Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Wednesday defended a parent who gave a Nazi salute at a school board meeting as he railed against U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland for directing the Justice Department to investigate the rise in threats against school officials.
The comment came during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about a recent memo sent from Garland to the FBI and offices of U.S. attorneys general.
In it, Garland asked federal officials to convene with local law enforcement to discuss strategies to address “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff” at public schools across the country.
Cruz argued that some of that harassment was nonviolent.
“I did a quick count just sitting here. During this hearing I counted 20 incidents cited,” he said. “Of the 20, 15 on their face are nonviolent. They involve things like insults. They involve a Nazi salute.”
“My God! A parent did a Nazi salute at a school board because they thought the policies were oppressive,” he exclaimed sarcastically. “General Garland, is doing a Nazi salute at an elected official, is that protected by the First Amendment?”
“Yes, it is,” Garland replied.
Ted Cruz defends Nazi salutes at school board meetings pic.twitter.com/9FJHJ97rFE
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 27, 2021
Cruz accused Garland of directing the FBI to “go investigate parents as domestic terrorists.”
The memo contains no mention of domestic terrorists at all, which Garland pointed out to Cruz. It asked law enforcement to look into threats and intimidation against school officials.
Throughout the hearing and over the past few weeks, Republicans have railed against Garland over the directive, accusing him of stifling parents from voicing concerns. School board meetings have become hotbeds for coronavirus anti-mask and anti-vaccine disputes, as well as debates over how children should be taught about race and systemic injustice.
Other GOP senators, including Josh Hawley (Ark.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), John Kennedy (Miss.) and Marsha Blackburn (Miss.), also gave animated performances at the hearing.
Garland was forced to repeatedly correct their exaggerated accusations. “We did not sic the FBI on parents,” he told Kennedy at one point.
The National School Boards Association wrote a letter to the president last month asking for federal assistance to address the growing number of threats and violence. It does include a reference to domestic terrorism. However, the NSBA later apologized and said it regretted that language.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.