The last time Christopher Wray testified before a congressional committee, the FBI director offered a now-prescient warning of the threat posed by domestic extremists.
“Trends may shift, but the underlying drivers for domestic violent extremism – such as perceptions of government or law enforcement overreach, sociopolitical conditions, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny, and reactions to legislative actions – remain constant,” Wray said in a written statement to the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
Six months later, the director returns to the Senate after the deadly Capitol assault that involved some of the very classes of extremists featured in Wray’s stark warning in September.
On Tuesday, Wray is expected to be pressed by lawmakers on an array of questions, from law enforcement’s response to the Jan. 6 siege and how the bureau shared intelligence before the attack to its capacity to deal with a domestic terror threat that has now outstripped the risk posed by international operatives. Domestic right-wing extremists were responsible for almost 70% of terrorist attacks and plots in the U.S. in 2020, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Wray is set to appear, has expressed deep concerns about the bureau’s efforts to confront the threat.
“Unfortunately, the FBI appears to have taken steps in recent years that minimize the threat of white supremacist and far-right violence,” Durbin said last week, adding that he discussed the matter with Wray ahead of Tuesday’s hearing. “I raised my concerns about whether the FBI is allocating resources in a manner that reflects the scale of this threat.”
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Last week, federal officials said the threat to the Biden administration persists, saying that authorities are “very closely” monitoring the run-up to the president’s address to a joint session of Congress.
The assessment, provided in a domestic terror briefing, followed a separate warning by acting U.S. Capitol Yogananda Pittman, who told lawmakers that “militia groups” that took part in the Jan. 6 attack are seeking to “blow up the Capitol,” possibly targeting President Joe Biden’s address.
In the coming weeks, Biden is expected to give his first formal address to Congress – similar to a State of the Union address. The date of the speech has not yet been scheduled.
“We have been worried that domestic violent extremists would react, not only to the results of an election that they may not see as favorable but the transition of a government that they may question,” a senior federal official said.
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Wray’s testimony comes as a separate joint committee of the Senate continues its investigation of the Jan. 6 attack and law enforcement’s failed effort to anticipate it and repel the riots that left five dead, including a Capitol police officer.
Among the issues raised during the panel’s initial hearing last week was the handling of a Jan. 5 intelligence report prepared by the FBI warning that protesters were “preparing for war.”
More:U.S. Capitol riot: Top officials say they did not see FBI warning of calls for violence
Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund told the panel that the report, prepared by the bureau’s office in Norfolk, Virginia, was received by the police department’s intelligence division but never shared with its command staff.
Since the Jan. 6 attack, the FBI has been leading a far-reaching criminal investigation that so far has resulted in charges against more than 300 suspects and the arrests of at least 280 others.
Under Wray’s direction, the bureau has been examining tens of thousands of digital images leading to the identification of suspected rioters while appealing for the public’s help to identify suspects who were involved in planting pipe bombs at the headquarters of both the Republican and Democratic national committees.
Investigators believe the live explosives were delivered to the locations between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m., the evening before the attack.
In January, the FBI released images of a unidentified suspect dressed in a gray hoodie and carrying a backpack. Prominently featured in the FBI’s appeal included the suspect’s footwear, described as Nike Air Max Speed Turf shoes in yellow, black and gray.