Ted Cruz defends man who performed Nazi salute at school board meeting

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Cruz attacked Attorney General Merrick Garland for a memo he issued regarding threats of violence directed toward school board officials nationwide over anti-racism training and COVID-19 safety measures.

In a tirade against Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) defended a man who interrupted a Michigan school board meeting by shouting "Heil Hitler" and flashing a Nazi salute.

"My god, a parent did a Nazi salute at a school board because they thought the policies were oppressive," Cruz said at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday. "General Garland, is doing a Nazi salute at an elected official, is that protected by the First Amendment?"

Garland responded, "Yes it is."

Republicans used the hearing to criticize Garland for a memo he issued Oct. 4 asking the FBI to convene with local law enforcement to address "threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff" and to "open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response."

The impetus for Garland's memo was a September letter from the National School Boards Association to President Joe Biden, outlining the increased threat to educators at school board meetings, which have become the latest front in the culture war battles around critical race theory, a subject that is not actually taught at the K-12 level, and public health requirements in schools to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Republicans latched onto the NSBA letter's equation between "acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials" and "a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes." The NSBA later apologized to its members for the language in the letter, which it eventually withdrew.

Even though there was no mention of domestic terrorism in Garland's memo, lawmakers have insisted that Garland "sicced" federal agents onto parents, who have merely been asserting their First Amendment rights.

"This is a memo to the Federal Bureau of Investigations saying go investigate parents as domestic terrorists," Cruz stated Wednesday

"That is not what the letter says at all," Garland responded.

School boards meetings, typically long and tepid affairs in the pre-pandemic era, have become hotbeds of political activity and protest in recent months. As the now-withdrawn NSBA letter detailed, individuals have been arrested for aggravated battery and disorderly conduct, meetings have devolved into chaos as angry mobs threaten violence, and officials have received hate mail and been placed on watchlists.

Cruz doubled down on his defense of the Nazi salute on Twitter later, writing, "The parent was doing the Nazi salute because he was calling the authoritarian school board Nazis—evil, bad & abusive. And yes, calling someone a Nazi is very much protected by the First Amendment."

In the August scenario to which Cruz was referring, a Michigan man, upset over the district's newly announced face mask policy, flashed the offensive symbol during a school board meeting. A Black woman and Jewish woman were reportedly speaking in support of the mask policy when the man performed the salute, which he accompanied with the phrase "Heil Hitler." Two other attendees, according to the Detroit Metro Times, repeated the phrase after him.

It was not immediately clear whether the man who flashed the salute was a parent in the district.

The act earned condemnation from state lawmakers.

"I am shocked and appalled to see the use of racist, Nazi language and imagery in our community, particularly by parents attending a school board meeting," State Rep. Mari Manoogian said in a statement the next day.

"Let me be clear: racism, anti-Semitism, and any other forms of bigotry and hate have no room in our discourse or our community, and I forcefully condemn the use of this phrase and gesture at yesterday’s Board of Education meeting."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.