The FBI has elevated racially-motivated violent extremism to a “national threat priority,” in yet another sign that the U.S. government has finally woken up to the threat posed by white nationalists and neo-Nazis at home and abroad.
In a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray outlined several concrete steps the agency had taken to combat violent far-right extremists, explaining that the “national threat priority” designation puts those groups or individuals on the same footing as ISIS” in terms of the resources the FBI will devote to it.
“We’re particularly focused on domestic terrorism, especially racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists,” said Wray. “Not only is the terror threat diverse, it’s unrelenting.”
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Wray’s announcement comes just two weeks after FBI agents arrested eight members of the violent neo-Nazi group The Base, three of whom were allegedly discussing firing into the crowd during the large pro-gun rally in Virginia last month. In recent months, the FBI also foiled two synagogue bombings, Wray said.
The FBI chief also said that he’d created a domestic terrorism and hate crimes fusion cell to “bring together the expertise of domestic terror folks and hate crimes folks.” “They’re working together to not just focus on the threats that have already happened but to look ahead around the corner to anticipate where else we need to be.”
Last September, DHS unveiled its new counterterrorism strategy that, for the first time, recognized white nationalism as a major threat. Congress has held well over a dozen hearings on the matter, and lawmakers have called on the State Department to designate international far-right networks as foreign terror organizations, and on DHS to produce threat assessments of those networks.
And according to Wray’s testimony last November, the FBI made 107 domestic terrorism arrests in fiscal year 2019 — around the same number of international terrorism arrests.
Making far-right extremism a national threat priority means the FBI can allocate more resources to the problem in terms of personnel, agents, and analysts, says Mark Concordia, FBI and New York State Counterterrorism instructor and associate professor of criminal justice at Roberts Wesleyan College.
“The decision would be based on intelligence analysis and obviously the potential increase in these types of attacks, whether the investigation shows they are a hate crime or racially motivated, and whether they can be tied to a larger organization or ideology rather than an individual hate crime” said Concordia.
Citing Justice Department sources, CBS reports that more federal arrests targeting neo-Nazi or white nationalists are coming down the pike, including people with ties to networks in Europe, Ukraine, and Russia.
Cover: FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during an oversight hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)