FBI Director Christopher Wray went before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to provide an update on the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol. He drew a stark picture when it comes to domestic terrorism and, in particular, the rise of white supremacy groups as a major portion of domestic terrorism here in the United States. The hearing marked one of Wray’s first major appearances since the attack.
“I was appalled that you, our country’s elected leaders, were victimized right here in these very halls. That attack — that siege was criminal behavior, plain and simple,” Wray said early into the hearing. “And it’s behavior that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism. It’s got no place in our democracy, and tolerating it would make a mockery of our nation’s rule of law.”
Wray said the American people have been critical partners for the investigators. Over 27,000 tips have been submitted to the FBI since Jan. 6, with more still coming in. He noted the difficulty some people face in deciding to submit tips, saying, “Some have even taken the painful step of turning in their friends or their family members,” for their part in the US Capitol attacks.
Domestic terrorism is not just an isolated incident like the Jan. 6 attack but a rapidly growing problem from within, Wray said, spreading quickly throughout the US. “It’s not going away anytime soon,” he said. He went on to say it’s so prominent that the FBI has placed domestic terrorism at the top of the list for threats to the country. And at the top of the list of persistent domestic terror threats is what Wray referred to as “racially motivated violent extremism, specifically, of the sort that advocates for the superiority of the white race.”
Under his leadership in June 2019, Wray said, the FBI raised its assessment of “racially and ethnically motivated violent extremism” to the same threat level as terrorist groups like ISIS and homegrown violent extremists. He highlighted threats against law enforcement as being another top priority for the FBI to thwart.
Sen. Dick Durbin asked Wray why the FBI had not released a threat assessment ahead of Jan. 6 despite the various bits of information reported indicating a large-scale attack on the Capitol. Wray said the FBI’s Norfolk field office had quickly sent out a “situational information report” to multiple sister and brother agencies, including the US Capitol Police and the Metro DC Police Department, based on unverified evidence.
Wray said in a “perfect world,” the FBI would have taken more time to verify the information and develop a threat assessment. Still, because of the critical nature of the threats circulating online, the Norfolk field office chose to push out the memo to the appropriate local, state, and federal authorities to properly prepare them in case the intel turned out to be true.
The senator also raised questions about whether the FBI was tracking people on the terrorist watchlist who had traveled to DC days before the attack occurred. Wray pointed out that just because people are on the terrorist watchlist, it doesn’t mean they are on the no-fly list. Also, Wray said the FBI interviewed people on the watchlist and also surveilled that they were prepping for travel, subsequently thwarting several on the terrorist watchlist from traveling.
Wray said quite a number of people who have been arrested for their actions during the attack are associated with violent militias like the Proud Boys or the Oathkeepers. Also, in the bigger picture, the FBI has seen a rise in investigations and arrests of “racially motivated violent extremists” who could be categorized as white supremacists; he wasn’t able to give a total but said the number of such arrests has nearly tripled since he took office. This category is a portion of the FBI’s overall domestic terrorism caseload, which went from approximately 1,000 cases when Wray took his position at the FBI and has since grown to about 2,000.
He also spoke about the FBI’s fusion cell, which is working to surveil, investigate, and prevent domestic terrorism and racially motivated violence, which is often committed by the same groups and/or people. Wray said the fusion cell is working well and cited a recently thwarted plan to set off explosives in a Colorado synagogue.
Wray dismissed conspiracy theories that far right-wing adherents have widely circulated. He said the investigation has found no evidence so far that would indicate there were any Antifa-like groups present or any otherwise “fake Trump protestors” as has been publicly suggested. Also, Wray said there has been no evidence indicating that out-of-country bad actors were involved in the Capitol attack in any way.
Though Wray rejected these conspiracy theories, he dodged senators’ questions about Congress members who have publicly endorsed QAnon, which is a web of conspiracy theories that are believed to be motivating violence among groups of the far-right.