FBI Director Chris Wray testified before the House Homeland Security Committee on Sept. 17, 2020. (Photo: Screen capture)
(CNSNews.com) – Terrorism remains the FBI’s top priority, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress on Thursday. He said that includes foreign groups; homegrown violent extremists; as well as “domestic terrorists” who are inspired by racial or ethnic “extremist ideologies to commit violent acts.”
“In recent years, we’ve been laser-focused on threats by racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists. They, too, are often radicalized online or mobilized quickly to carry out their plans,” Wray said in his opening statement to the House Homeland Security Committee. He used the example of someone arrested by the FBI last year for planning to blow up a synagogue in Colorado.
Regarding the recent protests in American cities, Wray said the majority have been peaceful — but he also said the FBI has “opened investigations on individuals involved in criminal activity at these protests, some of whom adhere to violent extremist agendas designed to sow discord and upheaval.
“Let me be clear, we do not investigate groups of individuals based on ideology or the exercise of First Amendment protected activity alone,” Wray said. “But when that ideology leads someone to commit criminal acts and pursue violence, the FBI will not hesitate to take appropriate action.”
In response to questions, Wray described Antifa as “a real thing.”
“It’s not a group or an organization. It’s a movement or an ideology, may be one way of thinking of it…And we have quite a number…of properly predicated investigations into what we would describe as violent anarchist extremists. And some of those individuals self-identify with Antifa,” Wray said.
“We also have racially motivated violent extremists, militia-types, and others.”
Several lawmakers pressed Wray on whether the FBI considers Black Lives Matter a violent extremist group. Wry said the FBI does not categorize domestic organizations the same way it does foreign organizations.
“Well, we are, I think very concerned about violence of any kind including violence that deprives citizens of their constitutional rights and civil liberties. And one of the concerns that we have amidst all the current unrest is a growing trend of protests begets counter-protests begets violence against one side against the other, and so there’s sort of this increasing phenomenon of individuals attacking each other, in addition to attacking law enforcement, and that’s not good for anybody.
From one city to another, one night to another, whose committing violence and destruction of property varies widely,” Wray said:
I think in general, what we’re seeing across the country are three groups, right? One is — three categories, may be a better way of putting it. One is peaceful protesters, lawful peaceful protesters.
The second is what I would call criminal opportunists, people in engaged in sort of state and local, you know, low-level vandalism and looting and things like that. That’s criminal activity. It needs to be addressed, largely a state and local matter.
And then there’s a third category, which is the most dangerous. And those are the people engaged in arson of police vehicles, throwing the Molotov cocktails, you know, those kinds of things. That’s the group that we, FBI, are most focused on, most concerned about. And those groups are motivated by a wide variety of ideologies and agendas.
Asked if the FBI is seeing a coordinated left-wing effort to target law enforcement officers, Wray said, “much of the violence that we’re seeing, it does not appear to be organized or attributed to any one particular group or even movement.
“That doesn’t make it any less serious or criminal or unacceptable. Now we are seeing in certain pockets more kind of regionally organized folks coalescing, often coordinating on the ground in the middle of protests, you know, in terms of tactics, things like that. And that is some of the most dangerous activity, because that’s often what leads to destruction of small business, destruction of government buildings, and particularly concerning to me, you know assaults on law enforcement.”
Wray praised law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line for strangers every day.
“And now we’ve seen a significant uptick in violence against law enforcement in this country this year. It’s up marginally from last year. And the reason I know that, besides just looking at the statistics, is that I made it a practice after becoming an FBI director — every time there’s an officer shot and killed in this county, I personally call the chief or sheriff responsible for that officer and express my condolences and support on behalf of the FBI.
Wray said in a recent 15-day stretch, “I made seven of those phone calls.” He said many of the officers were young, “had their whole lives ahead of them…and it breaks my heart.”