The FBI says it is retracting a leaked document published on the internet Feb. 8 that appears to reveal that the bureau’s Richmond division launched an investigation into “radical traditionalist” Catholics and their possible ties to “the far-right white nationalist movement.”
In response to an inquiry from CNA, the FBI said it will remove the document because “it does not meet our exacting standards.”
The document, which was published on the website UncoverDC and is titled “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities,” singles out Catholics who are interested in the Traditional Latin Mass as potentially linked to violent extremist groups.
Kyle Seraphin, who is listed by UncoverDC as the author of the document, told CNA that he received the leaked document from an FBI agent. Seraphin himself is a former FBI special agent who was reportedly suspended last year. According to an NBC News report he went on to join Truth Social, the social media platform started by former President Donald Trump.
The FBI’s national press office confirmed to CNA that the document came from the Richmond office but stated that it will “remove the document from FBI systems” because it does not meet the “exacting standards of the FBI.”
“While our standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products, this particular field office product — disseminated only within the FBI — regarding racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism does not meet the exacting standards of the FBI,” the statement read.
“Upon learning of the document, FBI Headquarters quickly began taking action to remove the document from FBI systems and conduct a review of the basis for the document. The FBI is committed to sound analytic tradecraft and to investigating and preventing acts of violence and other crimes while upholding the constitutional rights of all Americans and will never conduct investigative activities or open an investigation based solely on First Amendment protected activity,” concluded the statement from the FBI National Press Office.
Marked “UNCLASSIFIED/FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY,” the document includes a list of organizations with Catholic ties that are listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) list of hate groups.
The SPLC has faced questions about its credibility from conservative and Christian organizations that have accused the group of a left-wing bias. Among the groups that made the SPLC’s 2021 list of supposed “hate groups” are the conservative and pro-family groups Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, ACT for America, the Center for Security Policy, and the American Freedom Law Center.
The organizations identified in the document as adhering to “radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology” include Tradition in Action, The Remnant, Culture Wars Magazine, and the Fatima Crusader. A “warning” added to the document noted that “potential criminality exhibited by certain members of a group referenced herein does not negate [the group’s or the members’] rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
The document, dated Jan. 23, claims that racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists will likely become more interested in “radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology” within the next 12 to 24 months “in the run-up to the next general election cycle.”
It points to potential “policy issues of mutual interest” between “radical-traditional” Catholics and violent extremists such as “abortion rights, immigration, affirmative action, and LGBTQ protections.”
The document further claims that violent extremists have “sought out and attended traditionalist Catholic houses of worship,” which “presents new opportunities for threat mitigation” through “trip wire or source development” within churches that offer the Latin Mass and “radical-traditionalist” Catholic online communities.
“The current trend of [racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist] interest in [radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology] provides new opportunities to mitigate the [racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist] threat through outreach to traditionalist Catholic parishes and the development of sources with the placement and access to report on [racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists] seeking to use [radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology] social media sites or places of worship as facilitation platforms to promote violence,” the document reads.
Both the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) are listed as potential points of contact for outreach, according to the document notes. Both offer Traditional Latin Masses to congregants and both have congregations within the Richmond FBI’s area of responsibility. SSPX is a canonically irregular organization ever since its founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrated bishops without papal approval. FSSP broke off from SSPX over that decision and is in full communion with Rome.
However, the document claims that “much of the interaction … takes place online” and they share certain language and symbolism, such as “crusader references and anti-Semitic discourse.”
In the document, the FBI division states that it “makes this assessment with high confidence” and bases its findings on FBI investigations, local law enforcement reports, liaison reports, and “varying degrees of corroboration and access.”
It states that the FBI would revise its judgment based on whether there is an increase or decrease of violent extremist subjects “attending traditionalist Catholic places of worship,” social media activity, or “radical-traditionalist” Catholic personalities or institutions distancing themselves from violent extremists.
Document notes claim that it defines radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology as a “rejection of the Second Vatican Council,” a “disdain for popes elected since Vatican II” and “frequent adherence to anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, and white supremacist ideology.”
It states that radical-traditionalist Catholicism is distinct from “traditionalist Catholics,” whom it defines as those who “prefer the Traditional Latin Mass and pre-Vatican II teachings and traditions” without “more extremist ideological beliefs and violent rhetoric.” However, the Richmond FBI division appears to rely on the SPLC’s analysis to determine what organizations should be classified as radical-traditionalist Catholic.
This is not the first time the FBI justified an insertion into religious communities by claiming it was looking for violent extremists. After al-Qaeda orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the FBI surveilled various mosques in search of Muslim extremists.
In one example, an FBI agent named Craig Monteilh pretended to convert to Islam and “was secretly recording conversations and filming inside people’s homes, mosques, and businesses,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Even though Muslims in the Orange County, California, community ultimately reported him to law enforcement and the FBI when he began to promote terrorism, he had already “gathered names, phone numbers, and email addresses as he secretly filmed and recorded congregants.”
On Thursday, House Republicans will begin an investigation into the alleged “weaponization” of the federal government against pro-life activists and Christians. It will look into allegations against the FBI and the Department of Justice.