FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before Congress on Thursday that white supremacy is a “persistent, pervasive threat” to U.S. security — despite President Donald Trump’s indications to the contrary.
“How would you define the danger to public safety that is posed by white supremacist extremism?” House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) asked.
Wray responded that the “danger ... of white supremacists, violent extremism or any other kind of extremism is, of course, significant.”
He added: “We assess that it is a persistent, pervasive threat. We tackle it both through our joint terrorism task forces on the domestic terrorism side as well as through our civil rights program on the civil side through hate-crime enforcement.”
The warning comes just weeks after Trump said he didn’t “really” see a rise in global right-wing violence after an avowed white nationalist was charged in the fatal shooting of 50 people at two New Zealand mosques last month. Such violence is committed by a “small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess,” Trump insisted.
Wray’s pronouncement also follows reports that the Department of Homeland Security dismantled its domestic terrorism unit even as American right-wing violence has become the leading cause of terrorism in the U.S. Officials of the department conceded to CBS News this week that the unit has been “restructured” but said that Homeland Security remains committed to battling all domestic terrorism. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen last month insisted that Islamist militants and those they inspire are the primary terrorist threat to the U.S.
In fact, more domestic terrorism suspects were arrested in the United States over the last two federal budget years than those inspired by foreign Islamic extremists. Most domestic terrorism suspects are right-wing extremists. But domestic terrorism is not a crime under federal law, so suspects are charged with weapon violations and other crimes.
Wray was also asked how the FBI is addressing a 17% spike in hate crimes in the U.S.
“We are determined not to tolerate hate-filled violence in our communities, so we’re going to aggressively investigate those cases,” he said.
Trump has been accused of emboldening white nationalists with comments such as referring to black-majority nations as “shithole countries” and immigrants as “animals.” He said after the 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, march of white nationalists that there were “good people” on both sides of the issue.
Counterprotester Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and 19 others were injured when white nationalist James Alex Fields ran into them with his car in Charlottesville. He pleaded guilty last week to federal hate-crime charges and said he had hoped to kill more of the people he injured. He had already been sentenced to life in prison last year but reportedly pleaded guilty to the hate crimes in a bid to avoid the death penalty.