terrorists. From information recently produced to the Committee, we now know that the FBI relied on information from around the country—including a liaison contact in the FBI’s Portland Field Office and reporting from the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office—to develop its assessment. This new information suggests that the FBI’s use of its law enforcement capabilities to intrude on American’s First Amendment rights is more widespread than initially suspected and reveals inconsistencies with your previous testimony before the Committee. Given this startling new information, we write to request additional information to advance our oversight.
“This revelation raises the question of why you redacted this information in previous versions of the document you produced to the Committee, and it reinforces the Committee’s need for all FBI material responsive to the April 10 subpoena, including the production of FBI’s Richmond document without redactions.”
I prefer the terms “Catholic” or “Roman Catholic” to “traditional Catholic.” But this is about those, like me, who prefer the Traditional Latin Mass, which was the predominant form for centuries until the 1970 promulgation by Paul VI of the Novus Ordo, which was in the vernacular languages. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued the Moto Proprio Summum Pontificorum, which allowed widespread use of the old rite along with the Novus Ordo.
In 2021, Pope Francis issued the Moto Proprio Traditionis Custodes, which placed new restrictions on the Latin Mass. But this is an internal church matter which should be of no concern to a government bound to follow the First Amendment protections of religious liberty.
A man holds rosary beads outside a U.S. Catholic church. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

A man holds rosary beads outside a U.S. Catholic church. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Richmond FBI Memo

The FBI memo from its Richmond, Va. office that started this is from Jan. 23, 2023. It’s titled, “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities.” Excuse the FBI jargon, but here’s a translation: RMVE is “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists”; and RTC is “radical-traditionalist Catholic.”
Here’s a key passage from the memo: “In making this assessment, FBI Richmond relied on the key assumption that RMVEs will continue to find RTC ideology attractive and will continue to attempt to connect with RTC adherents, both virtually via social media and in-person at places of worship. Indicators that would cause FBI Richmond to revise the judgments or confidence levels in its assessment include increases or decreases in RMVE subjects’ attendance at RTC or traditionalist Catholic places of worship; increases or decreases in RMVE subjects’ activity on social media platforms and forums maintained or frequented by RTCs; or the public distancing of prominent RTC or traditionalist Catholic personalities or institutions from RMVE ideologies. FBI Richmond assesses RMVE interest in RTCs is likely to increase over the next 12 to 24 months in the run-up to the next general election cycle, complicating the overall RMVE threat picture while also creating new opportunities for mitigation efforts.”
So they’re interfering in the 2024 election, too. The Jan. 23 memo supposedly was rescinded, but the House Judiciary Committee’s inquiry shows a thorough investigation needs to be conducted to see if it has been rescinded, and what else is going on.

What’s Really Going On?

The two main Traditional Latin Masses in OC are at St. Mary’s by the Sea in Huntington Beach, which is my parish, and St. John the Baptist in Costa Mesa, which I sometimes attend. Both are approved by our bishop, Kevin Vann. The Diocese of Orange is part of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, headed by Archbishop Jose Gomez. I also am OK with the Novus Ordo Mass in English, and on Aug. 15 attended Mass for the Feast of the Assumption at St. John Neumann parish in Irvine. The Mass in Vietnamese is chanted in that language and is beautiful.
If you attend the Latin Mass at these two churches, here’s what you will not find: “white nationalists” in KKK white hoods.
Here’s what you will find: The pastors of both churches are Asian-Americans. Specifically, both are Vietnamese-American refugees from Communist Vietnam. They are “Boat People” who came here after North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam in 1975 so they and their families could practice religious and other liberties. I’ve heard their harrowing stories of escaping in the boats. Now, in their home of refuge in the Land of Free, a different oppressive government could be spying on them?
The priests saying the Latin Mass could be white, Asian, Latino, black, or other. Look at the folks in the pews, and they’ll be of similar ethnic backgrounds—the usual diverse mixture from Southern California’s population. Latinos I know attending are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and other countries. Asians are from Vietnam, the Philippines, China, and Japan. Whites are of Irish, Italian, Polish, German, and other backgrounds from Europe. There also are various folks from Middle Eastern and backgrounds.
A Roman Catholic church is pictured in a file photo. (Armando Franca/AP Photo)

A Roman Catholic church is pictured in a file photo. (Armando Franca/AP Photo)

