FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers Tuesday that domestic extremism has been “metastasizing” around the country, saying the number of domestic terrorism investigations has grown “significantly” since he took over the agency three years ago.
Wray testified before lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, his first appearance before senators since the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January. Wray said he believed the Jan. 6 attack was “not an isolated event” but rather part of a troubling and growing trend across the nation.
“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 senators. “Whenever we’ve had the chance, we’ve tried to emphasize that this is a top concern.”
The director bolstered his statement with a series of troubling statistics: The number of white supremacists arrested in 2020 had nearly tripled from when he took over the FBI in 2017, and the agency currently has more than 2,000 domestic terrorism investigations underway. That figure is more than double the amount it had in 2019.
During his testimony, Wray also dismissed claims that antifa, shorthand for anti-fascists, was behind the deadly assault on the Capitol, a conspiracy theory that has continued to spread on fringe websites and among right-wing social media influencers.
“That doesn’t mean we’re not looking, and will continue to look,” Wray told lawmakers. “But at the moment, we have not seen that.”
Instead, the FBI director pointed to anti-government militia groups and white supremacists who participated in the attack, saying federal investigators have so far charged more than 270 people in connection with the insurrection. Investigators believe about 800 people were involved in the mob that took over the halls of the Capitol.
He later called the event a “siege” and said it was “criminal behavior, plain and simple,” that the agency viewed as domestic terrorism.
“It’s got no place in our democracy,” Wray added.
The director did face some tough questions about the FBI’s role in gathering intelligence before the insurrection, but he defended the agency’s actions while admitting that the fact the riot took place was not an “acceptable result” of the bureau’s work.
“That’s why we’re looking so hard at figuring out how can the process be improved,” he said.
President Joe Biden ordered law enforcement and intelligence agencies to study the growth of domestic terrorism in January, shortly after his inauguration. The threat assessment will be used to develop federal policy and craft a government response to the spread of conspiracy theories on social media and the radicalization of domestic extremists, according to The Associated Press.
“The Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we all know: The rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at the time.