Fact check: Merrick Garland's son-in-law is not 'selling critical race theory' to schools

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Several conservative members of Congress are calling for an investigation over false claims about Garland's son-in-law.

On Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland sent a memo to the FBI ordering the agency to address the "disturbing spike" in harassment and threats of violence against teachers and other school officials.

The order came after just days after the National School Boards Association sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking for federal assistance in investigating the rise of violence and harassment directed at education leaders over masking policies and the "the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula."

This week, the right-wing blogosphere erupted with a new conspiracy theory suggesting an ulterior motive behind Garland's memo.

The unfounded claim hinges on Garland's own son-in-law, Xan Tanner. Tanner — who is married to Merrick Garland's daughter, Rebecca Garland — is the co-founder of Panorama Education, an educational services company that provides resource material for teachers and school districts.

The conspiracy theory seems to have first appeared on the right-wing blog The Conservative Treehouse.

On Oct. 5, the blog's anonymous author — who goes by the handle "Sundance" — claimed that Garland "is instructing the FBI to investigate parents who might pose a financial threat to the business of his daughter's husband."

"Well, well, well… This is interesting," the blog post begins. "U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland recently instructed the FBI to begin investigating parents who confront school board administrators over critical race theory indoctrination material."

"Panorama Education is the 'social learning' resource material provider to school districts and teachers that teach critical race theory," the blog post continues. "Conflict of interest much?"

There is no evidence to suggest that Garland asked the FBI to investigate threats against school officials for personal gain.

"Critical race theory" is a pedagogical framework used to understand how racism has shaped America throughout history. The phrase burst into the mainstream this year when multiple state legislatures introduced bills seeking to ban its use in school curricula.

Counter to what conservatives critics have argued, critical race theory is not being widely taught in American public schools. According to a June survey conducted by the Association of American Educators, less than 5% of respondents reported that critical race theory (or CRT) was being taught in their schools.

It didn't take long for the Conservative Treehouse post to start circulating in far-right circles. Ron Watkins, the administrator of the extremist message board 8chan, quickly shared the post on Telegram, an encrypted messaging service popular with white supremacists. The post was also shared in an antisemitic Telegram channel associated with the Proud Boys, the right-wing extremist paramilitary group.

Fox News soon picked up the blog post. The news outlet interviewed Asra Nomani, a conservative education advocate, who claimed that Panorama has ties to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

"Merrick Garland has declared a war on parents," Nomani tweeted on Tuesday.

By Thursday afternoon, several Republican members of Congress had chimed in on Twitter, calling for an investigation into the alleged conflict of interest with the attorney general.

"The AG’s son-in-law's company makes millions selling CRT & other PC programs to our schools while the AG calls parents who question school boards, domestic terrorists. Conflict of interest, anyone? I'm joining several of my colleagues to investigate," Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Col.) tweeted on Thursday.

Reps. Ken Buck (R-CO), Ronny Jackson (R-TX), and Jim Banks (R-IN) also called for Garland to be investigated.

Tanner founded Panorama Education in 2012. The company "partners with schools and districts to support student literacy and social-emotional learning," a Panorama spokesperson told the American Independent Foundation, "for the purpose of helping schools and districts better serve their students."

"Panorama is not affiliated with any particular academic philosophy, including critical race theory," the spokesperson said. "The only relationship between Panorama Education and Attorney General Merrick Garland is that Panorama's co-founder Xan Tanner is AG Garland’s son-in-law."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.