During testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray specifically rebutted each charge.
The “antifa” one was fairly simple: The bureau, he said, has no evidence that left-wing actors were involved in the Capitol attack.
“We have not to date seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to antifa in connection with the 6th,” Wray said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not looking, and we’ll continue to look. But at the moment, we have not seen that.”
The role of racist extremists, though, is more complicated and worth parsing in more detail.
Fox News’s Tucker Carlson has been at the forefront of the idea that the threat posed by white nationalists is overblown. His position on this precedes the attack on Jan. 6; during a show that aired in August 2019, Carlson called white supremacy a “hoax.” Since the attack, though, and particularly since the inauguration of Biden, Carlson has repeatedly claimed that the label “white supremacist” will be used to broadly attack the left’s opponents.
During his inaugural speech, Biden pledged to confront and defeat the “rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism” being seen in the country. Carlson argued that this was so vague as to intentionally be used to target the right.
“The question is, what does it mean to wage war on white supremacists?” he asked on his show that night. “Can somebody tell us in very clear language what a white supremacist is?”
Biden “has now declared war, and we have a right to know, specifically and precisely, who exactly he has declared war on,” Carlson added. “Innocent people could be hurt in this war. They usually are.”
Last month, Carlson went further. He showed a clip from the confirmation hearing of Biden’s attorney general nominee, Merrick Garland, in which Garland said he intended to “supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6.”
“There’s no evidence that white supremacists were responsible for what happened on January 6th,” Carlson said. “That’s a lie.”
That’s not what Garland said, of course. What Garland said was obviously accurate as Wray — who would report to Garland should he be confirmed — explained on Tuesday when asked.
“Although I don’t have the percentage for you, the attackers on January 6th included a number — and the number keeps growing as we build out our investigations — of what we would call militia violent extremism,” Wray said. “And we have had some already arrested who we would put in the category of racially motivated violent extremism, white as well. Those would be the categories so far that we’re seeing as far as January 6th.”
What’s more, Wray said, racist extremism was a significant part of the FBI’s work overall. (A report from the Department of Homeland Security released in October made a similar point.)
“In terms of domestic violent extremism, domestic terrorism, that number is now — has grown steadily on my watch,” said Wray, who became FBI director in 2017. “So we’ve increased the number of domestic terrorism investigations from around a 1,000 or so when I got here to up to about 1,400 at the end of last year to about 2,000 now. That’s domestic terrorism overall.”
“When it comes to racially motivated violent extremism, that number — again, number of investigations and number of arrests — has grown significantly on my watch,” he continued. “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.”
He added that the threat from “anarchist violent extremists” had similarly grown.
Responding to a question from Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Wray put a finer point on it.
“I would certainly say, as I think I’ve said consistently in the past, that racially motivated violent extremism, specifically of the sort that advocates for the superiority of the white race, is a persistent, evolving threat,” he said. “It’s the biggest chunk of our racially motivated violent extremism cases for sure. And racially motivated violent extremism is the biggest chunk of our domestic terrorism portfolio, if you will, overall.”
Leahy then asked whether “right-wing white supremacist groups played an instrumental role” in the Capitol assault. After explaining that the FBI didn’t use labels about political positioning, Wray agreed that “we’re basically saying the same thing.”
“Is there any doubt that the people who stormed the Capitol included white supremacists and other far-right extremist organizations?” Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) asked Wray later.
“There’s no doubt that it included individuals that we would call militia violent extremists and in some instances, individuals that were racially motivated violent extremists who advocate for, you know, the superiority of the white race,” Wray replied. “But the militia violent extremists is probably at the moment trending the biggest bucket, if you will.”
The following things can all be true — and appear to in fact be true:
- There remains no credible evidence that left-wing actors were involved in the attack on the Capitol.
- There were undeniable elements from white nationalist organizations involved in the day’s violence, though the available evidence is that militia-type extremists played a larger role.
- There is a pervasive and apparently growing threat posed by white extremists beyond what happened on Jan. 6.
This is according to the director of the FBI, who was appointed by Trump. It’s controversial only in the sense that it is, to some, inconvenient. It is not controversial as a matter of evidence.