FBI director Christopher Wray warned of “metastasizing” instances of domestic terrorism, in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday on the agency’s response to the January 6 riot at the Capitol.
Wray said in September that the agency was handling roughly 1,000 domestic terrorism cases, a number that grew to 1,400 by the end of 2020 and has since risen even further.
“The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing around the country for a long time now, and it’s not going away anytime soon,” Wray said. “Whenever we’ve had the chance, we’ve tried to emphasize that this is a top concern.”
The Justice Department has to date charged over 300 people from 42 states and Washington, D.C., in connection with the riot of supporters of President Trump at the Capitol. Wray said that Americans have given the FBI over 270,000 digital media tips, and “identified hundreds of suspects and opened hundreds of investigations in all but one of our 56 field offices.”
While Wray did not specify any other major attacks that were carried out or prevented, he said that the number of arrests of white supremacists has almost tripled since he became FBI director in 2017. Wray also indicated that the ideologies of potential extremists are not always clearly definable, with many suspects “coming up with their own sort of customized belief systems.”
Lawmakers grilled Wray on Tuesday over possible intelligence failures that may have caused Capitol police to be taken by surprise by the riot. In the wake of the riot, which left dozens of officers injured, the FBI warned of potential rallies being planned at state Capitols on January 20, when President Biden was sworn in.
Those riots never materialized, however, and in one incident just one Trump supporter showed up at the New York State Capitol on January 20 to protest Biden’s inauguration.
Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) pressed Wray during the hearing on whether the FBI was conducting investigations in a way that ensured “that the civil liberties of the American people are protected.”
“All of our investigative work in response to the Capitol [riot] has been under the legal authorities that we have in consultation with the [Department of Justice] and the prosecutors,” Wray said.