(Headline USA) FBI Director Chris Wray reaffirmed his leftist leanings while trying to curry favor with the newly Democrat-led Senate, echoing talking points that supporters of former president Donald Trump were guilty of “domestic terrorism.”
Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wray warned of a rapidly growing threat of homegrown violent extremism that law enforcement is scrambling to confront through thousands of investigations.
It echoed his testimony last year, in which Wray hyped up baseless claims about the rise of white supremacy and right-wing anti-government threats while dismissing the violent, pro-anarchist Antifa as merely an “ideology.”
The Trump appointee often went rogue against his former boss, including his efforts to slow-walk declassification of documents related to the role that top FBI brass who preceded him had played in conspiring to undermine Trump with false claims of Russian collusion.
On Tuesday, Wray also defended to lawmakers his own agency’s handling of an intelligence report that warned of the prospect for violence on Jan. 6.
And despite evidence that at least one left-wing activist, John Sullivan, had helped instigate the Capitol violence, Wray firmly rejected the reports that anti-Trump groups had organized the insurrection.
Wray also testified that he was unable to offer any information about the cause of death for Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick due to the ongoing investigation.
Democrats—including those in Congress who led the impeachment trial—falsely spread disinformation that Sicknick had been killed by blunt-force trauma after being assaulted with a fire hydrant. But it was revealed later that he had spoken with his brother following the protests and reported that he was fine before collapsing later that evening.
Wray was noncommittal as to whether his inability to offer details was due to the confidentiality of the information or if he simply did not have it.
His testimony was the latest in a series of hearings centered on the law enforcement response to the Capitol uprising, for which Democrats impeached Trump but failed, once again, to convict him.
Democrats pressed Wray not only about possible intelligence and communication failures ahead of the riot but also about the threat of violence from white supremacists, militias and other extremists. The FBI says it is prioritizing those domestic groups with the same urgency as the menace of international terrorism organizations.
“Jan. 6 was not an isolated event. The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away anytime soon,” Wray told the committee. “At the FBI, we’ve been sounding the alarm on it for a number of years now.”
President Joe Biden’s administration has tasked his national intelligence director to work with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to assess the threat.
And in applying the domestic terrorism label to conduct inside the Capitol, Wray sought to make clear to the Democrats in control that he was fully on board concerning the scope and urgency of the threat.
Wray said the number of domestic terrorism investigations has increased from around 1,000 when he became FBI director in 2017 to about 2,000 now. The number of white supremacist arrests has almost tripled, he said.
That may be no surprise given that multi-ethnic groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers have been given the stigmatizing label. They were among those who sometimes responded to left-wing riots last year by staging their own counter-protests.
Many of the senators’ questions Tuesday centered on the FBI’s handling of a Jan. 5 report from its Norfolk, Virginia, field office that warned of online posts foreshadowing a “war” in Washington the following day.
Capitol Police leaders have said they were unaware of that report and had received no intelligence from the FBI that would have led them to expect the sort of violence that besieged them on the 6th.
Wray said the report was disseminated though the FBI’s joint terrorism task force, discussed at a command post in Washington and posted on an internet portal available to other law enforcement agencies.
Though the information was raw, unverified and appeared aspirational in nature, Wray said, it was specific and concerning enough that “the smartest thing to do, the most prudent thing to do, was just push it to the people who needed to get it.”
“We did communicate that information in a timely fashion to the Capitol Police and [Metropolitan Police Department] in not one, not two, but three different ways,” Wray said, though he added that since the violence that ensued was “not an acceptable result,” the FBI was looking into what it could have done differently.
He said he was “reluctant to armchair quarterback anyone else in their jobs,” but the FBI was determined to prevent a repeat of Jan. 6.
“We find it personally infuriating any time we are not able, as I said, to bat 1,000. And we’re going to keep working to get better,” he said.
The sprawling Justice Department investigation into the riot has already produced hundreds of charges, including against members of militia groups and far-right organizations.
The crowd in Washington that day ranged from protesters who did not break any laws to a smaller group that arrived determined to commit violence against police and disrupt Congress from its duties, Wray said.
“Some of those people clearly came to Washington, we now know, with the plans and intentions to engage in the worst kind of violence we would consider domestic terrorism,” he said.
Even as the FBI prioritizes its efforts to counter domestic violent extremism, there are challenges confronting law enforcement, including in separating mere chatter from actual threats and in First Amendment protections that give ample leeway to espouse racist or otherwise abhorrent viewpoints.
“The amount of angry, hateful, unspeakable, combative, violent even, rhetoric on social media exceeds what anybody in their worst imagination [thinks] is out there,” Wray said.
Wray has kept a notably low profile since the Capitol attack. Though he has briefed lawmakers privately and shared information with local law enforcement, Tuesday’s oversight hearing marked his first public appearance before Congress since before November’s presidential election.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press