After a furious public backlash, the fbi has withdrawn an internal memorandum announcing an investigation into “traditionalist” Catholics and their possible links to “right wing nationalist movements.” The document was leaked to the press a few days ago by a former fbi agent and “whistleblower” and subsequently published. In revoking the report, an fbi spokesman said it “did not meet its standards.” One should hope so.

The memorandum was filled with wild claims about conservative Catholics that only left-wing ideologues or fbi employees could take seriously. It asserted that Catholics who prefer the traditional Latin mass might be undercover terrorists or white nationalists, and sympathetic to all kinds of anti-American causes. The fbi, according to the report, was about to embark upon an investigation of far-right Catholics, perhaps by sending out undercover agents to infiltrate churches where they might congregate. Fortunately, following public criticisms, the fbi backed off.

Breitbart reports that the fbi document was based in large part on a report issued by the far-left Southern Poverty Law Center, which specializes in denouncing people it disagrees with as bigots, nationalists, or terrorists. It appears that the splc prepared its report, documenting its grievances against conservative Catholics, then circulated it to a friendly source within the fbi. The fbi contact in turn repackaged the report into an official document accompanied by an announcement of a formal fbi investigation.

The splc “played” the fbi as a willing or naive instrument of its left-wing agenda. It is troubling that the fbi was willing to commence an investigation into conservative Americans based upon little else than a flimsy report issued by an ideological advocacy group. This may imply that previous reports from the fbi to investigate white nationalists and other far-right groups arose from the same ideological source.

It should not be difficult for the director of the fbi to ferret out the agents responsible for this fiasco. Along the way he might announce to his agents that the fbi does not commence investigations on the basis of reports circulated by activists. Whatever one thinks of J. Edgar Hoover’s fbi of yesteryear, it would not have engaged in investigations drummed up by interest groups or advocacy organizations.

This is a worrisome pattern that is being played out across the federal government. An advocacy group prepares a document, circulates it to contacts within a federal department or agency such as the fbi, the Justice Department, or the Environmental Protection Agency, and the agency turns it into an official document or guide to policy. It is a troubling fact that federal agencies no longer generate their own reports and guides, but instead rely upon information supplied to them by privately funded advocacy groups pursuing ideological agendas or interest groups trying to shake down businesses or entire industries. If some group can win a favorable ruling for its cause from the epa or the Food and Drug Administration, it is then free to use it as the basis for lawsuits or publicity campaigns against businesses or local governments.

 The Steele Dossier, as an obvious example, followed a path from the Clinton campaign to the Washington press corps to advocacy groups in the capital and eventually to the cia, fbi, and Justice Department. The fbi then followed up with a full-scale investigation but without disclosing its origins.

Kimberly Strassel recently reported in The Wall Street Journal that the epa’s proposal to phase out gas stoves began with a series of reports and “studies” by left-wing climate groups at war with fossil fuels. These groups used their contacts within the epa to advance their agenda—and those contacts were all too willing to play along. The contacts took those “studies” and tried to turn them into national policy. They failed, at least for the time being, due to a public backlash. They will nevertheless step back, bide their time, and try again later.

 A similar pattern emerged in Attorney General Merrick Garland’s memo of a few years back in which he called for an fbi investigation into parents protesting at school board meetings, claiming that they were “harassing” or “intimidating” teachers and school board members. It turned out that Garland’s memo originated in a letter sent to him by the National School Boards Association urging him to launch an investigation. Garland acted without delay in response to this “suggestion,” and in the process delivered another hit to the vaunted independence of the Justice Department.

This kind of thing happens on a daily basis in Washington, and is not surprising in view of number of advocacy groups operating in the capital and searching for friendly contacts in the federal government—of which there are many. It is common practice for federal agencies and bureaus to recruit employees from among the advocacy groups they deal with—and those employees in turn work hand in glove with those groups to advance common agendas. The groups then advertise their influence among donors to raise more funds, thus continuing the cycle. When Republicans occupy the White House, those groups use their sources to block initiatives they oppose, using internal contacts to leak memos or embarrassing information to the press.

Conservatives have their own groups in Washington, but they are nowhere as influential as those on the left and far left; and it appears that the left-wing groups are more focused on cultivating contacts within government to promote and circulate their reports. Conservatives will never duplicate this kind of influence because 90 percent or more of federal bureaucrats identify with the Democratic Party. For that reason, they might do better in combatting this version of the “Washington disease” by trying to break it up rather than by trying to play the game. How that might be done is a large question.

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