FBI Director Chris Wray yesterday accused supporters of Donald Trump, who carried out a deadly January 6 attack on the US Capitol, of domestic terrorism. He has vowed to hold them accountable.
“I was appalled that you, our country’s elected leaders, were victimised right here in these very halls,” Mr Wray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “That siege was criminal behaviour, pure and simple. It’s behaviour that we, the FBI, view as domestic terrorism.”
It was Mr Wray’s first testimony in Congress since the attack – a failed bid to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s November election victory – was carried out by supporters of then-President Trump who, in a speech near the White House, encouraged them to march to the Capitol in protest.
The Justice Department has charged more than 300 people on criminal counts. The rioting led to five deaths.
At least 18 people linked with the far-right Proud Boys have been charged. Nine people tied to the anti-government militia known as the Oath Keepers are facing charges that they conspired, as far back as November, to storm the Capitol to prevent Mr Biden from becoming president.
The FBI has yet to arrest any suspects in the death of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, or for pipe bombs that were discovered outside the headquarters of both the Republican and Democratic national committees.
The FBI has obtained a video that shows a suspect spraying bear spray on police officers, including Mr Sicknick, according to a law-enforcement source familiar with the investigation. The suspect has yet to be identified, and it is unclear if the bear spray contributed to Mr Sicknick’s death.
In a newly unsealed search warrant, investigators say rioters carried weapons inside the Capitol including tyre irons, sledge hammers, tasers, bear spray and, in at least one case, a handgun with an extended magazine.
“Everyone involved must take responsibility for their actions that day, including our former president,” the panel’s Ranking Republican Charles Grassley said.
“Now, in the wake of January 6, we must seriously examine the threats of domestic extremism.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said the government has not done enough to protect against threats from far-right extremists and white supremacists, and accused the Trump administration of playing down those threats.
He added that the Trump administration “never set up a task force to combat the numerous incidents” from the far-right, and instead focused on Black Lives Matter activists.
Mr Wray also stated his belief that violent extremists, motivated by racial and anti-government ideology, have emerged as the biggest domestic terrorism threat to the US.
The FBI sees the top domestic violent extremist threats for 2021 as racially or ethnically motivated, as well as those with an anti-government and anti-authority bent, the official said.
That comes after acts of domestic extremism in 2020 that were unlike anything the bureau has seen in decades. Last year, three of four fatal domestic terrorist attacks were committed by individuals ascribing to anti-government or anti-authority violent extremist ideology, the official said.
Although Mr Trump and his supporters cited urban violence by leftist anarchists who call themselves antifa, Mr Wray testified last year that white supremacists pose the biggest domestic threat.
The FBI made 180 arrests related to domestic terrorism during 2020 using a mix of federal, state and local charges, the official added.
Since the January 6 attack, the Justice Department and FBI have been conducting one of the largest investigations in their history, charging rioters with offenses from trespass to conspiracy.
Attention is increasingly turning toward established groups like the “Oath Keepers,” who prosecutors say actively planned and co-ordinated the Capitol breach.