The FBI's Domestic Terrorism Caseload Has 'Exploded,' Director Chris Wray Tells Congress

The domestic terrorism caseload has more than doubled, partly due to the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol.
FBI Director Christopher Wray says the bureau has more than doubled the number of personnel investigating domestic terrorism threats.
FBI Director Christopher Wray says the bureau has more than doubled the number of personnel investigating domestic terrorism threats.
Tom Williams via Getty Images

The FBI has more than doubled its domestic terrorism caseload in little more than a year and a half and doubled the amount of bureau personnel working on domestic terrorism investigations, FBI Director Chris Wray testified Tuesday.

“The domestic terrorism caseload has exploded,” Wray said during an appearance before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“Since the spring of 2020 ... we’ve more than doubled our domestic terrorism caseload, from about 1,000 to around 2,700 investigations,” Wray said. “We’ve surged personnel to match, more than doubling the amount of people working that threat from the year before.”

The stark jump is in part due to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which has resulted in more than 600 arrests (with hundreds more arrests in the works).

Wray, responding to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), said the domestic terrorism caseload had been on the rise in the years before the Jan. 6 attack.

“[It] has been going up quite significantly over the past few years,” Wray said. “It’s been a really significant jump there.”

Under federal law, there are many more tools available to target terrorism inspired by a “foreign” ideology rather than a “domestic” ideology. In practical terms, terrorism inspired by Islamic extremism falls into the “foreign” terrorism category, while pretty much everything else is considered “domestic” extremism. The “foreign” or “domestic” label doesn’t have to do with the location of an attack, but rather the underlying ideological inspiration. (Given this legal reality, federal officials have been much more hesitant to call domestic terrorist attacks what they are.)

In his written testimony, Wray said FBI special agents, intelligence analysts and professional staff had been “hard at work gathering evidence, sharing intelligence, and working with federal prosecutors to bring charges against the individuals involved” in the Capitol attack.

“Overall, the FBI assesses that the January 6th siege of the Capitol Complex demonstrates a willingness by some to use violence against the government in furtherance of their political and social goals,” Wray said. “This ideologically motivated violence — domestic terrorism — underscores the symbolic nature of the National Capital Region and the willingness of some Domestic Violent Extremists to travel to events in this area and violently engage law enforcement and their perceived adversaries.”

The FBI, he said, “will continue to work to hold accountable those individuals who participated in the violent breach of the Capitol on January 6th and any others who attempt to use violence to intimidate, coerce, or influence the American people or affect the conduct of our government.”

The Biden administration is seeking more than $100 million in new Justice Department spending to address “emerging domestic terrorism threats,” including $45 million for the FBI to add more than 80 new special agents and nearly 100 new FBI positions to help “detect and disrupt domestic terrorism (DT) threats nationwide.”

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