Rome News-Tribune

FBI chief warns violent ‘domestic terrorism’ growing in US

- By Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick

WASHINGTON — FBI Director Chris Wray bluntly labeled the January riot at the U.S. Capitol as “domestic terrorism” Tuesday and warned of a rapidly growing threat of homegrown violent extremism that law enforcemen­t is scrambling to confront through thousands of investigat­ions.

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 he firmly rejected false claims advanced by some Republican­s that anti-trump groups had organized the deadly riot that began when a violent mob stormed the building as Congress was gathering to certify results of the presidenti­al election.

Wray’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, his first before Congress since the insurrecti­on, was the latest in a series of hearings centered on the law enforcemen­t response to the Capitol insurrecti­on. Lawmakers pressed him 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 that the FBI says it is prioritizi­ng 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 Senate Judiciary Committee. “At the FBI, we’ve been sounding the alarm on it for a number of years now.”

The violence at the Capitol made clear that a law enforcemen­t agency that remade itself after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to deal with internatio­nal terrorism is now laboring to address homegrown violence by white Americans. 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 senators that he was cleareyed about 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.

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. Five people died that day, including a Capitol Police officer and a woman who was shot as she tried to climb through a smashed window into the House chamber with lawmakers still inside.

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.”

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