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Feds Flagged Terms Like ‘MAGA’ and ‘Trump’ to Financial Institutions, Urged Them to Report Purchases of Bibles: Report

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According to allegations made by a House panel established to examine government outreach, financial transactions containing terms like “MAGA” or “Trump” were flagged by the federal government.

A news release on the website of the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government stated that financial institutions were alerted to the terms if Americans entered them during transaction completion.

“Individuals who shopped at stores like Cabela’s or Dick’s Sporting Goods, or purchased religious texts like a Bible, may also have had their transactions flagged. This kind of pervasive financial surveillance, carried out in coordination with and at the request of federal law enforcement, into Americans’ private transactions is alarming and raises serious concerns about the FBI’s respect for fundamental civil liberties,” the release said.

Peter Sullivan, Senior Private Sector Partner for Outreach in the Strategic Partner Engagement Section of the FBI, and Noah Bishoff, former Director of the Office of Stakeholder Integration and Engagement in the Strategic Operations Division of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), are to be interviewed for a transcribed interview, according to the release from committee chairman Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio.

In his letter to Bishoff, Jordan said FinCEN sent material to financial institutions that outlined the “typologies” of people of interest to the federal government and offered some keywords to use when “identifying transactions on behalf of federal law enforcement.”

“These materials included a document recommending the use of generic terms like ‘TRUMP’ and ‘MAGA’ to ‘search Zelle payment messages’ as well as a ‘prior FinCEN analysis’ of ‘Lone Actor/Homegrown Violent Extremism Indicators,’” the letter said.

The letter said FinCEN warned of “‘extremism’ indicators that include ‘transportation charges, such as bus tickets, rental cars, or plane tickets, or travel to areas with no apparent purpose,’ or ‘the purchase of books (including religious texts) and subscriptions to other media containing extremist views.’”

“In other words, FinCEN urged large financial institutions to comb through the private transactions of their customers for suspicious charges on the basis of protected political and religious expression,” Jordan wrote.

The letter stated that FinCEN disseminated transparencies illustrating the types of product codes violent extremists might employ.

“For example, the slides instruct financial institutions to query for transactions using certain MCC codes such as ‘3484: Small Arms,’ ‘5091: Sporting and Recreational Goods and Supplies,’ and the keywords ‘Cabela’s,’ and ‘Dick’s Sporting Goods, among several others,” the letter said.

“Despite these transactions having no apparent criminal nexus — and, in fact, relate to Americans exercising their Second Amendment rights — FinCEN seems to have adopted a characterization of these Americans as potential threat actors. This kind of pervasive financial surveillance, carried out in coordination with and at the request of federal law enforcement, into Americans’ private transactions is alarming,” Jordan wrote.

The Hill reports that the Treasury Department declined to comment on the letter.

In a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray calling for an interview with Sullivan, Jordan said the panel “received testimony indicating that in 2021, the Bank of America (BoA) provided the FBI — voluntarily and without any legal process — with a list of individuals who made transactions in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area using a BoA credit or debit card between January 5 and January 7, 2021.”

“Documents obtained by the Committee and Select Subcommittee also show that FBI personnel, including Mr. Sullivan, made contact with and provided BoA with specific search query terms, indicating that it was ‘interested in all financial relationships’ of BoA customers transacting in Washington D.C. and customers who had made ‘ANY historical purchase’ of a firearm, or who had purchased a hotel, Airbnb, or airline travel within a given date range,” the letter said.

The letter to Wray said that “FBI personnel in the Office of Private Sector prepared an official report that broadly characterized certain political beliefs as indicative of domestic violent extremism.”

Those beliefs included “‘increased socio-political pressures’ surrounding ‘firearm legislation, the easing of immigration restrictions’ as well as ‘discontent with renewed measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” the letter said.

“Such a sweeping characterization of political beliefs and constitutionally protected speech as indicators of domestic violent extremism is reminiscent of how the FBI similarly characterized traditional Catholics as potential terrorists,” Jordan wrote.

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