Different Traditional Catholics

It should be noted there are different types of traditional Catholics. In the main group are those, like me, who attend only the Latin Masses approved by our local bishop, such as Vann and Gomez. After that are those who basically reject most or all of the changes since Vatican Council II (1962-65). The second largest group is those belonging to the Society of St. Pius X, called SSPX. Briefly, in 1988 the head of the order, the since deceased Archbishop Marcel Lefevre, ordained four new bishops without the approval of Pope John Paul II, who then excommunicated all five.
The excommunications were lifted in 2007 by Benedict XVI. In 2016, Pope Francis wrote in an apostolic letter SSPX priests “can validly and licitly receive the sacramental absolution of their sins.” All along, the SSPX bishops and priests have recognized the legitimacy of the reigning pontiff. However, currently their status is considered “canonically irregular.” From what I can tell, the SSPX churches generally are on good terms with their local bishops.
Third are anyone else, such as the Society of St. Pius V, which does not recognized there is a legitimate pope, and have no sort of approval from their local bishops. There also are churches independent of any overall group. All these are considered schismatic.
The January FBI memo notes—please excuse more government jargon—“FBI Richmond assesses the increasingly observed interest of RMVEs in RTC ideology almost certainly presents new opportunities for threat mitigation through the exploration of new avenues for tripwire and source development. This assessment is based on reporting from an FBI UCE [undercover employee], jail calls associated with [name blacked out by FBI], local law enforcement agency reporting, and liaison and contact reporting demonstrating RMVE actors have sought out and attended traditionalist Catholic houses of worship, as well as used language indicative of adherence to RTC ideology in social media postings.”
The document misuses the word “ideology,” which means political movements, such as communism or fascism, not a religious movement. And who are they, anyway, to discriminate among different Catholic groups? Or Protestant, Jewish, and other groups?
And FBI “tripwire” is where they look for something that could lead to a terrorist attack, such as someone buying fertilizer or chemicals to make a bomb.
There are millions of criminals in America. Many of them attend churches (Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and others), mosques, temples, and other religious services. Are all of these places also to be spied upon?
The memo also mentions “the increasing collaboration of the far-right Catholic media outlet Church Militant (and its activist wing, the Resistance network) with the America First/groyper’ movement.” Church Militant actually is not a traditionalist Catholic group, but really is just a “media outlet” that is not focused on the Latin Mass.
It is headed by Michael Voris, a longtime journalist originally in non-religious media. It concentrates mainly on the unfortunate scandals that have plagued the church in recent decades. And as the Wikipedia article notes, it actually has been highly critical of the SSPX. Which, in turn, has criticized him. I’ll you what this is: religious liberty.
As to the “groypers,” I had to look it up. According to Wikipedia, they are associated by Nick Fuentes, who earlier this year got into trouble for making pro-Nazi statements with rapper Kanye West. Which I did hear about.
I’ve been reading Church Militant for a more than a decade, and from what I can tell it has had nothing to do with the much more recent Fuentes situation. Fuentes apparently is Catholic. But as the Catholic Church rejects Nazism, there’s an obvious problem there.
Is the FBI actually spying on the churches I attend? Or just those of the SSPX and others? Only further investigation by the House could reveal that. Member of Congress ought to subpoena a list of all the churches spied upon, and the dates.
A file photo of a Catholic church in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Jan, 17, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A file photo of a Catholic church in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Jan, 17, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

It’s Politics

Here’s another section from the FBI memo, showing this harassment really is about politics: “The ongoing convergence of the far-right white nationalist movement and RTCs was further demonstrated through the increase in hostility toward abortion-rights advocates on social media sites in the run-up to and aftermath of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. ...
“FBI Richmond assesses RMVE interest in RTCs is likely to increase over the next 12 to 24 months in the run-up to the next general election cycle complicating the overall RMVE threat picture while also creating new opportunities for mitigation efforts. This assessment is made in light of the ongoing polarization characterizing the US political environment and the probability that policy issues of mutual interest to RMVEs and RTC adherents will remain in the public spotlight. Catalyzing events in which RMVEs and RTC adherents might have common cause include legislation or judicial decisions in areas such as abortion rights, immigration, affirmative action, and LGBTQ protections.”
They clearly are aware of the political nature of their spying ahead of the 2024 election, in which abortion and affirmative action will be major issues. What does the FBI mean by “opportunities for mitigation efforts”?
The FBI also has to know that, of the six Republican members of the Supreme Court, five are Catholics, and played key roles in overturning Roe v. Wade with the Dobbs decision. Then, after the January memo came out, this past June the court also ruled against affirmative action in the Harvard and University of North Carolina cases. The late Justice Anthony Scalia was buried with a traditional Latin funeral Mass, said by his son, a priest, at which Justice Clarence Thomas read from the Book of Romans.
Is the FBI spying on these Catholic justices, too? Inquiring minds want to know.

Conclusion: Enforce the First Amendment

I’m 68 years old and have seen a lot, but I never thought I’d be investigated for my religious beliefs in my beloved, free America. Why isn’t President Joe Biden, who’s Catholic and publicly attends Mass on Sundays, ordering an end to this? Why was this allowed by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, also a Catholic, when she was House speaker? Why is anybody in government of any faith, or no faith, allowing this massive interference in Americans’ religious liberties?
Let’s hope Mr. Jordan, Mr. Johnson and the others on the Judiciary Committee continue digging up the full extent of this oppression, and insist the FBI stop it.
John Seiler

John Seiler

Author

John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. Mr. Seiler has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at JohnSeiler.Substack.com and his email is writejohnseiler@gmail.com

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