Editor’s note: The contents of this article has been updated to better reflect the contents of the FBI memo.
RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The FBI Richmond office reportedly worked with at least one source who went to in Catholic churches with the intention on seeing if any members of the congregations were showing signs of religious extremism, according to a release from the House Judiciary Committee.
This revelation comes two months after an internal FBI memo was leaked showing that the bureau had suspicions of extremism within Catholic congregations, and wanted to recruit insider sources to spy on parishioners.
On January 23, an internal memo created by the Richmond FBI field office suggested that there “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists,” such as white supremacists, who develop interest in “radical-traditionalist” Catholic ideology.
The memo defines “radical-traditionalist” Catholic ideology as rejecting the current pope and often engage in antisemitic, racist and anti-LGBTQ belief systems. However, this defintion notes that this group is a minority of Roman Catholics and also distinct from “traditionalist Catholics” who prefer a Latin Mass and follow a different calendar and set of prayers but do not adhere to the hateful ideology seen in radical-traditionalist beliefs.
The FBI also predicted that extremists’ interest in radical-traditionalist Catholicism would increase in the months leading up to the next presidential election in 2024.
The FBI Richmond office specifically wanted to use insider sources to watch for warning signs of radicalization and extremism in traditional Catholic churches. The FBI referred to this strategy as developing “new avenues for tripwire and source development.” The FBI Tripwire Program recruits civilians to observe potentially suspicious behavior and report it as part of counter-terrorism operations.
The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee also claims that the FBI had “at least one undercover employee” whose observations they used to write this memo.
The memo became public on Wednesday, Feb. 8, thanks to an FBI whistleblower. The memo was leaked to a partisan website called Uncover DC, and the FBI later verified the legitimacy of this leaked memo.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and 19 other Attorneys General sent a letter to the FBI and U.S. Attorney General two days after the memo was made public, demanding to know why the memo was written in the first place. The Attorneys General also requested information on whether the FBI followed through with infiltrating houses of worship.
The Judiciary Committee also requested this information from the FBI in February.
On March 23, the FBI provided the Judiciary Committee with a 18-page response. The bureau additionally said that the memo had been withdrawn because it did not met FBI standards, and a review had been opened.
The response showed that the FBI’s proposal to develop sources within Richmond Catholic churches were reviewed and approved at least two senior intelligence analysts. The memo was also sent to field offices across the country, according to FBI whistleblowers.
Despite the new information gleaned from the FBI’s response, it was deemed “substandard” by the Judiciary Committee because the FBI redacted a significant amount of information.
The Judiciary Committee is now issuing a subpoena for the FBI to provide records related to the Jan. 23 memo.