The FBI is labeling “radical-traditionalist” Catholics as extremist threats to the United States, according to a document that was leaked by Kyle Seraphin, a former FBI special agent and federal whistleblower, and published on January 23 on the UndercoverDC website.
According to the document, FBI Richmond “assesses the increasingly observed interest of racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) in radical-traditionalist Catholic (RTC) ideology almost certainly presents opportunities for threat mitigation.”
The document goes on to classify RTCs as being “typically characterized by the rejection of the Second Vatican Council,” stating that those who prefer the Catholic Mass in Latin rather than the vernacular can amount to an “adherence to anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ and white supremacist ideology.”
Self-proclaimed “traditionalist Catholics,” however, who simply prefer the traditional Latin Mass and pre-Vatican II teachings, are not the same as RTCs, who ascribe to “more extremist ideological beliefs and violent rhetoric.”
Seraphin joined Fox News journalist Tucker Carlson on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” to discuss the matter. During the interview, he stated that is targeting of some Catholics is a foreshadowing of the FBI’s attempt to kick off a more significant religious crackdown.
“They have found a gateway in what they think is fringe Catholicism in order to move into Christians in general and declare them to be the actual criminals in this country or the potential terrorists,” Seraphin asserted.
“The whole document basically is written from the perspective of somebody who thinks there are significant abortion rights that need to be defended and also an LGBTQ agenda that has to be pushed down the American people’s throats and these are antithetical to Catholicism.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has served as a resource to the FBI in identifying and labeling nine groups as “Traditional Catholic Hate Groups.” The SPLC defines “radical-traditionalist Catholics” as those “who may make up the largest single group of serious antisemites in America” and “subscribe to an ideology that is rejected by the Vatican and some 70 million mainstream American Catholics.”
According to the leaked document from the FBI, such groups tracked by the SPLC, including Catholic Apologetics International and Catholic Family Ministries, Inc., exhibit a “growing overlap between the far-right white nationalist movement and RTCs.”
“The ongoing convergence of the far-right white nationalist movement and RTCs was further demonstrated through the increase in hostility toward abortion-rights advocates on social media sites in the run-up to and aftermath of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.”
Former Attorney General Jeff Session told Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) that the SPLC has used the term “hate group” as a weapon to “[wield] against conservative organizations that refuse to accept their orthodoxy and choose instead to speak their conscience. They use it to bully and intimidate groups like [ADF] which fight for the religious freedom, the civil rights, and the constitutional rights of others.”
Shortly following Kyle Seraphin’s interview on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the FBI retracted the document and released a statement:
“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 media has also fueled the conversation by labeling Catholicism as a breeding ground for radical extremism.
In August 2022, the Atlantic published an article originally titled, “How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol.”
The title was later changed to “How Extremist Gun Culture is Trying to Co-opt the Rosary,” and an image of bullet holes forming the shape of a rosary was replaced with a picture of a rosary.
In this essay, journalist Daniel Panneton argues that guns have become the new rosary for “radical-traditional” Catholics. He writes:
“Just as the AR-15 rifle has become a sacred object for Christian nationalists in general, the rosary has acquired a militaristic meaning for radical-traditional (or ‘rad trad’) Catholics. On this extremist fringe, rosary beads have been woven into a conspiratorial politics and absolutist gun culture.”
He even uses the same political identifiers the FBI used to classify RTCs, noting,
“The convergence within Christian nationalism is cemented in common causes such as hostility toward abortion-rights advocates. The pro-choice protests that followed the leaked early draft of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, led to a profusion of social-media posts on the far right fantasizing about killing activists, and such forums responded to Pride month this year with extremist homophobic and transphobic ‘groomer’ discourse.”
While some Catholics were amused at the effort to link the peaceful rosary with guns, most were gravely concerned. They included Chad Pecknold, theology professor at Catholic University of America, who told the Catholic News Agency:
“The politically elite core in left-liberal media hate Western civilization and they mean to topple every natural and supernatural sign of it. That’s why it’s not sufficient to simply run a piece on right-wing gun cultures, but they must tie it to something which is theologically central to the civilization they feel most threatens their progressive ziggurat. It’s a sign of the theo-political conflict which now grips us.”
Less than six months later, the Richmond FBI cited the Atlantic article as a resource for its Catholic extremist document, which illustrates that a full-court press by the media, left-wing activists, and law enforcement is underway. Seraphin said that despite the retraction by the FBI, their decision to issue the threat document in the first place foreshadows a potentially dark reality, saying,
“If they’re going to go after radical, traditional Catholics, then radical traditional Baptists are next and radical, traditional evangelicalism and anybody else that espouses essentially what is radical, which is just a Christian faith. And that is dangerous apparently in this country.”
There was a time in our history when Americans viewed the KGB, the state security apparatus for the Soviet Union, as the anti-thesis of freedom. Their agents spied on everyday citizens, infiltrated churches, confiscated church property, and harassed, imprisoned, and tortured Christians for holding views that posed a threat to the communist regime.
Some 30 years after the communist system fell in Eastern Europe and their many state police tactics came fully into the light, our America’s own FBI has embraced those same tactics to target, monitor, and label Catholics (and others) who hold to traditional conservative values. Never mind the First Amendment, which explicitly recognizes an individual’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
Interestingly, the most popular point of contention among the FBI was the Catholic pro-life view supporting the overturn of Roe v. Wade in last year’s Dobbs ruling by the Supreme Court. It’s not the public admission by left-wing pro-abortion group Jane’s Revenge to firebombing crisis pregnancy centers that set off the FBI, nor is it the radical Antifa organization that caused $2 billion in damages and over 2 dozen deaths during the summer of 2020. Instead, the FBI’s radar is set on the average Catholic American who adheres to family values and conservative norms.
And yet, Psalm 2 says that God sits on His throne in heaven and laughs as the nations plot in vain. Soon, He will speak to them in His wrath, and terrify them in His fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:5-6).
It is so tempting to be concerned or worried for the future, especially when the walls seem to be closing in as the government raises its iron fist upon us, but the Lord reminds us in His Word to be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4:6-7).
Instead, we should be prayerful, even giving thanks to the Lord for the age in which we are living, for the family He has given us, for the work He has put in front of us to do, and for the grace He gives us every single day.
Despite the turmoil around us, may we always remember, as the American writer Eleanor Amerman Sutphen counseled in her poem, to do the next thing.
Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, Let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.
Fear not tomorrows, Child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus. DO THE NEXT THING
Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
(Working or suffering) be thy demeanor,
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing,
Then, as He beckons thee, DO THE NEXT THING
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.