FBI Director Christopher A. Wray was emphatic in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee: “We have not, to date, seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to antifa in connection with the 6th,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not looking, and we’ll continue to look. But at the moment, we have not seen that.”
In his opening statement, Wray also made clear: “The top threat we face from DVEs [Domestic Violent Extremists] continues to be those we identify as Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists (“RMVEs”), specifically those who advocate for the superiority of the white race,” and who were the primary source of ideologically motivated lethal incidents of violence in 2018 and 2019.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and other Republicans stressed that the FBI should be looking at the more amorphous category of “political extremism.” Wray responded that the agency would investigate all forms of political violence, but he also made clear that the nub of the problem is “militia violent extremism and some instances of racially motivated violent extremism, especially advocating for the superior of the White race.” He added, “When it comes to racially motivated violent extremism, the number of investigations and number of arrests has grown significantly on my watch. And the number of arrests for example of racially motivated violent extremists who are what you would categorize as White supremacists last year, was almost triple the number it was in my first year as director.”
Imagine if after 9/11, Democrats demanded the intelligence community look at all forms of religious extremism, not just the Islamic fundamentalism that spurred the attacks on America. They would have rightly been labeled as deflecting focus and dangerously muddying the waters as we tried to isolate and disarm threats.
It is telling — and unsurprising — that Republicans seem so panicked at the prospect of identifying the specific ideology that drove the attackers. (Ironically, the right lambasted the Obama administration for not specifically identifying the ideology behind foreign terrorists on the grounds that the United States cannot protect itself if the government does not understand the nature of the threat.)
If their cult hero had not embraced the MAGA forces, not solicited their attendance on Jan. 6 and not made White grievance central to the party’s message, Republicans might be more willing to identify and denounce the specific ideology that motivated the violent insurrectionists. Now, they are deploying willful blindness so as not to confront their own party’s association with white supremacists. As they have so often done, they find it easier to distort reality and out and out lie than to break with their MAGA base and leader. In the cocoon of right-wing media, they hope to continue bamboozling their voters.
This, of course, was the problem with the Big Lie of a stolen election, which drove the violent insurrectionists to attack the Capitol. Refusing to level with voters is not simply cowardly; it is dangerous and prevents us from, as they once said, understanding the nature of our enemies.
Wray did not provide an entirely satisfactory explanation for why FBI warnings about potential violence (specifically, the “Norfolk memo” that cited the threat of an attack on Congress) went unheeded. Why did he not try to reach the White House or the relevant congressional committees directly? Did he do everything to escalate the warnings? It is also not clear whether he will look at the political actors who incited the mob with the Big Lie. (Asked to condemn politicians fanning the QAnon conspiracy theories, he demurred.)
We need answers as to the involvement of political players and the failures of our response. We can be confident that we understand the complete picture only when an independent commission has investigated the entire incident, including the response of law enforcement, the security failures and the necessary steps to address the problem of violent white supremacists. So long as Republicans continue to pretend that the problem is not an identifiable brand of right-wing extremism, we will remain at risk of future attacks on our democracy.